The ’90’s mom shoe may be the latest millennial-driven nostalgia craze, but for Sarah Staudinger there is a legitimate matriarch behind her mules and square toes. The 30-year-old creative director and co-founder of fashion brand Staud grew up admiring the vast footwear collection of her mother, Joanna, who as a designer in the ’80s and ’90s started a label with fashion veteran Nancy Heller and also had a namesake footwear collection stocked at Fred Segal in Los Angeles.
“Since I could speak, there wasn’t anything else [but fashion],” recalled Staudinger about her upbringing. “We were looking at videos the other day, where I was styling the whole room, playing dress up. My falling in love with fashion was during the ’90s, when I saw [my mom] walking around in her kitten heels. To this day, I’ll go over [to her house] for lunch or Sunday breakfast and she’ll have these shoes strategically placed as centerpieces.”
Latching on to the “mom” trend could read as gimmicky, but don’t underestimate Staud’s ability to take buzz and convert it into sales and long-term strategy. Alongside co-founder and artistic director George Augusto, Staudinger (who named the brand after her childhood nickname) has managed to create a label that is tapping into the fashion zeitgeist of the Instagram era.
And with the recent debut of footwear for the spring ’19 season — plus a reported $1.6 million investment from Chris Burch — Staud is well on its way to stepping over the emerging designer hurdle.
BRAND BUILDING IN THE BAG
Before launching the line in 2015, Staudinger was the fashion director of Reformation, another L.A.-based contemporary brand with a millennial cult following that’s known for its focus on sustainability and gentler price points. There, she was tasked with both product design and content creation for its growing e-commerce business — dual skills that have proven essential to Staud’s storyline (and 264K Instagram followers). She met Augusto (a creative entrepreneur who still runs an art gallery, restaurant and art book publishing company) through mutual friends shortly after moving back to L.A. from New York.
“There was never this grand plan,” said Augusto, 47, of Staud’s early stages. “Each step came out of necessity and out of an aesthetic that we both related to.”
The two initially planned to incorporate customization into the brand but did a quick pivot when they realized that their customers cared more about their handbags than adding sleeves to a dress.
Since then, the duo has managed to distill what many savvy women are looking for in fashion today: cool clothes and accessories that sit above the fast-fashion ledge but are still attainable. “There was this lack in the market for a specific type of girl,” said Staudinger. “It felt very trend-driven and almost disposable, and not at the price point that was a sweet spot.”
Their retro-inspired handbags, with ’70s-esque macramé and boxy shapes, helped define the Staud look, and early fans such as Dakota Johnson, Alexa Chung and Leandra Medine solidified its status among fashion’s “it” girls. The brand also has the support of one particular fashion legend: Cher.
Ahead of the CFDA Awards in June, where the brand was nominated in the Emerging Designer category, Staudinger posted a video on Instagram of the singer — her godmother — congratulating her.
Staudinger’s mother is a longtime friend of the star, having toured with Cher and Sonny Bono when she was 17 years old. “When I was growing up, seeing those photos of my mom and Cher, with their long hair and those insane outfits, it was definitely a huge part of what got me interested in fashion,” said Staudinger.
“Sarah always had a great fashion sense, even as a little girl,” Cher told FN this month. “I came to stay at her house one New Year’s when she was young. She ran into my room, jumped on my bed and said ‘Chercon!’ That was what she called me.”
BUZZ WITH BACKING
As most young designers learn, a business can’t be built on critical success alone. Augusto and Staudinger initially funded the venture through friends and family, but the investment from Burch Creative Capital in 2017 was their game changer. Then in January, Jon Zeiders, a Burch consultant and former SVP of merchandising, product development and production at Rebecca Minkoff, joined Staud as its president. Zeiders has since been focused on buttoning up the production process, which is mostly based in L.A., aside from the footwear, which is made in Portugal.
“Every decision we make is highly strategic,” said Zeiders, who leads Staud’s team of about 30 people. “We worked very early with design to talk about what things look like at the end of the process.” For Staudinger, building out the footwear category came out of both personal needs and a gap in the market. “I couldn’t find that category: very practical, chic, a little interesting, a little fun, comfortable,” she said. “I have huge feet — like massive, male basketball player feet. Now I have a ton of shoes [for myself ].” (Staudinger is a size 11.)
Top styles include the aforementioned mules and square-toe sandals for spring ’19, but for fall the brand is banking on boots. “I wanted this sexy over-the-knee boot moment, but [the ones I saw] were all stilettos, leaning on the ‘Pretty Woman,’ street-corner side,” said Staudinger. “I wanted something that I could wear to work and not feel like I was going to fall over.” The snake-printed calf leather, over-the-knee Benny boot will retail for $495 this fall.
Like most brands today, Staud’s retail strategy is fluid, though it has more than 100 retailers worldwide. “A few years ago, everybody said, ‘Direct-to consumer; forget retail,’ ” said Augusto. “Today, we want balance. We want a healthy retail component. We want a healthy direct-to-consumer component.” Lately, that includes a hybrid approach, with pop-up shop-in-shops (currently at Tenet in East Hampton; previously at Le Bon Marché and Selfridges). The label is also working on plans for its own brick-and-mortar store. While the company’s leaders declined to comment on Staud’s sales figures, Forbes reported an approximate $20 million in revenue for 2018 (five times the 2017 numbers). “Even though we’re a small company, we think like a very big company. That’s where we see ourselves in the future,” said Zeiders.
Watch FN’s interview below with Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas.
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