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Tread Labs Albion sandal
Tread Labs Albion sandal launched for spring 2023.
Courtesy of Tread Labs

After founding Chaco more than 30 years ago, Mark Paigen is making his mark on sandals once again.

This spring, his performance insole company, Tread Labs, launched its first sandal collection, consisting of two styles: the Albion with a backstrap (retailing for $120) and the Covelo slide ($110).

FN recently caught up with Paigen to find out what drew him back to shoemaking.

Tread Labs launched in 2015 as an insole maker. Why get into the lifestyle sandal business?

“We built our insole business until it was sizeable and profitable, and then used the profits to fund shoe development. I saw a gap that was sportier and more water friendly than Birkenstock, less crunchy granola and more contemporary than Chaco, more premium than Teva and simpler than brands like Vionic or Ecco. Our customer avatar is very specific. They’re 30-plus on the left or right coast, has a decent amount of disposable income, shops at Whole Foods, drives a Volvo and wears brands like Patagonia or Lululemon. That person likes things that are nice and simple, clean and ultra-functional.”

Mark Paigen
Mark PaigenCourtesy of Tread Labs


How exactly are you diffentiating Tread Labs from Chaco?

“Chaco is great, but it’s already there, so there’s no reason to do another. Tread Labs’ [sandal] is half the weight of Chaco and it is unbound. The pull-through strap design on Chaco is a great idea, but it’s limiting in how you can orient the uppers and in terms of what type of polyurethane you can use to make it strong enough for pull-through functionality. I designed a sandal with more of a running shoe mentality — sleeker, slimmer, much lighter, more contemporary in its look. The Chaco and Tread Labs customers overlap, but they’re not pointed toward the same person.”

What is your approach to retail distribution?

“In the first year, it’s go after independents. We’re about 50-50 sit-and-fit and outdoor. When Chaco started, it was 100% core outdoor. Our sandal is not that demographic, but we bridge those two channels well. We do well in better-quality shoe stores because we have a contemporary look, great coloring and, most importantly, when somebody slides their foot into the sandal, it feels good. The microfiber suede on the top is a fundamentally different feeling than having your foot on polyurethane or EVA, as other sports sandals have. We went to regional rep shows, The IR Show and at The Atlanta Shoe Market in 2022 and opened just under 150 retailers for 2023.”

Tread Labs Covela slide sandal
Tread Labs Covelo slide sandal.Courtesy of Tread Labs

What other products are in the pipeline for Tread Labs?

“What we debuted for 2023 has polyester knit uppers and a toe post. For spring ‘24, there will be styles with an open toe and we’re adding leather, so several styles will get leather in addition to the polyester knit. We’re also working on shoes — more casual than a trail runner or light hiker, not so athletic as a running shoe. It’s more outdoor than Birkenstock or Ecco.”

How does sustainability factor into the brand?

“I can’t stand greenwashing, so I’m transparent about what we’ve achieved and what we haven’t. We have 15% recycled content on the rubber outsole, 100% recycled materials in the footbed, the uppers are 100% recycled polyester and there is no glue between the components. Our biggest opportunity is in polyurethane. We will address the sustainability issues of PU next. And all our products can be re-soled.”

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Chaco Founder Mark Paigen on Launching New Tread Labs Sandals
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