3 Questions for Inkkas Founder Daniel Ben-Nun

3 Questions for Inkkas Founder Daniel
Inkkas spring '14

Inkkas founder and director Daniel Ben-Nun is expecting 2014 to be a big year for the brand.

The year-old label offers men’s and women’s shoes handcrafted in Peru with South American textiles and it donates a portion of proceeds to protect the Amazon rainforest. Inkkas started 2014 off on a high note, having raised more than $77,000 from a Kickstarter campaign created to take the brand to the next level. “Breaking $50,000 was huge, but pushing it above $75,000 was really unimaginable for us,” said Ben-Nun, whose original request was for $20,000.

He added that Inkkas, which has a presence in 25 countries and retails for $75 to $125, is seeing solid sales growth. “We just closed our first fiscal year, and it was a really strong 2013,” Ben-Nun said. “Now we have raised a little bit of revenue and funding to go deeper and broader with our collections.”

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Next steps include introducing jewelry this summer, plus an array of new silhouettes (including boots) for fall ’14 and spring ’15, as well as revamping the label’s Original sneaker collection for spring ’15. Inkkas also aims to extend its business and its social mission beyond South America, adding new materials and artisans from around the globe.

“We’re now sourcing some incredible textiles from all over the world and [having them] 100 percent authentically made in those countries,” the founder said, adding that apparel is part of the company’s long-term plans. Inkkas also recently kicked off a new Amazon initiative in partnership with Trees for the Future, committing to plant a tree for every pair of shoes purchased.

Ben-Nun sounded off on the importance of giving back, some of the hurdles Inkkas has had to overcome and his vision for the future.

1. Why was a strong social responsibility component important for Inkkas?
DBN:
It goes back to where the brand came from. I was traveling across South America and I came across the shoes at a Peruvian market. They struck me as one of the most unique products I’d ever seen. I tracked down the manufacturer, a family-owned group of local artisans on the outskirts of Lima. It [became] important to me to [give] back to the market not only to [maintain] the authentic products but also have a mission attached to the product that would benefit the local communities. The Amazon was a perfect [focus] because it’s an issue that faces all of South America and the entire world.

2. Are there any special challenges that come with that business model?
DBN:
Definitely keeping it authentic. I can’t explain how many obstacles that presents. Buying a shoe in a Peruvian market and [sending] it to China is a straight path to scaling and mass production in no time, for a fraction of the cost. But that’s not what we chose. We chose the path of staying in South America. It’s difficult to work in South America, to deal with the cultural differences, the language barrier and the scaling of the operation. That being said, I do view South America as an incredible resource for the future. South America still has the ability to be flexible, do low quantities, be very price competitive and do free trade with the U.S. and Europe.

3. Where would you like to see Inkkas in five years?
DBN:
I would really like Inkkas to be established as the premier brand that is international, artisanal and authentic — the only brand that goes to the trouble and cares enough to source [product] from the people who are creating the designs.