Pitting a new shoe company against multinational corporations such Nike, Reebok and Puma takes some doing: first identifying a need in a niche market and then lots (and lots) of funding.
That, however, is changing with the popularity of crowdfunding sites such as Crowdfunder, RocketHub and Kickstarter, which connect entrepreneurs to communities of potential customers and like-minded investors.
We’ve put together a list of 12 shoe startups below, and it’s pretty exciting to see the variety of footwear offered by these new businesses, many of them formed by Millennial entrepreneurs within the last couple of years.
Founded in 2009 by two New York University students, and inspired by watching working women actually walking home barefoot after a long day in heels, this shoe company startup was created by Susie Levitt and Katie Shea. CitySlips are in fact flats that fold up to fit into a pocket-sized zip-up pouch. The idea was to give women shoes that are easy to tuck away and carry, yet comfortable enough to use for the commute home. The pouch opens up into a tote bag large enough to carry a pair of high heels.
It was the quest to find stylish boots that actually fit that led Kendall and Justine Barber to build Poppy Barley, a custom footwear company of ethically made shoes and boots that are handcrafted in Mexico. Every pair of shoes is customized to fit that customer’s specifications, with measurements taken not just of the foot (length and width) but also for the calf, in the case of boots, to ensure a unique fit at every point of contact.
Any shoe company startup with Kim Kardashian attached has a bit of an unfair advantage, and it looks like it’s worked. Since its 2009 launch, the site claims to have helped “millions of women” get their “personalized fashion fix” from the A-list stylists who offer personalized shoe, handbag and accessory recommendations.
Founded in Sydney in 2009, this shoe company allows shoppers to design their own shoes online, choosing from a large number of options including style of footwear, heel type, fabric and decorations. The startup is now a global company, with four offices and nearly 50 employees, and it hit the multi-million dollar revenue mark in under two years.
In a press release, co-founder Jodie Fox talked about the company’s origins, saying:
“I was solving a problem of my own. I’d always liked shoes, but I never loved them because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Either it wasn’t quite the right color, there was an embellishment I didn’t like, not quite the right heel height. When I was traveling, in the same way that you find someone who will make a custom suit for you, I found someone with whom I could commission shoe designs. My shoe collection became really exciting, and my girlfriends asked me where I was getting my footwear. When I explained, they asked me to create shoes for them too. Concurrently, my two business partners, Michael and Mike, were at Google and they became really excited about the opportunities in online retail. We all came together and Shoes of Prey was born.”
Sneakers in the snow just don’t work, but young people want what they want. Ruined sneakers led the two twenty-something founders to create all-weather footwear that is both stylish and comfortable.
This startup shoe company, founded in 2013, offers custom men’s shoes designed by the customer using a 3D modelling platform, which allows him to choose from a variety of shoe lasts, patterns, colors and materials. The made-to-order shoes are handcrafted by experienced craftsmen and are offered at a range of prices starting at $350.
In its first year of sales in 2010, Zipz grossed $1 million. Not bad for a shoe company start-up that was thought up at a family barbecue when eyeing the kids’ filthy sneakers. The idea was simple, but completely new: A sneaker that has interchangeable uppers, connected to the bottom by a zipper. Buy a pair of Zipz sneakers, and then buy as many Zipz Covers as you want separately. When you feel like a change of shoes or the upper gets dirty and needs to be washed, unzip the old and zip on the new.
A common theme that seems to run through these shoe companies is that many were created to solve a specific problem: individual fit; affordable quality; customization; or a particular use, such as all-weather or athletic footwear. Once that problem was identified as one that a lot of people had, and would pay for a new product that solved it, the startup went from idea to reality.
Sockwa in Los Angeles has designed an athletic shoe that is flexible, durable and tactile — the idea is for athletes to feel as if they’re wearing no footwear at all. In addition, Sockwas are manufactured with the earth in mind. The production process is conscious of and seeks to limit its environmental impact, and the company donates 1% of its revenues to the 1% For the Planet movement.
Keep an eye on ALIVESHOES if for no other reason because the idea is pretty brilliant: You will soon be able to sign up on the site as a designer and sell your shoe designs to customers all around the world. The company handles the manufacturing and shipping.
ALIVESHOES does not expect it will be ready to go fully public until spring 2015. Until then, you can pay 19 euros to join the group of early testers or wait a few months to see what shapes up.
VFit is a smartphone app that helps people overcome the fact that you can’t try on shoes when buying online. The app uses your camera’s phone to scan your foot, then it creates a wireframe model of it, which is saved to your profile. From there, you can begin shoe shopping through VFit’s platform to match that wireframe model to shoes its technology knows will match up with your foot’s shape and size.
Josephine Lee, a former ballet dancer, opened a dance supply store in Southern California and was soon overwhelmed by the demand for custom shoes. Her solution? Take her store on the road.
That’s what The Pointe Shop is, a mobile fitting shop that travels from studio to studio in the area, fitting all of its dancers with shoes at one time.
“There are hundreds of different kinds of pointe shoes,” Lee told the Orange County Register in August. “If you don’t have the selection or expertise, you are going to be fitted improperly … and you can’t dance in them very well.”
As with VFit above, Shoefitr has devised a way for online shoppers to get an idea of how a shoe will fit without having to try it on. But Shoefitr scans the shoes themselves to get a more accurate picture of each shoe’s size, which helps overcome that ambiguity of which brand actually measures their shoes true to size.
Shoefitr’s founders are all Carnegie Mellon grads and college athletes. The startup’s initial focus was running shoes. After proving that they could standardize size measurements for athletes, they rolled that system out to a wider selection of footwear.
Lead image: Sockwa / Facebook