Soft Star Shoes was never interested in being the next footwear conglomerate. In fact, since its launch in 1985, the company has continued to produce shoes handmade by a group of artisans in a workshop in Corvallis, Ore.
Despite remaining under the radar by selling exclusively on its website, Softstarshoes.com, and a companion store at its headquarters, growing sales have forced the company to break ground on a new 12,000-sq.-ft. facility in nearby Philomath, Ore., where it plans to relocate in fall ’16.
The company, founded by Tim Oliver, originally produced soft-soled infant and children’s shoes. It wasn’t until 2005, when the company was purchased by friends Tricia Salcido and Larkin Holavarri, former employees of Hewlett-Packard with backgrounds in engineering and business, that adult moccasins were added to the mix.
According to Salcido, she and Holavarri, who were ready to start their families, were on the hunt for jobs that offered a more flexible work schedule. They noticed that Soft Star Shoes was for sale and were attracted by its unique products and loyal customer base. The pair immersed themselves in the shoemaking business by reaching out to industry insiders as well as learning from Oliver, who continues to work at the company.
The addition of adult styles was followed in 2010 by the launch of a minimal running style — the Original RunAmoc, which is still in the line. The move was sparked by the popularity of the barefoot-running movement, said Salcido, and the 2009 bestseller Born to Run. “It’s not easy to design a barefoot-inspired shoe,” said Salcido. “It must be light, flexible and fit the foot like a glove, but still be durable, safe and attractive.”
This fall, Salacido and Holavarri have once again expanded the product offering with the addition of the Hawthorne chukka boot, Soft Star’s first style featuring a sole that can be replaced. “It [appeals] to the eco-conscious customer,” said Salcido, of the ability to prolong the life of the shoe.
Since the company’s move into the adult market, it has posted double-digit growth annually, with 15 percent of sales from international customers. According to Salcido, about half of Soft Star’s business is in the adult category, from barefoot-inspired athletic to casual looks, retailing from $80 to $225, with children’s styles from $30 to $100.
In addition to selecting from looks offered on its web site, customers can also design their own shoes from a range of colors and materials.