As his name suggests, “Sneaker Steve” Patiño knows a thing or two about kicks.
His skills have been honed over the course of more than two decades, from his teen years working at a shoe store in Queens, N.Y., in exchange for sneakers, to helping to take the DC Shoes brand from $90 million to $600 million as global director of special projects and lifestyle. He also was part of the founding team at luxury footwear label Android Homme.
So why did this sneaker expert just make a clog?
Patiño’s current brand, Ales Grey, is a true passion project for the footwear veteran. Named for and inspired by Patiño’s son, Greyson Alessandro, the label, which launched in spring 2019, strives to present meaningful product and do good in the world
Initially, that mission involved crafting luxury, made-in-Italy sneakers priced from $245-$345 that were meant to last — and that gave back to the community through a partnership with Inner-City Arts in Los Angeles, where Patiño has lived since his DC days.
“I say that art saved my life growing up in New York and Queens,” he told FN. “So I wanted to give back to children who didn’t have the money to study arts in school. Since day one, we’ve donated a percentage of sales to the Inner-City Arts foundation.”
But with Ales Grey’s latest move, the brand is embarking on a new purpose: product that is better for the planet, starting with its unisex Rodeo Drive Clog, made out of a proprietary foam comprised of 51% recycled material.
Patiño said the initiative started in 2019, when Ales Grey was invited to join the Difference Makers program at XL Extralight, the Italian materials company known for its foam compounds and injection molding. Working together at a factory in the La Marche region, they crafted the clog out of XL Extralight’s Sustainable+ material (composed of factory by-products and waste) and used a closed-circuit, injection-molding process that saves roughly 8,000 liters of water compared with the manufacture of traditional leather shoes.
However, Patiño said making a clog wasn’t always the plan.
“We were actually going to start with a runner first,” he recalled. “But once the pandemic hit, we saw that the priority in the world was about comfort and effortlessness and quality. I said to myself: The world doesn’t need another $250, $300 runner right now. They need something they can actually wear every single day, that really goes into their homes and that they can enjoy.”
Earlier this month, Ales Grey launched a Kickstarter to fund the clog project, and with 10 days still to go in its campaign, the brand has nearly doubled its $10,000 goal, meaning production will go forward. Estimated to retail for $158, the Rodeo Drive Clog is now available for pre-order at a discounted rate of 44%-50% off.
Over the past year, injection-molded clogs have achieved near-record levels of popularity, led in particular by Crocs, whose brightly colored shoes have graced the feet of tastemakers like Nicki Minaj and Priyanka Chopra, as well as collaborators Justin Bieber, Bad Bunny and Post Malone.
Patiño acknowledged that his new launch may invite comparisons to that shoe juggernaut. “Crocs is such a great company. Some people even think that Crocs and the clog are the same in terms of being synonymous in name,” he said. “When somebody has that much market share, of course you’re going to get [comparisons]. The way we look at it is: Crocs has a great product, but we’re making something that’s different and unique and special. That’s where we see our opportunity.”
And the Rodeo Drive Clog has attracted its own high-profile fans as well, including MLB player Jon Jay and Dominic “The Shoe Surgeon” Ciambrone.
Moving forward, Ales Grey has more sustainable product in the pipeline for 2022, including that delayed runner style. “We will be the first in the world to launch this specific outsole tooling with it,” said Patiño, adding that the brand also is launching a new cupsole construction and incorporating recycled Italian leathers into the line.
Meanwhile, Ales Grey also is re-evaluating its distribution strategy. While primarily sold direct-to-consumer online, the brand had been wholesaling to 15-20 major luxury retail accounts prior to the pandemic. “Moving forward for 2021 and 2022, we’re exploring our distribution channels and looking at who the right partners are, as well as our global distributors as well,” said Patiño.
But he did tease that fans can expect new exclusive releases with some of those retail partners in the coming year, as well as its first collaboration with Puma.