Longtime friends, sneaker aficionados and co-designers George Sully and Henry Wong set out to make perfectly pared-down premium men’s and women’s kicks in 2011. “We pooled our connections together — his in design, production and logistics, and me in design, graphics and marketing,” said Sully of the Toronto-based company. “Clean construction and quality is what defines us.”
Since then, the brand, which also offers bags and is priced in that sweet spot of $150 for low courts to $350 for athletic-soled boots, has steadily built a healthy business that extends to nine countries, including New York’s Atrium locations and Japan’s Lui’s stores. Closer to home, it is carried by Canadian retailer Town Shoes, Hudson’s Bay Company (come 2018) and on its own e-commerce channel.
Along the way, Sully and Wong have racked up some notable fans, such as Toronto Blue Jays baseball player José Bautista, Jaden Smith and Canadian digital darlings/twins Caillianne and Samantha Beckerman, and also collaborated with the label Nobis.
Watch on FN
Wong’s family connections in China “pointed us in the right direction,” said Sully about their manufacturing partners in Guangzhou. “Our factories are experts and able to produce with incredibly short turnaround times. There’s no sneaker factories in Canada, at least not ones that could produce our type volume.”
Footwear News caught up with Sully to hear more about his business, growing beyond the petite Canadian shoe scene and what’s next for the brand.
Without formal training, how did you learn shoe design?
The foundation of anything starts with a good sketching background. The better you can translate your idea to the factory, the better the outcome. We are not cobblers, by any means, but knowing what you want and the fundamentals of shoe construction is important to know as well.
How does being a Canadian brand help differentiate you?
We are Canadian, period. We’ve never felt the need to play it up or downplay it. Your first international trade show will teach you that the majority of buyers are looking for quality and a return on their investment, in terms of the profit margin. You have those things to be an international player, it won’t matter where you’re from.
How important are online sales channels for your brand?
[We’re] part new school, part old. We’ve been lucky enough to have the best of both worlds when it comes to sales. Though in the past three years, we have definitely turned our focus to online, social media and their respective sales channels.
Does the Canadian industry support you?
Tough question. Fellow Canadian support, yes. Support from a Canadian industry? We’ve never really asked for it, nor ever really received it, so we wouldn’t honestly know what it would feel like. I’m not even sure they’d know what to do with us. There’s no fashion incubator for shoe designers in Toronto, no infrastructure whatsoever. It’s no wonder why you can count the amount of shoe designers on only three of your five fingers. Our success has come from our core customers, fans and followers that have found us on their own. The internet has cut out any form of gatekeepers standing in our way of success. I tell new designers all the time, “If you’re still looking for some sort of validation from the ‘Canadian Industry,’ don’t! Try opening up an Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook account. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.'”
What advice would you give to someone getting into shoes in Canada? What does it take to succeed?
Secure your financing — it’s an expensive endeavor. One mistake on a [production] run could easily cost you your entire business. Be independent in your thinking.
What’s next? What are your goals for the future? Dream accounts or people you would love to see in your shoes? How do you plan to grow Sully Wong?
We will definitely continue to collaborate. We are also expanding our accessories division, which also includes clothing. You heard it here first.