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Play Ball!

Forty-plus years into the game, Glen Barad, president of Taos Footwear, reflects on always playing a hard-nosed style.

Dear Glen, You’re 60 years old now and looking more like your Dad every day. He was a very nice man but struggled to make a living. Still, he found a way to send you to camp where you discover you’re good at sports. You excel at handball, Carroms, basketball, football, dodgeball, capture the flag, and, your true love, baseball. You are usually picked first, even though you aren’t all that big and strong. Somehow, though, you always find a way to compete with the big boys. Perhaps it’s your hard-knock life, growing up “south of the tracks” in Beverly Hills, that makes you so determined to succeed? You practice all the time. You just play and play and play.

Little League is no different. Just ok at first and quite nervous before games, you practice every chance you get. One summer, you attend a clinic twice a week. You start swinging the bat 100 times a day. You also throw the ball in the air and catch it repeatedly while you walk up and down your neighborhood streets. The practice pays off. You become fast, throw hard, and hit well. You play shortstop for your high school team and go on to play fall ball for the University of California at San Diego. The following year, you transfer to California State University, Northridge. To help cover expenses, you help a fraternity brother sell work boots at area swap meets, earning $25 a day plus a burrito and a drink. Little do you know, this is your entry into a lifelong career in the shoe business.

As the baseball gods will have it, your former Little League coach is Jack Silvera, cofounder of Dynasty Footwear. The entrepreneur in you asks to sell his shoes at swap meets. You then go on to work as a stock boy at Nordstrom until, a year later, you dislocate your shoulder playing softball and go on leave. That’s when Silvera pitches you an entry-level position: sweeping floors, shipping samples, and doing anything that needs to be done. A few years into the gig, it leads to line building, product development, and traveling overseas for sourcing. It is an unbelievable experience. You learn about sales, product development, costing, and building relationships with agents and factories. You earn your MBA in footwear.

After 16 years at Dynasty, you strike out on your own, launching Direct Sourcing Associates. But it isn’t long until you realize that no matter how great your private label designs are or how attractive the price, customers want it for less. Tired of stripping away details, you cross into the branded business with the launch of Taos Footwear in 2005. Your approach is the same hard-nosed mindset. How else will you compete against big companies led by even bigger personalities? The only way to make a name for yourself in this cutthroat business is by playing aggressive! Becoming a meaningful consumer brand, however, doesn’t happen overnight. It requires years of hard work, perseverance, talent, investment, controlled growth, and developing trusted retail partnerships. There are no shortcuts.

I’m pleased to report that your dedication pays off. Taos steadily grows into a cornerstone comfort brand. Your product-first approach serves as a guiding light. No detail is too small. In addition, your overall design ethos of wearable fashion as opposed to chasing fads makes Taos a go-to brand for retailers and consumers. It stems from your four decades of being a student of shoes. And while you no longer wake at 4 a.m. on Sundays to go to swap meets, or shop stores until they close after a full day of work, those decades of study give you a sixth sense for hitting on trends. You’re helped by the fact that the entire Taos team consists of great merchants. They’re all heavy hitters.

Be forewarned, though, the shoe business, like competitive sports, is a grind. The long hours, the endless travel, and relentless competition takes a toll. Over the past decade, you’ve endured six spinal surgeries, received a new right hip, and undergone multiple shoulder operations. Take heed: You can avoid much of this suffering if you follow some simple advice. 1. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Let your talented teammates pitch in. 2. Go on actual vacations, don’t just to shop for trends and visit factories. 3. Watch a movie without thinking about work. 4. Spend time with family and friends. Do everything and anything, just do it together. 5. It’s ok to ask for help. If you get help with a weakness, it can become a strength.

Despite the wear-and tear on your body, you still got game. Recently,
your bocce ball team won the Sunset League spring championship and, after a four-year softball hiatus, you hit the field with your old team,
The Boy Chicks. The first at bat you smack a line drive up the middle for a single. It feels so good! You also make a diving catch in the outfield. Just know this will be your last game if you don’t heed that advice.

On that note, here’s some more advice: Enjoy the journey, even though there are bumps along the way. You learn from the bumps. Also, build a strong team to enjoy the journey together. You’ll win some and lose some. Just savor playing. And if that day ever comes when you’re no longer able to play the shoe game or baseball, there’s always bocce ball.

The March 2024 Issue

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