Just as no one can sensibly discuss rainwear without paying special attention to the trench coat, no one can discuss beachwear with out paying special attention to the espadrille. Espadrilles or espardenyes are casual and usually are made with a canvas or cotton fabric upper and a flexible sole made of esparto rope. The esparto rope sole is the defining characteristic of an espadrille; the uppers vary widely in style.
The existence of this type of shoe is documented since at least 1322, when it was described for the first time with its current name which derives from the Catalan language. Espadrilles are a particular category of footwear that was once upon a time restricted to weekend or beach wear, and only on a Saturday would a businessman dare to drop by his office wearing espadrilles. Today, of course, the distinctions between what is sportswear and what is business wear have blurred, and although you can bet your bottom dollar that won't see men wearing espadrilles at the office anytime soon, you will certainly notice this product category growing more and more appropriately.
Allow me to brief you the history of this delightful product category. Firstly, espadrilles have been made in the Occitania region in France and all over Spain, where they were the usual peasant footwear since the 14th century and are still being produced many times in the same way. Traditional espadrilles have a canvas upper with the toe and vamp cut in one piece and seamed to the rope sole at the sides. Often they have laces at the throat that are wrapped around the ankle to hold the shoes securely in place. Espadrilles are worn by both men and women.
Once worn by peasants, espadrilles have grown in popularity, especially in the French Atlantic coast of the Basque Country and Spanish Mediterranean coast where many people wear them during the spring and summer months. These days, designer espadrilles are now widely available for consumers around the globe. The soles of espadrilles may be flat, platform, or wedge shaped. Uppers may be made from nearly any substance and may have open or closed toes, open or closed backs, and can be slip-on or tied to the ankle with laces. Thousands of varieties of espadrilles can be found, from inexpensive bargain brands to high priced designer brands. Here is the USA, espadrilles became fashionable in the 1940s when actress Lauren Bacall's character in the 1948 movie Key Largo wore ankle-laced espadrilles. Subsequently, American woman longed for the shoe. Wedge shaped espadrilles were first popularized by French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. At a trade fair in Paris in 1970, he came into contact with the Spanish espadrille manufacturer Castañer. Yves Saint Laurent had been looking in vain for months for someone to make him a wedge espadrille. Castañer managed to interpret Yves Saint Laurent's vision and the wedge espadrilles were an instant hit, influencing fashion in the modern era. And how can we forget Don Johnson popularized the espadrille on the hit tv show, Miami Vice.
But that's only skimming the surface. Espadrilles are truly a many splendored thing and when backed up with the right variety of summer fashion, they are almost unbelievably versatile.
Among the more glaring examples of exciting new espadrille brands, I recently reviewed a forward thinking brand named Sea Star Beachwear. Sea Star Beachwear launched in the summer of 2015 with the goal of creating the ultimate resort and summer water sport shoe and lifestyle brand for men, women and children. The classic espadrille design was re-imagined with a water-friendly neoprene upper and a protective rubber sole. The shoes transition in style from ocean swimming to rocky beaches or rainy city pavement while staying comfortable and cool.
The water shoes are traditional in design yet contemporary in function. The neoprene fabric is stylish, breathable and quick-drying. The non-marking deck shoe sole makes a safe transition from beach to boat. The timeless collection features solids and prints perfect for the resort or urban lifestyle. It’s the perfect shoe for ocean swimming, strolling shell-strewn beaches, boat decks or hot city pavement. Sea Star Beachwear holds US design patents on all three of its core silhouettes, and has sold over 90,000 pairs of shoes to date online, in 100+ select leading national retail vendors, and internationally.
This season the brand introduced the first-ever denim neoprene, which they have been developing for over a year. These styles are just as water-friendly as the classic neoprene shoes, combining the style of dark, light, and white denim with the utility of lightweight neoprene. They also added waterproof white floral embroidery to select women’s styles.
In addition, the brand launched a collaboration with Ocean Sole Africa this year. They are a social enterprise that up-cycles washed up flip-flops -- over 750,000 each year -- from the beaches and waterways of Kenya into works of art. In tribute to their mission, the brand created an exclusive espadrille with a sole made from a colorful mosaic of up-cycled, and otherwise discarded, rubber scraps from the factory. A percentage of proceeds from these women’s and kids styles benefit Ocean Sole.
