Max Schiller and Jonathan Hirschfeld had a dramatic start for their brand, Eytys.
“Our entire shipment was on a freight ship that broke in half and sank in the Indian Ocean,” said Schiller. “But when we finally launched three or four months later, people had been waiting for the shoes. It made us sell out almost immediately.”
Since debuting in April 2013, Schiller and Hirschfeld — sole owners of the business, which currently has no outside investment — have impressively grown the Stockholm-based brand. For 2014, Eytys (pronounced like “eighties”) estimates that revenue will be 1.5 million to 2 million euros ($1.88 million to $2.5 million at current exchange), with 40 percent of sales coming from Japan.
Despite its widespread expansion, the brand maintains a tight focus: It offers only two unisex lace-up sneakers, retailing for $150 to $300.
The high-top Odyssey and low-top Mother are both produced in Vietnam and come in leather, suede or canvas. They feature cork footbeds and the brand’s now-signature thick rubber sole, inspired by a vintage favorite.
“I was always on eBay tracking down old deck shoes,” Schiller said. “But whenever I found pairs, you couldn’t wear them because the rubber was so dried out. So I decided to make one.”
Best friends Schiller and Hirschfeld are no strangers to entrepreneurship. “We worked with each other during high school, selling shirts with the school logo on it that Max designed and I sold,” Hirschfeld said.
After graduation, the two went their separate ways. Hirschfeld attended business school at the University of Stockholm and became an investment banker for Crédit Agricole. Schiller worked his way up at Acne Studios, eventually landing a job designing menswear.
To create Eytys, the two tapped their different skill sets — Max is the creative force, while Jonathan handles business operations — but they have a common goal: to conceptualize millennials’ sneaker obsession and offer an elevated product at affordable prices. “I would never want us to be considered a premium or luxury sneaker,” Schiller said.
Nevertheless, the founders have been very selective about their wholesale accounts, focusing on markets in North America and Asia, though they sell in Europe as well.
Currently, Eytys is carried in influential concept stores such as Dover Street Market, LN-CC, United Arrows and Opening Ceremony, as well as a new shop-in-shop in Our Legacy’s Göteborg, Sweden, location. For the spring ’15 season, the brand will launch with Canadian high-fashion e-tailer SSENSE. “It’s all about working with stores we like,” Hirschfeld said. “They have to add something different to the market.”
Retailers said that they are attracted to the brand’s minimalist aesthetic. “We picked up Eytys at the start of this year, not long after the brand launched,” said Damien Paul, head of menswear at Matchesfashion.com. “There’s something about the proportion that feels totally modern. The simplicity of their design makes them feel smarter than sportier styles, and [the shoes] work as well with tailored trousers as they do with jeans.”
In August, Eytys opened its first flagship, in Stockholm. Designed with cabinet maker Axel Wannberg, the store offers a curated selection of books, home accessories and merchandise from other brands in addition to the Eytys footwear.
The flagship is located on a back street of Stockholm’s city center, an offbeat choice that mirrors the brand’s nontraditional sales strategies.
“In Stockholm, we’re stocked in high-end stores that have Lanvin and Balenciaga, but we’re also stocked in a basement skate shop,” Hirschfeld said. “I like that about us. We’ve said from the start that we want to be inclusive, not exclusive.”
Max Schiller & Jonathan Hirschfeld
Age: 29 (Schiller) and 30 (Hirschfeld)
Most memorable trip: Hirschfeld: “Max and I went to Tokyo in 2012. Tokyo, for me, is like New York on acid. They do everything different, but better. We looked at each other and said, ‘We have to take this energy and do something.’”
The flagship location: Schiller: “It used to be a historical part of Stockholm, but it was completely torn down in the 1960s. You could say it’s one of the most hated parts of Stockholm because it now has architecture that was popular 50 years ago. But we like it — it’s a part of Stockholm that’s not perfect.”
Humble beginnings: Hirschfeld: “Our first showroom was in a hotel room in Paris, where we also slept at night. We would just roll up the beds in the morning.”
Art fixation: Schiller: “A few years ago, I went to the Dia:Beacon, a museum in upstate New York. They have a massive room there with paintings by Agnes Martin. I loved it so much that I went to the paint shop and matched all of the colors from her art [for our flagship].”