Rupert Noffs was born into a giving family.
His grandfather, the late Reverend Ted Noffs, started a namesake foundation that still carries on its original mission to aid at-risk and homeless youth. So it makes sense that the younger Noffs would incorporate a charitable element to his career.
After stints in drama, fashion and PR, Rupert joined the family business and opened an exclusive consignment shop that turned donated clothes into original repurposed designs whose sales benefited the foundation. But as the recession took its toll on fundraising, Rupert and his brother, Matt, turned their attention to their new project, Gideon Shoes.
“Everyone loves their sneakers,” Rupert Noffs said.
Two years ago, the brothers entered the footwear industry by buying their friend Gideon’s business selling plimsolls on Sydney’s Bondi Beach. But rather than continue with the beach styles, the Noffs decided to change direction, creating unisex high-end, handmade sneakers in Australia using exotic — and local — leathers such as kangaroo and cane toad. (Noffs said both animals are routinely culled as pests in Australia, so using the leathers ensures that the hides aren’t wasted.)
And the slant of the brand is decidedly philanthropic. The shoes are marketed on their sweatshop-free credentials, and all sales go to supporting Street University, the program Matt Noffs founded with his wife in 2009 to offer programs and classes for young people struggling with homelessness, drug addiction, mental illness and other troubles. The volunteer-run program, Rupert Noffs said, “is a step for [these kids] before they go to juvenile detention or jail.”
The $169-to-$340 sneakers launched about a year ago and are sold online and in the brand’s two stores in Sydney. Late last year, Gideon added a lower-priced organic canvas slip-on that retails for $75. The price point and materials broaden the brand’s opportunities.
“We wanted to release the new collection to bring out something that’s really beautiful that everyone can afford and be a part of,” Noffs said. “And we wanted something that was fair trade and would appeal to our customers who are vegan.”
New styles are key to the U.S. push, which Noffs said has been part of the plan from the brand’s beginning. Gideon entered America late last year.
“When my brother and I started the brand, we knew we wanted to launch it in the U.S.,” he said. “For sneakers and shoes, we just have to look back to the 1970s on the basketball court. That’s where the sneaker culture was born. And I’ve had family [in the U.S.] and had grown up visiting my whole life. We knew people love Australia, and we knew we were launching this uniquely Australian brand.”
Tamara Magel, owner of the Tamara Magel design store in New York, said Gideon was a natural fit with her product mix. “We like to have unique, international brands — things that are not easy to find. And I like their charity slant,” said Magel, who brought in the kangaroo and cane toad styles in July. “Another great thing about them is they are fun and high-end, so they appeal to eclectic, fashionista-type people, as well as young kids.”
In Brooklyn, N.Y., the Moves boutique expects to get its initial shipment of Gideon product later this month. “I was initially drawn to the brand because it has such an interesting story, in addition to how gorgeous the shoes look,” said R. Mackswell Sherman, owner of Moves. “And the color palette goes well with our super-futuristic concept store.”
To further grow Gideon in the U.S., Rupert Noffs last spring moved to New York, performing all the positions in the U.S. office — sales, marketing and PR — as well as raising awareness for the charity.
“Back home, the Noffs Foundation is really well known, but over here, I’m nobody,” he said. “It’s been really tough to tell the story, that all this money goes back to charity. But I love educating people about [the] ethics [behind the line] and telling people about the brands.”
Next, Noffs would like to bring Street University stateside. “We want to grow over here,” he said. “Look at the kids down in New Orleans or New York or Detroit. That is definitely our dream. With the money we raise with Gideon Shoes, we want to build one in every state.”