When Zachary Tyler, CEO of Creative Marketing Concepts, was invited to meet with the innovative team behind Brand Your Shoes at their design headquarters in Vic, Spain, Tyler cut his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, short and headed straight to the quintessentially Catalan town, just north of Barcelona.
Catalan Roots: Human Towers and Artisan Footwear
“Making high quality shoes is in our DNA. Our grandmother, Margardia Serrallonga, opened her own shoe shop north of
Barcelona 80 years ago, and our parents grew the business, producing and selling their own line of shoes in the region,” brothers Guillem and Ferran explain to Tyler when
The brothers initially chose different career paths, but they rediscovered the shoe business when Guillem became immersed in a group of castellers, people who build intricate human towers: a competitive sport, team building exercise and performance art all in one. The deeply-rooted Catalan tradition of human-tower building serves as the backbone of colorful festivals, tournaments and town rivalries all across Europe.
Human towers are what they sound like: towers of precariously stacked people standing atop one another. Teams called colles compete to build the tallest, most intricate towers, which can include as many as 600 people reaching as high as ten tiers. The goal is to build and deconstruct the human tower without a fall. Castellers wear traditional dress, including white trousers, a black sash (for foothold) and colorful shirts, which signify their team allegiance. They usually perform barefoot, unless descendants of shoemakers get involved.
A family business was reignited when Guillem, an avid follower of the international sporting tradition, was asked to make
customized sneakers for one of the human tower teams using their distinct colors and logo.
Soon after, in the spring of 2016, Guillem, who studied graphic design and art history, and his brother Ferran, an entrepreneur with an economics degree, dove into the family trade headfirst. The brothers wrote a business plan to design, produce and sell handmade, upscale shoes, except their product would be sold business to business.
The brothers joined forces with Sílvia Banús, a powerhouse product manager and apparel buyer with extensive international experience. Sílvia had spent seven years working internationally for Spain’s Indetex, the world’s biggest clothing retailer and
owner of the fashion chain Zara, before joining Brand Your Shoes. With the trio in place, the Catalan company got moving!
Deconstructing the Process
The savvy, dedicated team tells Tyler that one of the main keys to their success is carefully dissecting the entire manufacturing process so they can master each step.
“The big difference is that we design our sneakers right here. We’ve carefully divided the production process into several distinct parts. Each shoe is a collection of those different parts,” Ferran explains.
“We actually see the sneakers being made. And we purchase our own high quality leather. We use pig leather for the inside and cow leather for the outside. Unlike shoes produced in China, we know exactly how the different leathers are treated with
different chemicals. With that control, we can prevent foot perspiration as well as dye migration,” the brothers say.
“We will get the same quality shoe, whether we are producing 30 pairs or 300,000 pairs” they say with pride. “It’s funny. We’re able to make a small quantity of shoes for a local bar in Costa Brava, and we can also make huge quantities for companies like KLM. We are able to do something that most shoe manufacturers can’t do and that is make low minimums while maintaining very high quality. Our product is consistently good because we retain full control.”
If the Shoe Fits (Really Well)
As Tyler chats with the devoted Brand Your Shoes team in Vic, just outside of the design capital of Barcelona, they urge him to try on their four hottest styles to see how they feel.
“I don’t know if I told you,” Tyler confesses as he eagerly ties a branded sneaker, “but I do have a huge shoe collection at home. Ferragamo. Gucci. Loro Piana. Christian Louboutin. I love great shoes,” he tells his shoe-making audience.
“These are wonderful! They are so comfortable,” Tyler says to the eager team as he takes a test stroll around the European showroom. “I feel like I’ve worn these shoes forever. How do you do that?” he asks earnestly, like the knowledgeable shoe critic he is.
The group happily explains their secret, each adding in their part: “We use the same horma to measure the volume of each shoe,” one explains. “If you’re a size 45 in one of our styles, you’re a size 45 in another one of our styles,” says the other brother. Big shoe companies that make shoes in China and all over the world don’t always use the same shoe molds and devices like we do, so the same maker can sell a certain size shoe that feels totally different than the same size in another style,” the detail-minded trio explain.
When in Rome or Barcelona, or Prague, or San Francisco
“How do you reach new customers?” Tyler asks the team.
“In Europe, business moves much more slowly. It’s more about building relationships and close customer service,” Sílvia remarks. With a Creative Marketing Concepts office on the West Coast and one in Prague, Tyler is familiar with how different countries, large corporations, and even family-owned businesses have their own ways of doing things.
“American buyers will come to our new website, complete an order and pay there,” the Catalan tells Tyler with excitement.
“It doesn’t happen that way in Europe,” they laugh.
Along with business relationships, general taste in shoes is also different in the United States than in Europe, the team says. “All our shoes are inspired by great shoe brands, but we notice that our American customers tend to like our more classic, retro and vintage styles than Europeans customers,” they report.
“Also, in America, your culture values branding more than we do here in Europe. You have a long history with branding. We expect the U.S. market to be very big for us,” the brothers say.
When asked what’s next, a list of America’s hottest brand names begin to percolate from the group: “Google.” “Facebook.” “Apple.” Lots of great brands, they say.
“As a graphic designer, I’d love to work with some iconic American logos that I admire like IBM and CBS,” adds Guillem.
“Each client is a new creative project with different colors, tastes and a different logo. It’s fun for us to work with new brands and what they give us,” Sílvia smiles.
Head Turners with Traction
Last May, just as this unique Catalan shoe company was getting off the ground, Honda placed an order for eye-catching custom branded sneakers for the staff working in their booth at the automobile exhibition in Barcelona. The next day, Honda dealers, drivers and lovers were clamoring to get their hands (and feet) on a pair of the hot new “Honda sneakers.” Orders for more
Honda sneakers started pouring in and Brand Your Shoes was off and running!
“The sneakers are perfect for trade shows and events because people can’t help but notice them,” says Tyler, studying the shoe’s smart design.
“One guy offered us a €1000 for a pair we designed as a prototype for a potential customer,” the teams says with amusement.
But these custom sneakers are no joke. Each pair is personally designed with precision in the fashion-forward region near Barcelona. At least 30 different people handle each shoe before it is delivered. And despite their growth, the modest Catalan company still offers personalized customer service in the form of shoe prototypes and shockingly low minimums, at least for now.
“From sourcing products and harnessing creativity, to overseeing production and executing your business plan, it sounds like you’ve got every aspect of your custom sneaker business in working order,” says Tyler as their friendly meeting-turned-fitting comes to a close.
“Your sneakers are really beautiful,” he declares with the resolute confidence of a man who knows his way around boardrooms, luxury brand retailers, Imperial capitals and now Catalan country.
After their leisurely European-style business meeting last spring, Zachary, Ferran, Guillem and Sílvia decided to partner together to drive sales in the United States and around the globe. Today, the company is in the process of adding fresh, new designs to their smart, nimble collection for 2018.
Keep your eyes open for hip, haute couture-like sneakers boasting big brand names in the coming year. Chances are, Brand Your Shoes’ sneakers will be sparking buzz and second looks when they make their sure-footed appearance at conferences, trade shows, product launches or red carpet premiers near you.