Footwear brand Vouelle has big plans for the new year.
“In the next 12 months, the U.S. is really going to be a target market for us,” said CEO Melissa Regan de Vogele, who started the Paris-based company in 2008 with fellow American, friend and creative director Michelle Boor.
France is currently Vouelle’s main market, but the brand is also making inroads into the U.S. with a number of boutique accounts and a dedicated page on Modewalk.com, a new membership e-commerce site that gives U.S.-based consumers access to select European luxury brands.
Vouelle began as a high-end bridal footwear label before branching out with seasonal lines, a cocktail collection and a mono sandal that is aimed at women who travel and is updated annually. The Vouelle styles, offered in patent leather and lambskin, exotic skins and textured fabrics, combine luxury and contemporary details.
Vouelle came full circle in spring ’12, expanding its bridal line with a six-style capsule wedding sneaker collection, made in collaboration with Twins for Peace, a nonprofit that donates shoes to children in developing countries.
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For fall ’12, the brand is busy developing its seventh collection, which will include a new made-in-Paris capsule offering, said the CEO. In addition, Vouelle is on the verge of signing its first licensing deal, although Regan de Vogele could not yet reveal specifics. “I am very interested in exploring what opportunities exist for us in both new geographical markets via licensing and new product classes,” she said. “[Until recently], this type of development wasn’t on our radar. Now I’m [recognizing that] all types of opportunities exist.”
Regan de Vogele recently spoke with Footwear News about optimizing production, giving junior designers a chance to shine and why the company’s sights are set on the U.S.
While Vouelle is marketed toward the high-end consumer, your retail prices range from $390 to $600 for the main line, and $150 to $175 for the bridal sneakers. How do you achieve these price points?
MR: When we first started, we did all our manufacturing in Italy, in the Tuscany region. Today, we continue to maintain some manufacturing there, but we also do manufacturing in Spain, a little bit in Portugal, and we even do a little in Paris for smaller series or things that are time-sensitive and limited. That combination has allowed us to arrive at a much more affordable price point for accessible luxury.
Do you worry about maintaining the quality of the footwear in other production locations?
MR: There’s a difference in Italian manufacturing, but having that Italian hand is not necessarily required for all product. We keep our most sophisticated styles 100 percent made in Italy, and for others, we import the skins directly from Italy from the same suppliers, but we have [the shoes] made [at a factory elsewhere] — for example, in Spain.
As a smaller, newer company, is maintaining that production strategy difficult?
MR: Ensuring the relationships with manufacturers, [and making sure] that when they get a big order from a big company they don’t just push you to the back, [is a challenge. We make it work by] really being hands-on and doing what it takes to deliver on time or as close to on time as possible. It’s a very hard thing, and contracts do not suffice. I usually end up traveling to the factories. It’s a lot about personal presence.
You recently brought in a stable of junior designers, and your bridal sneakers were inspired by an idea from one of them, Dana Skaraine. Why has it been important to give young talent an integral role at Vouelle?
MR: In [larger] organizations, each creative director always has a team of junior designers, [but] when you are a two-person startup, this isn’t always the case. Everything really falls on one person creatively. One of the reasons we’ve brought [this group] on board is to better help organize Michelle’s time and resources, and another is to have additional interpretations of Michelle’s creative direction to bring diversity to our line.
Why did you choose the U.S. as your next market, and what types of retailers are you targeting here?
MR: There are several reasons. With Michelle and me being American, the U.S. is a natural fit. The size of the U.S. market and how influential American consumers are to the rest of the world [is also a factor]. Also, we’ve been able to control price points, making our product more accessible within the U.S., taking into account the exchange rate difference, for example. Of course, it will be great when the time comes to be in the major luxury retail chains; however, right now, we are really focusing on e-commerce retailers to make our products as widely available as possible.