Gaston Frydlewski believes consumers hate shoelaces. He believes it so much he quit his finance job in Argentina, his wife sold her hotel, and the two moved to New York to start Hickies, a line of rubber shoe clasps.
“Everyone has some issue with shoelaces,” Frydlewski told Footwear News. “Parents have to tie shoelaces many times a day, and kids are running around with laces undone. It’s dangerous.”
Athletes as well complain about having to double-knot laces to prevent injury during training, not to mention brands rarely display their shoes with a bow tie, the founder and CEO added. “There seems to be two aspects to [the problem] — one practical and one aesthetic,” he said.
By contrast, Hickies aims to offer a more hassle-free option. The brand’s elastic fasteners can be threaded through shoe eyelets, clasped together and then left alone. Made of a memory-fit elastomer, the lacing system, which retails for $15 per pack, is meant to stretch for easy on-and-off, while still maintaining a snug fit.
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Frydlewski said he spent seven years developing the proprietary material and business plan for the product, imagining its uses among a range of customers.
Perhaps he’s on to something. Since Hickies officially launched in 2012, the company has sold more than 1 million packs and is now in 30 countries, including Japan, its first market outside the U.S. “[Customers there] are [constantly] slipping in and out of shoes to go into the house or a restaurant, so our product is perfect for them,” Frydlewski said.
He added that the brand is seeing a lot of traction in Canada, as well as in Europe, where it has its own subsidiary. Peter Marher — global head of sales and a former executive from Under Armour, Puma and Adidas — invested in the company and has been helping to build the overseas business, alongside GM Ralf Puschmann, another Puma alum.
To fund the startup, Frydlewski has relied on a variety of sources. During the development phase, he was self-supporting. Then a Kickstarter campaign in May 2012 brought in nearly $160,000 to commence mass production. Earlier this year, a cash influx from a major footwear manufacturer helped support the launch of additional collections. “I am not allowed to disclose [which company invested], but it should be [one of the first] coming to your head,” Frydlewski hinted.
For spring ’15, Hickies will introduce a new line: Elements, a metallic series priced at $20.
“Elements is more of a high-fashion collection, but it has the same performance,” Frydlewski said. “We keep expanding the limits of our material and can do silver, gold and bronze.”
And this month, Doohickies, a children’s product retailing for $10, began selling in Nordstrom. The line offers kid-specific colors for boys and girls, ages 4 and older, and Frydlewski aims to soon add accessories that attach to the Doohickies.
Until recently, Hickies’ distribution has mainly been through the Brookstone chain, but lately, the brand has expanded into Nordstrom and is in talks to enter Academy Sports & Outdoors in 2015.
Rene Hart, operational VP and DMM of technology for Brookstone, said the retailer found Hickies on Kickstarter in 2013 and now carries the line in all 240 of its stores. “What’s cool about the brand is that no one else has been innovating in shoelaces for all this time,” Hart said. “[Frydlewski] had a new idea about how they could be better. It’s about being more efficient, and we love the innovative aspect.” He added that customers have responded well to the product, particularly younger shoppers, “but we know adults are buying them, too.”
Looking ahead, Frydlewski does not want to stay tied forever to one category.
“We will be focusing on laces for the next two years, probably, but the mission of the company is to reinvent everyday items and reimagine them through innovation and design,” he said. “We have very cool ideas for other potential products that have been overlooked by the market.”