Fly London Swoops Into New York City

Fly London is spreading its wings. Coinciding with its 20th anniversary, the funky fashion-comfort brand recently opened the doors of its first store in North America, in New York’s trendy West Village.

“It’s the best way to show the complete collection and a good opportunity to promote and test product,” said Fly London co-owner Amilcar Monteiro. “You can find Fly London in almost every city in the U.S., but a New York store [can] reinforce our brand image.”

In its hip downtown digs, the store has been able to cast a wide customer net, tapping into a local clientele of millennials and baby boomers, as well as tourists visiting nearby stores for brands such as Michael Kors, Coach, Cynthia Rowley and Ralph Lauren.

The shop is a joint venture between Fly London and Burlington, Ontario-based Bos. & Co., which has served as its North American wholesale distributor for the past 16 years. In addition to Fly London product, the store stocks Bos. & Co.’s private-label collection of lifestyle looks, as well as items from Fly London’s sister brand, Softinos. “Softinos are like its name [implies],” Monteiro said of the higher-priced comfort line that launched in 2011. “Everything is soft, no metal ornaments. And they come in a lot of colors that even seniors like.”

Both Fly London and Softinos operate under the umbrella of Portugal-based private-label manufacturer Kayia, founded in 1984 by Monteiro and co-owner Fortunato Frederico. The two acquired the Fly London name in 1994.

Over the years, the partners have built an international footprint. Other Fly London boutiques are located in the U.K., Portugal and Denmark, but Monteiro predicted that North America (the brand’s biggest market after the U.K.) is large enough to support six more stores.

In fact, Monteiro said, the U.S. alone could represent half of Fly London’s business in the next five years.

Outside of its own stores, Fly London boasts a network of retail partners that range from independents to e-tailers.

At Chicago-based Hanig’s, co-owner Daniel Hanig said the chain’s business with the brand is up 20 percent this year over last. “The comfort is surprising [to customers],” Hanig said. “Shoppers see a high wedge and think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ Then, they’re amazed. We sell a lot [of shoes] to teachers, nurses and people on their feet all day.”

At The Shoe Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., co-owner Beth Weingarten said her store has been carrying the line for two years and has developed a strong repeat business. She noted key looks include the Ylva lace-up sandal and the Yala ankle-strap style — both on high unit wedges — as well as the Piat, a low wedge. “I have also brought in some booties [for fall ’14],” Weingarten said, “and they have been selling.”

Online, the brand has developed a following at Planetshoes.com. Brooks Maitland, director of merchandising for the Waltham, Mass.-based e-tailer, said, “Almost all the Fly London products on our site have five-star reviews, with customers talking equally about the comfort and style.” She pointed out that the brand’s sales on the site grew 120 percent in 2013, and it is posting strong numbers this year.

Fly London’s product offering is wide-ranging. The women’s line, which accounts for 80 percent of the business, encompasses office-appropriate pumps to motorcycle-inspired boots. For men, there are Chelsea boots, high-top sneakers and everything in between. In addition to footwear, the company produces a small selection of handbags, belts and sunglasses, also available at its retail stores.

While parent company Kayia operates its own factories in Portugal, about 80 percent of the Fly London line is sourced in China. “It’s a price issue,” explained Monteiro, noting that in the U.S. the shoes carry an average retail price of $180.

As for the look of the collection, Monteiro said the aesthetic harks back to the brand’s British roots. “We still get [our] main inspiration from London,” he said. However, today the brand boasts a very multinational executive and design team. “It’s important to bring a different approach,” Monteiro added.

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