John Bondoc, who previously worked at Royal as creative director and now heads REH, the investment group that bought the brand, said he has sharpened the demographic focus of the label.
“We needed to tweak the brand identity,” he said. “Now, it’s younger, [directed at] the 15- to 25-year-old consumer, who is typically a creative-minded person in art, sport or fashion. It’s a lifestyle. The inspiration has to come from being young.”
To help reacquaint the Royal Elastics team with the culture it’s targeting, Bondoc opened a design studio in a loft in downtown Los Angeles.
“A lifestyle brand has to be embraced by the culture,” he said. “You do that by supporting what they do, not by integrating them into what you do. You can’t talk at kids. You have to talk with kids.”
Bondoc said he also was taking price points down. While the brand had sold for $80 to $250, the spring line will range from $60 to $80, with some signature product topping out at $110.
“The idea is to cut off the extremely expensive end and add a lower-priced shoe,” he said.
That move was made possible by one of the brand’s investors, a China-based footwear factory. Bondoc said he realized as he was putting together investors to buy the company that a strategic partner that could also produce more value-oriented shoes was imperative.
“At the end of the day, it’s so competitive out there. You need a competitive advantage,” he said. “Having a part owner produce the shoes means better quality and more competitive pricing than we had in the past, and shrinking the design and development timeline.”
On the design front, Bondoc said the brand had recently hired a female designer to produce styles for women. Also, an apparel and accessories designer was added to produce T-shirts, hoodies and windbreakers for spring, followed by a full cut-and-sew offering for fall.
By year-end, Bondoc said the company also plans to open two freestanding retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai, which meshes with his strategy to more aggressively pursue the Asian market, where the brand has had its greatest success to date.
“Shanghai is probably one of the coolest places to be right now,” he said. “We’ve [also] made great inroads in Taipei, and about 15 percent of our market share is there. At this point, we’re looking to capitalize on those inroads and come back into the U.S. [later].”
That’s not to say Bondoc is stepping away from the U.S. market entirely.
While distribution will remain small domestically, some stores will still carry the brand. “It will mainly be focused around the West Coast,” Bondoc said.
However, consumers in the States will be able to buy from the brand’s new e-commerce site, slated to launch in November.
Given the economy and the challenges any small, independent label faces, Bondoc said he was realistic about sales projections and the time it may take for Royal Elastics to gain traction. “We’re thinking pretty small right now,” he said. “For the year, we’re looking at 200,000 pairs globally. In the U.S., I’ll be happy if we do anything over 30,000 pairs. We’re being tested and it will take time … [but] we’re willing to be very patient.”