Sanuk is a shoe company with a twist. Founder Jeff Kelley has taken some time to talk to us about the suceess of their sidewalk surfer, and on how Sanuk are now pushing into the European market.
1. Hello Jeff, it's been quite a ride for Sanuk since you started making sandals from carpet in your backyard shed. What are some of the milestones of your growth?
I think I am most proud of the fact that Sanuk is built on being original and creating new categories of footwear. It started as you mentioned with the Fur-Real, a green indoor-outdoor carpet sandal that started the novelty sandal category. We then followed with our Wire foot-bed sandals that look like Spaghetti. Soon after were the Yoga mats and then our biggest commercial success the Sidewalk Surfers (a shoe upper on a sandal bottom)
2. What are some of your proudest achievements over the years and how do they fuel your future endeavors?
I am very proud of the people behind Sanuk. To see what I started in a shed turn into a brand driven by so many positive people is amazing. I am also very proud that our success has allowed us to give back. We are supporting Operation Smile, a group of Doctors and volunteers that donate their time to fix children with cleft lips and cleft pallets. Truly life changing . As far as future endeavours there are a few game changing items I am working on now but you will have to wait to see them!
Check out the teaser for the film below.
3. The idea behind Sanuk is all about, "Smile, Pass It On." Please explain that mantra to newcomers.
When I started Sanuk there were a lot of brands that marketed themselves as exclusive and too cool for the mainstream. I wanted to create a brand that was inclusive and fun. Anyone able to laugh at the world and themselves without taking life too serious is welcome.
4. Where do you draw inspiration for products? I heard the Sidewalk Surfer shoe was inspired by a walk on the beach.
I draw inspiration from everything. I never stop thinking how I can turn everyday objects into something else. The Sidewalk Surfer happened when I was running the stairs at the beach in front of the office in normal running shoes one morning. That afternoon I went surfing and ran up the same stairs barefoot. The range of motion was so much more efficient barefoot. I knew sandals had much more flexibility than shoes so I built a sandal with a shoe upper on it. This was long before anybody else had jumped on the barefoot running bandwagon.
5. Sanuk has been a big hit, especially in the US. We heard you are now making a strong push into Europe?
We are. We’ve been shipping product into Europe for a few years now but our focus in the past has been in the US and in Asia. We’re aiming to re-address that balance in the next couple of seasons.
6. What is your distribution network and sales support structure in Europe like?
We have distributors in over 20 countries in the region and have just set-up local and regional offices in France, Holland and the UK. The guys we’ve bought in bring a wealth of experience from other successful brands in our arena and we’re stoked to have them on board.
7. Will European retailers receive the same lines, or will there be specials for Europe?
Initially we’re going to offer the global range and really focus on the key styles like the Vagabond, Yoga Mat and Beer Cozy. We’re also introducing our Baseline series into the market for the first time and we’re expecting that to be a huge success as well.
8. Will you add more European riders to the team? How about cultural and artistic projects in Europe?
Good question. As the regional team settle in we’ll be looking to find ambassadors in Europe that fit our brand identity and who will want to work with us in a fun and inclusive way. More importantly though we’ll be looking to utilise the fact that two of our main ambassadors, Chris Sharma and Daila Ojeda, both live in Spain and we can get them involved a lot more in the region.
9. How do you help retailers tell the Sanuk story? What's the attraction for adding Sanuk to their line-up?
For us, it is all about presence at retail. The Sanuk brand started the hanging footwear category and 70% of our business is done with racks in the US, the rest are with build-outs and the odd peg wall. We’ll be working with our key core partners to make the brand stand out in the last 3 feet and drive sell-through when the product hits the stores.
10. Will you be showcasing your new lines at upcoming tradeshows across Europe?
Not at this stage regionally. We’re looking at local grassroots shows to highlight to retailers that we intend to become an amazing resource for them, bigger shows may come in the future but for now we’re keeping small, focused and relevant to the core channel.