Why Fashion Customers Can’t Get Enough of Rothy’s Sustainable Shoes

On Dec. 3, Rothy’s will be honored as Brand of the Year at the FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 2 print issue about how the company has taken the lead in the sustainable-fashion space.

When Rothy’s launched as a direct-to-consumer shoe label in 2015, it offered a fashion trifecta: classic flats made of sustainable materials at accessible price points.

The line soon caught on with consumers in major commuting cities like New York and has since garnered A-list fans including Meghan Markle, Ivanka Trump, Natalie Portman and Katie Holmes. Today, the San Francisco-based company is on track to doubling last year’s sales, which totaled 1 million pairs, producing revenue of over $140 million.

Further growth is imminent as Rothy’s expands beyond the U.S. In April, the brand launched in China with an e-commerce site on Tmall.com. It also debuted on the social media and mobile payment platform WeChat, where it has amassed 450,000 followers.

Rothy’s, co-founded by Roth Martin and Stephen Hawthornthwaite, is known for its woven flats made of repurposed water bottles. This fall, the label broadened its selection, introducing an eco-friendly merino wool collection and its first boot, a Chelsea style. It also kicked off its first collaboration series, starting with limited-edition kids’ slip-ons with best-selling illustrator Pete Oswald, followed by a women’s capsule with Italian designer Marta Ferri.

Rothy's Marta Ferri Flat
A style from Rothy’s collaboration with designer Marta Ferri.

“The [styles] are Italian, feminine and winter versions of Rothy’s,” said Ferri about the wool flats. “The shoes have a proper innersole, so they’re super comfortable like a sneaker. And you can throw them in the washing machine.”

Rothy’s was an early innovator of sustainable footwear, which has helped it resonate with today’s young, eco-minded customers.

Industry expert Nicole Leinbach, founder of Retail Minded, explained, “[Consumers] feel good about putting the shoes on, knowing they’ve been made out of recycled materials. And it also feels good that it’s meeting their fashion goals.”

Similarly, Susan Sokolowski, founding director and associate professor of the Sports Product Design Master’s program at the University of Oregon, agreed that sustainability is increasingly important to customers: “Companies that are transparent with their processes are being sought after because they’re honest, and consumers connect quite emotionally with their product. Rothy’s is a great example of how being transparent has developed a trusting relationship.”

As the founders continue to build their brand, they said that environmental concerns will remain a core focus, from materials to packaging. “We’re building a long-lasting brand by being inventive in every category we can be,” Martin told FN. “It’s that kind of thoughtfulness we have permeating through our entire organization.”

Rothy’s founders Roth Martin (L) and Stephen Hawthornthwaite.
CREDIT: Rothy's

The executive further noted that the company owns and operates a 1,000-employee factory in China, allowing for control over production. “No one’s throwing a bucket out the back door,” he said. “We know [about] every scrap.”

To reinforce its brand messaging, Rothy’s in March launched its first series of ads on cable TV and streaming services. Meanwhile, support from celebrities and everyday tastemakers continues to create buzz.

“[We’ve] been thrilled by the celebrities organically wearing our shoes,” said Elie Donahue, VP of marketing at the brand. “It’s such a fun thing to see them out in the wild, and it’s a blessing to have a product that people genuinely love. [Our customer is] the coolest girl in the office who everyone asks for advice. She’s wearing Rothy’s.”

And while the company remains committed to a digital-first mindset, Martin acknowledged that customers do like to touch products before buying. To reach these shoppers, Rothy’s will expand its brick-and-mortar presence in 2020 beyond its single location in San Francisco, launching stores in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.

“I’ve always believed retail is an important part of the equation. It’s part of our future and how we’re reimagining things,” Martin said.

The 33rd annual FNAA ceremony will be held at the IAC Building in New York. Sponsors for the event include Klarna, Geox, The Style Room Powered by Zappos, FDRA, Micam Milano and Buchanan’s Scotch Whiskey.

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