Before the pandemic, fashion designer and entrepreneur Rob Gregg was shoeing celebrities like Terrence Howard, Sterling Brown and Jason Derulo through his luxury Italian men’s brand, Rob McAllan. Then COVID-19 changed everything.
Gregg recalls receiving a startling call that a 30-year-old friend of the family was hospitalized with the virus and in critical condition. “Thankfully, due to innovation, this automotive company created a new type of face mask, and at the recommendation of the nurses at the NHS, he tried it and that saved his life,” said Gregg, who, out of gratitude, began donating a portion of proceeds from each pair of shoes sold toward the production of PPE for medical staff.
It was then, he said, he discovered a glaring need in the nursing community for safe, affordable footwear. So as a result, Gregg put the Rob McAllan business on hold and shifted full-time to creating his new direct-to-consumer shoe brand, Gales, named for founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale.
“As soon as I found out that there was this huge unaddressed area in nurses, that was my spark,” he said. “Making shoes for guys on red carpets and runways, fun, being in GQ, being featured in the FIFA World Cup, fun. But this — it feels like my calling and it resonates with every fiber of my being.”
Gales officially launched this spring with one unisex style — an injection-molded slip-on that comes in four basic colors (white, gray, black and navy) and is available to pre-order for $89.95 on the brand’s e-commerce site. Shipments are expected to deliver in late August.
The brand crowd-sourced the shoe’s design with nurses in order to solve all the pain points when it comes to footwear, explained Gregg. “They told us: We don’t like laces because laces come undone on our shift. And if we have to tie them, we’ve got God’s know what on our hands and gloves,” he said. The nurses also requested a shoe that doesn’t have holes or mesh that can trap dirt and bacteria.
The result is a shoe that’s lightweight, slip-resistant, antimicrobial and easy to clean. “It’s even bleach friendly — the whole shoe can be bleached from top to bottom,” said the founder. He added that the shoe received a 95% approval score from Nurse Approved, an independent group that reviews products.
Among the shoe’s other features: It is equipped with XL Extralight outoles and OrthoLite X40 insoles, rated for 12 hours-plus comfort. “A lot of nurses don’t realize that the foam in a running shoe, for example, is designed for two to four hours tops — it’s not meant for 12 hours of standing and it condenses,” said Gregg. “It loses its properties and now you run into all kinds of issues with your joints, your knees, your back, your energy. And that, over time, has an effect on your mental acuity and wellness as well.”
Gales has worked hard to keep its retail price below its competition, first by using an injection-molded design. And it is in the process of moving its production from Italy to León, Mexico, to avoid extra costs from duties and taxes and take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Gregg said that many nurses spoke about the challenge of paying for multiple pairs of on-the-job shoes, as most hospitals don’t provide or subsidize their footwear. So the brand will work to offer special rates to medical professionals who reach out with a need.
The entrepreneur is also hoping to improve the products and services offered to nurses by partnering with organizations within the medical community. For instance, Gregg recently joined the National League of Nurses Advisory Council and participates as a mentor for SONSIEL, the society of nurse scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders.
He’s also exploring new distribution methods. Gales currently sells exclusively through its e-commerce site, but Gregg and his team are reaching out to nurse staffing agencies and medical distributors to explore other sales avenues.
And looking ahead, the brand plans to broaden its footwear selection. “For our next iterations, we’re going to have some fun with colors,” said Gregg. “We recognize this is an area of the nurse’s uniform that you can play around with, so we’re exploring different colorways, two-tonality, some accents that you can add to the shoes.” It also is working on new silhouettes, including a sporty athletic look and a slipper-inspired shoe.