It’s likely that everyone knows Cortina, but it doesn’t hurt to remember its origins and development: “Cortina is a family-owned company founded in the early 1950s in Belgium. Today it represents an international footwear and apparel specialist that supplies wholesalers and retailers worldwide. As one of the first companies to invest in a production unit in China, we have been able to grow rapidly without compromising quality. Each year we deliver more than 30 million pairs of shoes and 5 million garments to wholesalers and retailers around the world. Private label, licensed production and owned brands, this is our business.”


Proprietary brands include Safety Jogger. How is the project born with the new millennium growing? Gilles Devos, Commercial Director, and Thomas Vulliez, General Director of SJ, the lifestyle brand of Safety Jogger, talk about it.


“Today, Safety Jogger, a brand of safety shoes, workwear and head protection, is sold in more than 130 countries and is the most important brand within Cortina Group’s business landscape. About a year ago, two seasons have passed now, we decided to further invest in this successful project by launching the ‘SJ’ line, the lifestyle brand of the Safety Jogger family. The first collection was dedicated to the adventure/outdoor world (for men, women and children), while for the upcoming spring/summer 2024 we will also offer the market a range of Athleisure products.”


A gradual transformation of Cortina from private label to a smartly cultivated brand: “We brought experience, as well as some technologies and materials already widely used in the safety world, to these new lines. Of course, we also had to change a lot more to meet the needs of lifestyle use. What undoubtedly characterizes the SJ line is a strong consideration of fashion trends alongside a very high focus on comfort.”


To make such a major transition, it was necessary to call on board other professionals who were already experts in the market segments that were to be developed. Here’s how Thomas Vulliez joined the family: “Over the past 20 years I have worked on building several footwear brands and collections throughout Europe and the United States. The already excellent work done by Cortina prior to my arrival helped to structure a complete and balanced proposition that, we can say, has already received excellent market feedback. Now it will be our concern to present the new project better and stronger to everyone on the international stage.”


I think we can consider Cortina among the most important, if not the most important, private label footwear manufacturers in Europe. So why change? “Because we like challenges and because we believe that building a strong identity even with a proprietary brand is the best strategy to face a future that proves to be increasingly studded with unknowns.


It should be added that the corporate skeleton so well formed around the private label business represented an excellent starting point for developing our own brand, so much so that it was a waste not to take full advantage of it. Moreover, dealing with the strategies and issues involved in building and distributing a proprietary brand allows the entire team to gain knowledge that will make Cortina an even more knowledgeable and reliable supplier to its traditional customers. Not to mention that this broadening of perspectives has led and will lead to getting to know and form relationships with new customers with whom we previously had no opportunity and reason to interact.”


Speaking of clients… how will they have received the group’s new business strategies? “Those who were already commissioning private label products from us are pleased with our evolution, because retail is always looking for new brands, with a strong identity, to propose to consumers.”


It comes natural to ask what the next goals of the project are, and if some data can already assess its success: “We aim first of all to introduce our new route to those who are already our customers, particularly in the markets of Belgium, Netherlands and France. Of course, with due timing, we will gradually involve all other markets as well, starting with Europe.


As for the results: the Retro Tennis Sneaker, the first iconic model we launched at the birth of SJ, featuring sustainable content, has sold out… so the first signs have been very, very positive.”

Thomas Vulliez and Gilles Devos

Watch the video interview with Gilles Devos and Thomas Vulliez: