Jerusalem Sandals Is Building Fashion Bridges With Shoes Made in Palestine

Fashion without borders. It’s the message California-based Jerusalem Sandals — an Israeli-Palestinian footwear venture — has been touting for the past decade.

But co-founder Kfir Matalon said it’s the brand’s classic handmade leather styles that have caught the attention of retailers like Nordstrom, Zappos, Urban Outfitters and Free People.

“The sandals are like vinyl records,” said Israeli-born Matalon, describing the simple men’s and women’s designs produced in a family-owned factory in Palestine. “We have all this technology today — Apple music — but amazingly people want to buy records.”

Customers from twentysomethings to 50-year-olds, noted Matalon, are drawn to the collection’s strappy designs that cost on average $75.

According to Matalon, sales have doubled each year since the company’s launch 10 years ago. There’s also been a continued uptick in business since this year’s move to new headquarters in Van Nuys, Calif., along with its rebranded website, which generates about 10% of sales.

A novice to the shoe business, Matalon launched the label after people on the street began noticing his wife’s sandals, which were a simple handcrafted style she bought on a trip to Jerusalem. Identifying an opportunity, the couple headed back to Israel where they began importing sandals made in small workshops there, then selling them on the boardwalk in Venice Beach, Calif.

While the sandals were quickly snapped up by both locals and tourists, an order from a retailer in Hawaii pushed the couple into the wholesale business, creating a need to ramp up production by a move to its current manufacturing facility.

“I didn’t have a clue about the shoe business,” said Matalon, who was quick to learn about essentials such as EDI. “However, I had attitude. I said we could do it and then figured it out.”

While the idea of Israelis and Palestinians working together may have initially surprised some, the company’s unique story has proven a plus.

“When I started, I was concerned,” said Matalon. “But I’m amazed at the support.” Even the company’s name — Jerusalem in biblical Hebrew — means “teaching peace,” and its top-selling style is called The Good Shepherd.

The company recently took the brand’s message to the making of shoes with a new spring ’20 outsole created by former Reebok designer Ralph Serna that carries its tagline: Walk in Peace.

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