In a crowded rainboot market, entrepreneurs Laura Booth and Sarah Longthorn found a way to fit right in.
In 2007, the U.K.-based friends and fashionistas launched WedgeWelly, a line of novelty rainboots defined by their wedge bottoms. A trip to the muddy grounds of England’s annual summer V Festival, an outdoor event traditionally plagued by rain, triggered the idea for a fashionable and comfortable weather-friendly boot.
“We agreed the best design would be a wedge,” said Booth (above). “We sourced High Street, mail-order companies and the Internet for such a product,” she recalled, noting they couldn’t find what they had in mind. “One year later, we were trudging through the muddy VIP section [of the festival] in our very own WedgeWellys, providing music artists such as The Zutons and Girls Aloud with free pairs.”
While comfort was a priority, Booth, who is creative director, has also focused on fashion with a strong dose of whimsy, using giraffe, peacock feather and star prints. For fall ’10, they will add the Curve, a wide-calf version of the original Unique style, and the flat Contradict boot. WedgeWelly also will introduce a collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent for the season.
Currently sold for $95 to $120 in 11 countries, the boots made their U.S. debut in late 2009. Retail partners include Verve in New York, Hanig’s Slipper Box in Chicago and Shoebuy.com.
Here, Booth talks about the secrets to a successful startup and collaborating with an icon.
1. In a sea of rainboots, what distinguishes WedgeWelly?
LB: The boots have a 2 1/2-inch wedge, which instantly provides height. The sole acts as a cushion for [comfort]. Inside, there’s a lining that creates air [circulation], keeping the foot comfortable regardless of the weather.
2. Is the V Festival your main source of inspiration?
LB: Whenever you visit a festival, it’s gonna rain. Everyone’s wearing wellies. But the festival doesn’t necessarily inspire my designs. The artists also have a lot to do with it. If Lady Gaga is onstage and sporting some crazy print that I know everyone will love, that gives me inspiration. My designs are purely based on trends, and the festivals are huge for fashion. Kate Moss and other celebrities attend, and they’re always wearing wellies.
3. Who is the WedgeWelly customer?
LB: Our customers are all ages. We have the young people joining us because their mums have a pair. We have the older ladies, who like to walk their dogs on weekends through the fields. We have thirtysomething mums, who like to watch the kids play football or rugby on muddy fields. We have festival-goers between 16 and 29, [and many of them are] also students. We find different prints appeal to different audiences. For example, the [solid black] Legend is ideal for thirtysomething mums, and the fashionable surface prints are a favorite with the festival-goers.
4. Collaborations are key in footwear today. How did you manage to hook up with Yves Saint Laurent?
LB: Our Princess Panama design, a palm-leaf pattern, was inspired by a Gucci print. YSL, which is owned by Gucci [Group], contacted us about doing a rainboot for them — our boots, their name. So we’re working with YSL to produce a 14-piece collection ready to go into production in the next few weeks.
5. Now that you are a global brand, what styles have been your biggest sellers from country to country?
LB: We tend to find that the black Legend — or any pattern that is predominantly black with white — is the most popular no matter where we sell it. My favorite at the moment is Giraffe Glamour, which is done in black and white instead of true giraffe colors.
6. In a tough retail climate, what’s been your strategy?
LB: We can develop a new print and have it on sale in 12 weeks. Most retailers today are looking to place smaller orders with shorter lead times. They don’t want to be stuck with stock that doesn’t sell in this tough trading climate. Because the fashion world works seasons ahead, I produce a core annual collection. In addition, I design limited-edition prints throughout the year. This ensures we are right on trend. We model ourselves after clothing [retailer] Zara, which is a true expert in this respect.
7. WedgeWellys start at $95. How do you compete with more moderate brands?
LB: Flat rainboots in the U.K. can be between $18 and $46. They’re often poor quality and have hideous designs that every other rainboot distributor is selling. Boring. WedgeWelly offers comfort, style and our unique wedge, as well as prints you can’t get anywhere else. You also receive them in a gift box. Our customer base is interested in looking good. We don’t focus on the [lower end] of the market. That’s not where the brand is positioned.
8. What do you do to generate brand buzz among consumers?
LB: We like to get involved with our customers. We keep in touch with them [online]. We send birthday messages and monthly newsletters. We’ve also created blogs on our Website, Facebook and Twitter. If someone contacts us, we get in touch with them within 24 hours.
9. Do your sales depend on the weather?
LB: The product is definitely seasonal, and consumers purchase them when needed. Our busy periods are June to August during the festivals, November to December for Christmas, and January to March for winter [weather]. And we’ve noticed more consumers are wearing them even when it’s not raining. This tends to be the city worker who needs practical, yet comfortable, footwear to wear to and from work.
10. Any plans to add other categories?
LB: We’ve learned that to be successful you have to keep it simple and stick to what you’re good at. Therefore, WedgeWelly is marketed as a fashionable ladies’ brand. We brought in the Curve and Contradict to grow, but we’ll continue to concentrate on what we’re doing right now. Our next ambition is to extend the range to girls.