5 Questions for Alegria’s Megan Gold

When it comes to comfort, Alegria doesn’t take itself too seriously.

While the brand’s quirky rocker-bottom styles feature footbeds engineered to reduce metatarsal pressure and encourage proper gait, design director Megan Gold is making sure the shoes are fun to wear, too.

With its whimsical but functional styles, Alegria, produced by Pomona, Calif.-based PG Lite, attracts a wide range of consumers, from everyday women to health-care and restaurant workers. Styles include colorful clogs, sandals and boots, all detailed with everything from retro peace symbols to floral prints, with retail prices that range from $100 to $170. The brand is also a staple in the duty market.

“My mom is a doctor, my sister-in-law works in a nursing home and I have a cousin who is a chef. In those worlds, [Alegria is] becoming pretty well-known,” Gold said.

Since its 2008 launch, the brand has built a U.S. account base of roughly 1,000 retailers, including Zappos.com and Belk, and has expanded into international markets, including Finland, Israel, Thailand and Switzerland. Despite a tough economy, the company logged sales gains of 25 percent this year over last.

And the brand is just getting started, Gold said. Having successfully carved out a niche for itself in women’s, Alegria is turning its attention to the kids’ market, with a girls’ collection set to hit stores in April. This follows the fall ’11 launch of a companion accessories line that includes wristlets and totes.

Here, Gold shares her thoughts on the go-to cities for soaking up inspiration and the comfort opportunities in the kids’ market.

Where do you look for inspiration for the collection?
I go home to Seattle, stop into Nordstrom and [then] check out the comfort stores there. I also go to Olympia, Wash., and spend time in cafés. Being in that element is much less glitzy than shopping in Orange County or Beverly Hills. It’s a completely different customer. I [also] have a great perspective on our customer because I’ve worked plenty of jobs, like waiting tables, where I was on my feet for long periods of time.

How do you cater to both a fashion and work customer now that the medical and duty markets have embraced Alegria?
Every woman wants to look great, no matter what she’s doing. [For example], nurses work double shifts, [and our wide] assortment of prints and colors [allows them to] make a statement about themselves. As for my fashion customer, I think of that same nurse going to dinner or having fun on her day off. I ask myself where she shops, what she’s wearing. And in this economy, we’re fortunate to have a professional consumer niche. We have customers who own more than five pairs.

Comfort brands don’t typically appeal to young shoppers. How are you reaching this audience?
[By offering] a variety of materials, there’s something for everyone. I try to keep the patterns classic and not overly designed. We don’t add new styles very often. Instead, we [try to] predict what customers will be looking for [and what styles] would look great in current materials and color trends. For example, the African leopard patent in our Paloma Mary Jane style and the tortoise patent in our Classic clog reach everyone.

With a kids’ line in the works, are you worried that parents might be reluctant to put their kids in a rocker outsole?
It will be a matter of trying on the shoes and seeing that [they have] a very stable foundation. There isn’t anything tippy about them. I’m the mother of a 9-year-old girl, and I have used her and her friends to test out samples. I feel confident it won’t be an issue. But I do understand parents’ concerns.

As you add new categories, such as accessories, do you see Alegria evolving into a lifestyle brand?
I would love that. I started out my career designing bags, so that is second nature to me and [has been] a nice addition to the line. Still, just as we’re adding different patterns slowly, we’re entering into [other categories] very cautiously. I know Dansko got into scrubs. We’re not talking about that at this point, but it could be logical because of our prints. In 2012, we will have other bags [coming out], including a tote and shoulder bag.

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