Throughout his nearly 15-year career, Ryan Ringholz has designed adult footwear for some of the biggest brands in the business, from Puma to New Balance. But when he became a father for the first time, Ringholz found himself taking a hard look at the children’s market.
“I looked at the product out there for kids, and I wanted to see more. There is this pervasive strategy in the kids’ shoe business of ‘shrink it and pink it,’” he said. “I felt there was something missing from the market, and I was in a unique position as a designer to do something about it.”
After two years of product development, Ringholz created Plae, a casual, athletic-inspired collection, set to launch this spring. According to the San Francisco-based designer, the brand is meant to embody childhood and family. “There are great adult brands like Patagonia and Lululemon that paint a lifestyle and are all about community and being active. But in the kids’ space, there is no active lifestyle brand that represents what it means to be a kid and to be a family — playing and moving and spending time together,” Ringholz said. “That’s what Plae is about.”
The collection, available in sizes 8 to 3, focuses on simple silhouettes, including low-profile sneakers and sporty Mary Jane shoes, that feature brightly colored, interchangeable straps. Priced from $50 to $65, each shoe comes with a pair of matching straps. Additional straps, offered in a range of colors, prints and materials, can be purchased for $5.
“With kids’ footwear, there are two consumers: the parent and the child. The parent is looking for the best possible shoe for their child’s feet, but it’s important to empower kids and make them a part of the decision-making process. The straps allow kids to express themselves,” Ringholz said, adding that he plans to evolve the customizable aspect of the collection in the future.
From a merchandising standpoint, the interchangeable straps allow space-crunched retailers to offer a lot of options while keeping their inventories lean. “The straps create a totally different face on the same base SKU,” Ringholz said. “And we can keep coming out with lots of different tabs and use that as a way to keep things fresh and new.”
With the launch of the shoes, Plae has debuted a website, Goplae.com. In addition to providing a platform for the brand to engage and connect with consumers, the site will serve as “a forum where like-minded people can interact with one another independent of us,” Ringholz said. “We want to create an online community for families.”
Howard’s Shoes for Children, with three locations in northern California, is one of the first retailers to pick up the Plae line. Plae is targeting its distribution to better independents, e-tailers and department stores.
A father of two, Ringholz looked to his own parenting experiences in creating Plae. “My friends and I are all older now and we have kids, so Plae represents what our lives look like now,” he said. “The brand’s all about having fun and getting out and being social with your kids.”
After college, Ryan Ringholz headed to New Balance, where he worked on advanced concepts and running product. He then moved to Puma, leading design for the lifestyle division, and later to GBMI, where he was director of design. In 2005, Ringholz launched his own design agency, consulting for brands including Ugg Australia. He was also half of the duo behind the now-defunct men’s line Ryan Rowe.