Sanük Founder Jeff Kelley says that while many retailers are still trying to get used to seeing some of the most unusual and unheard of ideas from the brand, that hasn’t stopped the 12-year-old company from continuing to create innovative footwear. After winning the 2008 SIMA Image Award for Footwear Product of the Year for its Sidewalk Surfers, the brand has gained momentum within the Surf industry and beyond. Kelley, who recently spent a lot of time traveling in Asia, says he was inspired by a streetwear trend he saw a lot of mid-twenty-year-old women wearing. He didn’t waste much time developing the idea, and upon arriving back in the states, he started crafting a model of women’s flip flops with attached knee-high socks – a product that has since been dubbed as The Tübeflop and will hit select retailers nationwide starting in September.
TransWorld Business caught up with Kelley to talk to him about the launch of The Tübeflop and Sanük’s new RASTA collection.
When did you start working on the mold for the Tübeflop, and how long did it take to complete?
I’d have to look at my passport to see exactly what trip I was on, but it didn't take long because I saw in my head head what I wanted to do and I have the tools here – I have a bandsaw and sanders that I always tinker with. So this was as simple as cutting the sandal in half horizontally, just splitting the footbed and putting some contact cement in there, and put the stirrup through that to make the initial model. Once I felt that I was on to something and it was gonna be awesome, and took it to the next step of development, I then just made a mold that had a groove already in it so the sock could free flow through it. Then I reinforced the edges of it with nylon straps so if someone steps on your heel it's not just going to tear the upper. We put it all together and thought it out real well.
The sock gets rolled up and tucks into itself, so it can literally hang on a regular sandal hanger, so you don't need any special merchandising. So girls know what it is, we've done hand drawings of the sandal that are printed on the hanger, and then there's a lenticular sign that goes on the rack – they change depending on the angle you look at it, so when you look at the sign from one angle the socks are all pulled up as knee-highs and then you look at it another way and they are scrunched down. Because there's all kinds of ways to wear these things – pulled up over leggings, they look great pulled up over jeans, scrunched down, pulled up over the knee or just below the knee.
Do you think you are marketing to a different demographic with this particular category? Will it be found in surf shops?
Oh yeah, absolutely it will be in surf shops. It’s going to be everywhere. I took it up [To L.A.] last week, and had an appointment with Fred Segal on Melrose, which is their footwear shop. Brad Pitt buys a lot of his shoes there, Elton John just bought some shoes there. I showed it to them because those guys are big time if they get behind something. They basically flipped out and sent me an email the next day saying ‘Look here's what you need to do: we are having a fashion show here put on by Vogue, Sept. 10th, and we want you to be part of it…’ I mean having that sort of support out of the gates really gives it a lot of legs. I'm really fired up on it, I can't wait.
We have our first shipment coming in about three weeks, and it will hit retail the first week of September. We picked 120 dealers and and we are going to put it into 120 of our top dealers [nationwide] for September as a special way to launch it. We put a variety of different looks together on it and tried to really present a complete package to the retailers for it. Because it's one thing to create something like that but it's another thing to advertise it and merchandise it in the store correctly. I knew I didn't want it to end up becoming a teeny bopper, 12-year-old item, which it could very well have become if we just threw it out there. So we purposefully did this photo shoot to position it the way we wanted it to be positioned. We were fortunate enough to have our local Cardiff friend and photographer shooting for us in the studio right here on Birmingham.
What’s the MSRP?
It’s $30. It’s not a bad price for what you get. The whole thing is machine washable too, so if it gets dirty you just throw the sandal and the whole thing in the wash.
What type of feedback have you been getting from retailers on it so far?
It's so funny, because our whole deal is introducing random stuff that nobody has ever seen before. It started with the green carpet sandal back in the day, and then it was the wire footbed sandals, and then the sidewalk surfers and now this. I can say that retailers are getting used to us showing them stuff that freaks them out. And some guys are like ‘Oh this is insane, this is going to be the next big deal!’ and other guys are like 'You're kidding me? Okay bring it in and let's see what happens.’ A lot of retailers love looking at the catalog, but getting them to understand it and if it's going to retail, it's still pretty far over a lot of their heads. What I'm hoping is that this will be a great alternative for the girl who wears Ugg boots to school. This gives them an alternative look and at a much cheaper price. We are working on some stuff for winter that includes some Cable knits and heavier stockings so they are even warmer for the winter months. We'll launch that later. This really has a lot of legs – no pun intended – it all really depends on the different materials we decide to use.
When will the new RASTA line launch and what’s it all about?
It won’t ship until January. Basically, this is a pretty big category for us. We signed up Dave with Sanük about a year ago and the focus has been on using environmentally friendly materials with his image as the frontman for this. With RASTA, I came up with using his name to stand for The Recycled And Sustainable Trade Alliance. Our designers Patrick and Angela really did a super good job of weeding out the bullshit out there in regards to materials. I can tell you just from our research there's a lot of people out there claiming to be environmentally friendly just because of the materials they are using, but in order for those materials to actually be considered environmentally friendly the carbon footprint far outweighs the benefits. To us, it's bullshit when you take tires from the U.S. and ship them to china and process them with detergents and wasting water, and all kinds of other stuff. Our guys have found ways to use tires for the soles of these things that come from within 150 miles of the factory we make them in, and we use all organically grown materials for these. Because Dave has an image that we don't want to be responsible for tarnishing so we want to make sure we do something that he would be proud to be a part of. The whole goal in this is for it to be a step in the right direction for everything we do and the more we find materials that fit in this category and the more we start producing it the less and less the cost of the materials is going to be for it, and the more we'll be able to infuse it into other stuff we do in the line. So it's a category for us but it's just a start in the direction we're trying to move almost everything over to.
What other types of materials did you use?
We used recycled tires, latex, cork, hemp, organic cotton, natural rubber – just pretty much everything that’s in it is either sustainable, recycled or good for the environment.
So is it just one sandal or shoe right now?
No, it’s the Sidewalk Surfers and sandals. In men's styles, there is one Sidewalk Surfer design and three sandal designs. For girls, we have two sandal styles and two shoe styles.
How has it been received by retailers?
It’s interesting, now that we have this and are out showing it, there’s a number of people that you think would be into it but when they see pricing – and it’s not that much more – they run. And a lot of it has to do with the economy – people just seem more concerned with saving money than saving the environment. But I think we’ve done a really good job of crossing the line with the product. Even though we use friendly materials, especially on the girl’s stuff, the designs are stuff you would typically see in a boutique and not on someone hugging a tree, you know? We’re expecting a pretty good distribution on it, but we’ll have a better idea when we start bringing in the pre-booking orders at the end of September.