Soludos has come a long way in just three years.
The brand hit the market for spring ’10 with a simple mission: to provide accessible flat espadrilles reminiscent of the European classic. Now the lightweight styles with jute soles and patterned uppers, retailing for $28 to $65, are sold in hundreds of doors worldwide, including Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Steven Alan in the U.S.
“We didn’t reinvent the wheel,” said founder Nick Brown, 29. “It’s a simple design, but we are challenging ourselves with really cool, fun and interesting prints and fabrics.” Indian ikats, authentic Japanese kimono fabrics and original woodblock prints are some of the offerings.
Though he wouldn’t divulge company figures, Brown did say global sales are expected to increase more than twofold from 2011 to 2012.
And retailers are feeling positive.
“The product offering is totally unique in the marketplace, and they are wonderful to work with,” said Shopbop.com shoe buyer Tia Powers, adding that she has seen significant growth for the brand since the site picked it up for spring ’10. “[Soludos styles] are the perfect summer and vacation shoe at a sharp price point in fun colors and prints. They have become a summer wardrobe staple for our customer.”
Because Soludos is primarily a warm-weather brand —and that’s when the bulk of its product is released — Brown said he is focused on international expansion.”We always knew that to be a year-round business we had to go to the Southern Hemisphere,” he said, adding that Australia has been consistently successful for the last three seasons. “Australia is an active beach culture, and our product and lifestyle really fit in with their culture.” South Africa and New Zealand are newer regions for the brand, which is now carried in a variety of boutiques there.
Europe is also on the founder’s radar. Brown said he hopes to increase business in his native London (Harvey Nichols hosted a pop-up shop there last summer), in addition to such warm-weather locations as Greece.
“It’s like selling snow to the Eskimos,” he said of marketing espadrilles in the Mediterranean, “but we feel that with great fabrics, prints and attention to detail and design, there’s a demand there for Soludos. It’s our level of detail and care that is going to separate us.”
Resort areas in the U.S. also have been a hit for Soludos, which has accounts in the Hamptons in New York and Nantucket, Mass.
Jesse Warren, owner of Tenet in Southampton, N.Y., carries the largest selection of Soludos among the label’s retailers and has been working with the brand from the outset. “Being so close to the beach at a great summer location, there couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Soludos’ bright colors and patterns,” Warren said. “People come in and buy a pair, and then by the end of the summer they might have 10 different colors and styles. They fall in love with them.”
Brown, who doesn’t have any prior experience in footwear and enlisted investment partners Harry Smail and Adam Ross, has found that another way to spark interest is through special product and collaborations at home and abroad. Retailers and brands such as Opening Ceremony, J.Crew, United Arrows in Japan and Bassike in Australia have all lent exclusive prints and fabrications to Soludos’ classic style. “They have helped grow the business,” Brown said of the stores. “We’re fortunate to have worked with these [partners], and because of [these offerings] our customer base has grown. It’s been a way of staying new for us and putting a fresh spin on the expected.”
Swimwear designer Mara Hoffman collaborated with Soludos this past summer, helping to create loud, printed styles. “It seemed like a no-brainer type of collaboration,” she said. “Both brands represent a fun, beachy lifestyle.”
Now Brown is focused on expanding Soludos’ design offering. Three new espadrilles will launch for spring, including a lace-up, low-cut slide and closed-toe look with wraparound ankle straps. A kids’ collection with whimsical prints also will debut.
Such expansion, Brown said, comes from two places. “Part of it is a [demand] from our customer base, and part of it is to try new things and see what we can do to push the envelope on design,” he said.
The styles by nature create demand, too.
“Espadrilles have jute soles, so they’re not going to last forever. The idea is that they last for a summer,” Brown said, adding that he’s experimenting with additional accessories but is primarily focused on Soludos’ original mission. “We want to maintain the simplicity of the brand, the product and the business.”