As we continue in our commitment to elevate diversity, inclusion and equality conversations, FN is shining a light on Black-owned businesses in honor of Black Business Month. For these next few weeks, we encourage you to get to know these incredible Black-owned companies and support them all year round.
Chris Echevarria has had a successful career in fashion. He was working at a showroom leading the resurgence of popular men’s brand Stone Island. But he decided trade that all in to launch his own New York-based shoe brand, Blackstock and Weber. With design training from Fashion Institute of Technology and mentorship from retail giant Mickey Drexler, whom he worked under at J.Crew, Echevarria set out to launch his direct-to-consumer men’s footwear label two years ago and has been enjoying the ride ever since.
“I wanted to take what I’ve done and apply that to what I wanted to do,” he told FN. “It was hard to walk away. But I’m making things that I like, releasing them when I want to. Continuing to just be happy — making little pieces of art and releasing that into the world. That’s enough for me.”
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Focusing on the penny loafer, the founder and creative director is hellbent on quality. His shoes are handmade in England and he sources materials from Italy and Spain. That emphasis on quality, he said, was inspired by his mother who taught him the importance of well-made goods.
And despite hiccups in the supply chain stemming from coronavirus, Echevarria said his sales have managed to advance year-over year thanks to an edited assortment, weekly drops and his decision to maintain limited quantities of the penny loafer.
“I don’t know what sales would have looked like if the coronavirus didn’t happen. [But] we were able to plan around that, so we did pre-orders and we didn’t stop selling,” he said. “When we first [launched], we started out with 23 styles. Now, we’re focusing strictly on the penny loafer. And with that focus, we’re able to zone in on a customer that we ultimately want to serve.”
He said the silhouette is quintessential as it can be styled with an array of looks, from basketball shorts to suits. “This is a style that’s very similar to a sneaker. I like to think of the penny the same way that I think of Nike’s Air Force One. There’s so much versatility within that one silhouette — so many different colors, so many different combinations, so many different ways that you can play with fabrications to make it different. In that sense, it’s a designer’s treat.”
Ranging in price from $225 to $325, Blackstock and Weber is offering three styles now, including a recent Philadelphia 76ers collaboration. But it won’t last forever. Echevarria typically limits each style to 50 pairs. “It’s all about maintaining the brand for me,” he explained. “I want people to be interested in what’s happening next week, not stuck on what happened four months ago.”
And he’s not looking to partner with retailers anytime soon, given his accessible price points he’s able to deliver via the direct-to-consumer platform. He said, “If I were to partner with wholesalers, that easily becomes a $500 to $700 loafer. I don’t want kids to have to break the bank to be able to afford any of my products.”
However, he does have his eyes set on opening his own retail store over the next two years.
For the last few months, Blackstock and Weber has also seen an uptick as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased support for Black-owned businesses. While Echevarria said he was grateful for renewed attention, he hopes it’s not a flash in the pan.
“Before people started focusing on Black businesses, we worked hard. It wasn’t like we weren’t out there. It wasn’t like people didn’t see us. They just don’t give you a shot. As a person of color, you get used to those things happening,” he said. “If you’re integrating the Black-owned businesses into your life. Always think about us as we continue to push the boundaries like we are.”