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Libby Fitzgerald, Founder and CEO of Sea Star Beachwear about the DNA of the brand, what she feels is the brand's competitive advantage and why she believes it is important for consumers to be aware of this dynamic brand!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about the history, launch date and DNA of your Sea Star Beachwear brand -and your personal background?
Libby Fitzgerald: In the summer of 2015, I saw a white space in the market for a quality, attractive, functional water sport shoe that would easily transition from ocean swimming to rocky beaches or rainy city pavement while staying comfortable and cool; an affordable luxury under $100.
After graduating from Duke University and moving to New York, I worked at Hermès of Paris for years, overseeing press relations and the opening of several freestanding stores as the Manager of Public Relations. I then took time off to be a full-time mother and raise three boys.
Over the years, we vacationed in resorts where the beaches were rocky and full of coral. The only water shoe option at the time was the poorly constructed black mesh variety. After my teenage boys called me out for wearing “ugly” shoes, I researched alternatives and found there were none. Thus, our Beachcomber Espadrilles were created as a fashion/function alternative and Sea Star Beachwear was born.
Joseph DeAcetis: How do you intend to market to Millennials and Gen Z with advertising dollars?
Libby Fitzgerald: We are mirroring this audience's media consumption habits across social media and developing new ad formats to cater to and connect with them. For example, Instagram collection ads expose users to our brand story and experience all in one place and platform, without asking them to click off to get more information elsewhere.
We are also consistently editing our creative assets to customize them by placement across social media platforms, ensuring the advertising experience is as native as possible to the respective platform.
Joseph DeAcetis: In your words, what are consumers seeking today in espadrilles?
Libby Fitzgerald: We’ve heard from so many customers that they love espadrilles but hate the way they unravel and fall apart when they get wet. Our designs are uniquely “water-friendly” and solve that problem. Our customers are practical, savvy, and looking for a multi-functional, comfortable footwear option for both travel and everyday use.
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes in detail about the current collection and why it is important for consumers to be aware of this brand?
Libby Fitzgerald: Since we are a classic lifestyle brand focusing on creating a well made, functional product, we keep our core silhouettes the same while bringing in new colors, prints, and collaborations each season.
This season we introduced the first-ever denim neoprene, which we’ve been developing for over a year. Here, we combine the style of dark, light, and white denim with the utility of lightweight neoprene. We also added waterproof white floral embroidery to select women’s styles.
In addition, we launched collaboration with Ocean Sole Africa this year. This collection includes our original silhouette, the Dark Navy Beachcomber, combined with an Ocean Sole Africa-inspired sole.
Joseph DeAcetis: If you could choose one celebrity to wear your brand, who would it be and why?
Libby Fitzgerald: Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and their children come to mind immediately. We are a lifestyle brand for women, men, and kids, and their family embodies the resort, healthy, and active lifestyle that we value.
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about how technology aided you in the development of your brand both product make-up and e-commerce? Details please.
Libby Fitzgerald: Our water shoes are made of neoprene and rubber, revolutionary for the classic style. This high-tech composition makes the shoes lightweight, quick drying, comfortable and cool. From an e-commerce standpoint, we use a consumer-friendly DTC platform that makes the purchasing experience easy.
Joseph DeAcetis: What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Libby Fitzgerald: As the CEO of a small start-up, I am intimately involved with all decision-making, from the day-to-day to the big picture!
Joseph DeAcetis: Where is the product made and why?
Libby Fitzgerald: All of our products are made in China. We get great quality and pass the savings on to our customer. We are in the process of researching and converting all of our materials to recycled in order to meet our goal of being 100% sustainable within 2 years.
Joseph DeAcetis: If Sea Star beachwear were a song, which would it be and why?
Libby Fitzgerald: Summertime Magic by Childish Gambino. It’s always summer somewhere for Sea Star Beachwear!
Joseph DeAcetis: What are your future projections and growth strategy for the next few years?
Libby Fitzgerald: We are looking to grow our higher margin, direct-to-consumer sales channel through digital and traditional marketing and PR. We will expand our wholesale channels internationally. And we’ll continue to strategically collaborate with resort brands, wholesale partners, and nonprofits to diversify our product assortment.
Article taken from Forbes.com, Joseph DeAcetis