Will Leonard and his mother Victoria started the Blu Kicks brand with the simple idea of creating a better travel and vacation shoe. Inspired by the fish they encountered on a family trip to Hawaii, Will and Victoria began producing an ocean themed line of colourful slip ons that featured original fish artwork and cool laid back designs. The Blu Kicks collection has now grown to include loafers and chukkas that retain the casual, classic style of the original sneakers, while giving them a line of products that they can now sell year round.
I first read about Blu Kicks’ brand on the Shopify blog and I was impressed by the products, the social mission – blue kicks donate a portion of every sale to ocean related causes – and the strength of the brand they had created. The photos were great, there was a clear focus to the Blu Kicks brand and a strong narrative that immediately communicated what they were all about.
Starting out with no experience in footwear
After starting out by hand painting shoes themselves, it took will and victoria 2-3 years to figure out how to manufacture the shoe. The Blu Kicks brand launched in 2012 with 2 designs, sold mostly to friends and family – and they quickly realized they needed to make more styles if they were going to grow the brand.
Will credits those first few years figuring out the business as really helping to define the strong DNA of the brand. Also, having a small team driven by the founders has helped. They now have guidelines and core assets that guide their creative process, such as creating outsoles featuring original artwork and donating a portion to ocean charities.
Now they’ve taken their commitment to extending the brand a step further venturing into retail with a pop-up store and a studio that’s open to the public.
Creating a healthy work dynamic with family members
Will talked briefly about the challenges of working with family. It takes an adjustment period as you learn how to relate in new ways and not just default to your long established dynamic. Once you have more structure in the business and roles get more defined it gets easier.
The key to successfully marketing the products
- Treating the products with respect by Investing in good photos and content
- PR outreach has been the biggest driver of sales – Bloggers/online editors
- Online advertising
Try to think about the marketing from the beginning of the product development process and build it into the products themselves
How to tell a big story for a small line
- Use place to drive storytelling and develop a deeper narrative
- Use humor and be authentic about your small size to present yourself as an underdog
The product development process
- Targeted release dates are based on lead time with factory
- 8-10 months lead time
- Start broad around what could be a new story/material/artist/angle
- Try to envision the full line before engaging production partners
- 2-3 rounds of samples and refining ideas
- Email outreach works now that a network has been established and more people have heard of the Blu Kicks brand
- Tradeshows have been successful at spreading the word
- Still will go door-to-door and show up in person with product
Biggest Advice and Learnings
- Try to start your day with easy wins to get momentum before moving on to tougher, less tangible activities like product dev and
- Keep moving forward, it’s natural to encounter setbacks when you are doing something new
- Don’t over analyze, just stay in action. You may not see the results right away but they may show up when you least expect it
- There is no formula so trial and error is the only way to figure out what’s going to work
- At some point you’ve got to go for it, it’s a leap of faith
- On the other hand, you need to spend as much time as possible understanding how your industry works and defining your niche