When former Reebok sales rep Kevin O’Neill began creating Malibu Sandals, he focused heavily on its function. What he didn’t predict was for others to love its fashion.
“I never expected the fashion world to adopt the brand like they did,” said O’Neill. “I knew there was a surf specialty channel for it, but it really was about the fashion adoption. I think it’s because this is a new look — it’s not an also-ran.”
Since soft-launching in spring ’15 with a series of men’s sandals, the Malibu, Calif.-based label has been picked up by marquee retailers including Harvey Nichols, Mr. Porter and United Arrows. Opening Ceremony is adding the line for spring ’17.
In addition, the brand was tapped by Missoni last year for a runway collaboration that will continue this season. The 10 new men’s looks will sell for $150 to $180 at Missoni stores, other fashion boutiques and online.
Malibu Sandals’ looks are based on the classic Mexican huarache, which O’Neill said has historic ties to Southern California. “In the 1950s, when surf culture started in Malibu, real surfers went down to Baja to surf in Mexico,” he explained. “The indigenous people were there selling serapes and huaraches, and the surfers brought them home.”
O’Neill’s brand launched with two woven men’s silhouettes — the Zuma slide and Canyon closed-back sandal. And in spring ’16 it debuted pared-down versions for women, as well as the women’s-only Trancas.
All the styles are vegan-friendly and feature a soft anatomically correct polyurethane footbed and a durable rubber outsole. Prices for the main line range from $80 to $150.
Malibu Sandals’ Trancas style for women, $80; Malibusandals.com
Now, for spring ’17, Malibu Sandals is unveiling two closed-toe huaraches.
“This will help extend our season to bridge into autumn and early spring,” said O’Neill. “Socks and sandals could carry you year-round. There’s been a lot of talk that sandals and socks are back. I guess we just got lucky with the fashion trends.”