What do millennials want from their footwear?
It’s a question that Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert have explored ever since they booked a one-way ticket to Italy in 2014 with the quest of creating a shoe tailored to the taste of today’s up-and-comers.
Millennials, Quodt and Wichert know, are discerning shoppers. They demand quality from the brands they buy from, but they’re also drawn to companies that deliver up authenticity in their business practices and in their products.
In other words, you can’t make it on the luxury-sneaker market in the internet age by faking it.
Quodt and Wichert are the extremely German, extremely tall, extremely business-savvy duo behind Koio, a new luxury line of sneakers that’s selling premium footwear at a discount. A pair of Koios will run you about $US250. For reference, a similar quality of shoe from a designer like Gucci or Prada might cost between $US500 and $US1,000.
Here’s how Koio can sell a premium product at a marginal price and still turn a profit.
Although the brand recently debuted its first brick-and-mortar location in downtown Manhattan, Koio was created with the express intent of attracting an online following.
In an interview with Business Insider, Johannes Quodt described the importance of embarking on a brand that connects with its customers in the online marketplace.
“It was important for us to start online,” Quodt said. “We saw ourselves as ‘online first.’ We perceived that there’s a community of people who value the things we value. People want an attention to detail in design, they want ethical manufacturing. People are looking for a brand that speaks to them.”
By cutting out high-priced rents and avoiding wholesale retail, Koio says it is able to offer high-quality shoes at a competitive price.
Try on a pair of Koio shoes, and you’ll be impressed by the quality of materials. The brand manufactures its entire line from an exclusive leather-goods maker in Italy.
The manufacturer, who Koio declined to name, is located in this bucolic village in the region of Marche, and works exclusively with high-end labels like Chanel.
Koio’s first design was a set of leather high-tops called Primo.
Releasing a high-top sneaker as Koio’s debut product was a mischievous choice on the part of Quodt and Wichert.
“It’s not something conventional, like a classic sneaker that most sneaker brands start with,” Quodt said. “We liked the idea of starting off with a high-top. We wanted to make a sneaker right from the start that clearly differentiated us from the rest of the market.”
Each pair of Koio shoes are made by hand. Wichert and Quodt estimate that it takes about four hours to manufacture each pair.
While the brand’s top-selling items are among its classic offerings, Koio offers a diverse set of styles.
Koio frequently engages in unusual collaborations. A “Game of Thrones” edition of the shoe released in August sold out in less than 24 hours.
An eye-popping pair of sneakers inspired by the Beverly Hills Hotel was another Koio best-seller.
Quodt and Wichert say that they were inspired to create a shoe that appealed to young consumers after being consistently let down by the high-priced shoes they purchased from luxury retailers.
Despite their love for shoes, Quodt and Wichert said they felt detached from the brands they bought. “Aside from the high prices, we felt a disconnect between how those traditional brands interact with their communities and what we’re looking for,” Quodt said. “There’s a stiffness to most luxury brands that’s unwelcoming. We wanted to create a brand that has more accessible high end products and offers a warmth and approachability.”
Wichert says building a sense of community around Koio’s products is inherent to the brand. Last year more than 100 people waited in line outside Koio’s store to snag a tattoo and limited-edition shoe from celebrity artist Jon Boy.
Quodt and Wichert’s disdain for conspicuous labels is evidenced in the brand’s minimalist design and modest logo: a half diamond and a diamond embossed on the shoe’s tongue.
With their imperceptible branding and devotion to high quality materials, Quodt and Wichert say they’re attempting to redefine the modern iteration of luxury goods.
“Luxury brands don’t necessarily need to be exclusive,” Quodt said. “The traditional understanding of luxury is so much about the price tag. We believe that a luxury product is something that can accompany you on your path wherever you go. It’s not about the product, it’s about the experience. It’s about what you do in the shoes themselves.”
But most importantly, Koio has nailed one of the most nebulous and crucial attributes a sneaker brand can aspire to: They’re cool.
Like Nike and Converse before them, Koio’s shoes are effortlessly cool. The brand’s Instagram, website, and marketing materials are all a testament to its de facto coolness: nimbly traversing the tightrope of being cool while never really trying for it.
In one year Koio’s proceeds have grown by 400%.
Quodt and Wichert say the brand’s aesthetic and straightforward philosophy resonate with their customers, who often learn about the brand from their friends. “It’s always important to us that the brand comes first,” Wichert said. “We never engage in any discounts or sales. We always offer the best possible price, right from the beginning.”
Watch how Koio makes its shoes in the video below:
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