“Unlike other footwear technologies that require a complicated explanation, Swissies’ technology is very easy to understand. You put on the shoes, and you feel the benefits immediately. The shoes sell themselves,” said Fabio Deon, creative and development director for the European wellness brand, which was launched in Switzerland in 2007 by Michael Garzon, the former CEO of MBT.
Swissies, which started with children’s shoes and has since added men’s and women’s collections, is built around a patented sole design that combines an ultra-soft, lightweight cushioning material with a rounded heel shape to promote a more natural, barefoot-like gait. The flexible, springy soles also feature rebound properties, which the company said return energy as kids run and jump.
Building on its success overseas, Swissies began distributing its children’s shoes in the U.S. last March. The line, which retails from $55 to $80, has been picked up by a mix of top department stores and independents, including Nordstrom; Tip Top Shoes in New York; Kid O in Austin, Texas; and Carrara Children’s Shoes in Chicago. Available in European sizes 24 to 38, the collection initially focused mostly on sport shoes, but now Deon and his team are working to expand the offering to include a range of styles, from casual to dressy looks. The spring ’14 assortment features everything from sandals and Mary Jane shoes to ribbon-laced high-tops.“We want to keep up with fashion trends, but without compromising the technology that is the heart of our brand,” said Deon, who works out of Swissies’ recently relocated headquarters in Montebelluna, Italy.
Here, the designer talks about the science behind the brand’s soft soles and looking for creative inspiration.
Can you explain how Swissies’ sole technology works?
FD: Our soles are made with a special compound that, although available for other types of products, had never before been used in footwear. It creates a sole that is incredibly soft, light and flexible. It also offers excellent rebound and memory. Unlike other soft soles in the market, Swissies’ soles keep their shape after every wear for the life of the shoes. The technology is particularly appealing for the kids’ market. Kids like to walk on soft, natural surfaces like grass and sand; it’s the healthiest way to walk. Our shoes [mimic that]. We did product tests in which we had kids try on our shoes and some of our competitors’ styles. We then repeated the process, but this time as a blind test, and the kids could identify the shoes as Swissies just by the feel and softness.
Why is the simplicity of the technology so important?
FD: You put on the shoes, and you feel the difference instantly. It’s not like other technologies where you need to wear the shoe for a whole day or under certain circumstances like extremely hot or cold weather [to understand how it works]. Our technology is very easy for the end consumer to understand. Nowadays, we can’t count too much on support from salespeople on the selling floor. The fact that the shoes sell themselves is a big plus, especially when you’re talking about kids who have strong opinions.
Why did the company move its design office from Switzerland to Italy?
FD: Montebelluna is [a hub for] the sport-shoe industry. We wanted to have access to high-performance shoe know-how and the kind of skilled technicians and designers not easily found elsewhere. And once we set up this technical foundation, we could turn our attention to styling. We feel that comfort shoes generally are not considered [attractive], so we’ve tried to create shoes that are nice to look at but are also very technical.
Where do you find design inspiration?
FD: I always keep up with the development of new raw materials, from fabrics and leathers to rubbers and trims. That is the exciting part of shoemaking to me. I visit a lot of shows, as well as factories that produce materials and components. I also look to car design [for aspects like] lines, surfaces and volumes. Car designers and shoe designers follow a very similar process. Just as with cars, our job is to hide away all those technical parts.
What are your plans for growing the brand?
FD: We’re already expanding the kids’ offering and evolving the styles. It is very easy for us to do shoes with a sport look because it suits our technology well. But now we’re adding dressier looks and more casual, non-athletic styles. We also have plans to apply our technology to many other footwear categories. We recently introduced dress shoes for adults, and we’ve had a great reaction to that because dress shoes typically have hard heels. They’re not comfortable to wear all day. Our shoes have the dressy look consumers want, but the soles are completely soft. You could literally run in them.