One could argue that the vast majority of footwear is fairly similar in appearance. The casual observer probably recognizes certain categories, but within each it might look pretty much the same. Basically, if you’ve seen one loafer, sneaker, sandal or pump, you’ve seen them all. We ourselves have generalized nearly half of the market under the generic label “brown shoe business.” It can’t get much more nondescript than that, right?
Of course, this is a vast oversimplification. We all know there can be incredible distinction from one category to the next, from brand to brand and from one style to another. I know this because Footwear Plus lives and breathes reporting on what might seem to the untrained eye like the slightest subtleties in our effort to guide buyers (i.e. trained eyes) on which brands and styles to carry in their stores. We also dig much deeper, revealing the behind-the-scenes elements that make certain brands and their products unique. This includes reporting on the obvious details related to features, benefits and materials. But we also delve into a brand’s history and the human touch involved—experience and talents, track record of success, the brand’s particular take on the market and how its assortment of styles fits into the overall narrative. The fact is there’s much more to each brand’s story than what meets the shopper’s eye at a shoe wall. And we all know how retailers crave a good story to tell.
Take this month’s Q&A (p. 20) with Jim Van Dine, president of Hoka One One, the brand many call “the next big thing” in its category. Not only is the brand’s revolutionary oversized midsole shoe design an interesting story about how the “shoe” has yet again been re-envisioned, there’s also Van Dine’s rich career background, which dovetails perfectly with this launch. These two characters seemed destined to find each other: Van Dine, a former competitive runner and lover of the sport, gets the keys to a brand exhibiting meteoric growth potential. He’s just the man for the job, having worked at Reebok during its unprecedented toddler growth spurt—one that saw sales zoom from $3 million to $1 billion annually in just five years. He was also at the helm of Keen’s rocket-like rise from start-up to $100 million in sales in three years. Many still consider it a benchmark. A self-proclaimed student of athletic footwear history after more than three decades of intense study, Van Dine shares firsthand accounts of what fueled the Reebok and Keen runs and outlines his high expectations for Hoka. They reach well beyond oversized running shoes. In fact, he predicts Hoka will become a full-blown athletic brand well north of $100 million in annual sales for the Deckers Outdoor subsidiary.
Then there’s our story about Jerusalem Sandals (p. 100). While on a much smaller scale than Hoka, the story is much, much bigger in some ways because it involves 74 Israelis and Palestinians working alongside each other making classic leather sandals in the brand’s Hebron factory. Hope springs eternal when it comes to ending what seems like a never-ending feud—and this story shows that it can be done. Kudos to the entrepreneurial drive of President Kfir Matalon, inspired by his father, who crafted sandals in Tel Aviv for 30 years. When Matalon and his wife sported the supple leather sandals influenced by the Biblical era, friends admired them so frequently that the pair decided to launch a line stateside. Fast forward just a few years, and Jerusalem Sandals (the city’s name translates to “teaching peace”) is now carried in American Apparel, Nordstrom and boutiques across the United States.
Last but not least, there’s the inspiring story (p. 50) of the fourth-generation owners of The Cobblery in Palo Alto, CA. Sisters Jessica Roth and Stephanee Oberhauser have cobbled together a thriving shoe repair and retail concept that insulates them in down times (repairs go up) and rewards them in good times (new shoe sales rise). What’s more, the dynamic duo has reached out to surrounding retailers, offering their repair services for their customers. It’s yet another example of how key adapting and evolving are to survival.
You’ll find plenty of other good reads in this issue. They span all categories, cover businesses around the world and feature all sorts of colorful characters. By that I mean both the shoes and the people involved. It’s our pleasure to serve as your shoe storytellers, weaving together a compelling narrative. To the untrained eye the plot might seem convoluted. But if you know where to look, what and who to ask, and you dig deep enough, you’ll find endlessly fascinating stories.