Many startups innovate by thinking of the future.
Greats, a sneaker company born in Brooklyn, New York, decided to do the opposite. Its inspiration is the past.
If you think you’ve seen sneakers that look like this before, that’s because you have. The brand takes vintage silhouettes — think retro runners like the Onitsuka Tiger or Adidas Stan Smith along with other “greats” — strips them down to the company’s minimal style, and sells them at what the founder calls an “approachable” price.
Though retro and lifestyle sneakers are the predominant trends in footwear these days, and those styles are currently the company’s top sellers, Greats didn’t necessarily predict that would happen.
“It wasn’t a crystal ball. It wasn’t forecasting. We’re not fortune tellers,” founder Ryan Babenzien told Business Insider. “The data’s there, it’s just how you look at it.”
Instead of chasing trends — “We’re not a trendy company,” Babenzien says — Greats relies on 10 core silhouettes.
“The company is based around the thought that there are a handful of classic silhouettes that are evergreen in the sneaker market, and they may ebb and flow, but these core palettes of silhouettes are what dominate the sneaker industry, period,” Babenzien said.
Adidas’ Stan Smith, which has a similar silhouette to Greats’ Royale (a white, leather, tennis-like low-top shoe made in Italy), is one of the most dominant sneakers in the industry. Its growth in the last few years is one of the factors that propelled an Adidas comeback in the US.
The Royale is similarly one of Greats’ most popular styles, along with the Rosen, a nylon and suede retro runner with a Vibram outsole made in Asia.
Greats has been selling since 2014, and it sold its 100,000th sneaker in 2016. The company is on track for profitability, according to its founder.
Its core customer is what Babenzien calls the two categories of the millennial: older, established millennials looking for something premium and dressed-up, and a younger, more adventurous millennial looking for a shoe with a bit more personality.
In March, Greats concluded an 18-month pop-up store (its lease had run out), and according to Babenzien, it was profitable after its third month of operation. The company is planning on opening its first permanent brick-and-mortar store in New York City in July 2017.
To Babenzien, though, the new store must be more than just a place to go buy sneakers. He sees the new store as having the potential to be a community hub for sneaker lovers.
“Five years ago, no one gave a s— about going into a store and taking a picture and sharing it,” Babenzien said. “But now it’s a prerequisite. That’s a giant shift. These are all things you have to think about now when you’re creating the [retail] experience.”
Though Babenzien never envisioned the brand would be unisex, enough demand and a successful test run convinced the company to offer a few of its styles in women’s sizes and colours, which released in March.
Babenzien said he’s committed to offering his customers the products they want, when and how they want them. And he’s willing to do a lot to fulfil that promise.
“[Delivery] drones don’t exist yet, but when they do we should have drones,” Babenzien said. “I don’t think we’re far off from that happening.”
For now, though, he’ll have to settle for a fleet of bike messengers to get his product to Brooklyn customers.
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