Warby Parker did it for glasses. Everlane did it for clothes. Now OneGround hopes to do it for shoes. The “it” in this case is to provide high quality items at a fraction of their traditional price by owning the production facilities and cutting out various middlemen, whose fees drive up costs, and using the internet to sell directly to consumers.
OneGround recently launched its Kickstarter campaign and, as of October 1, had raised $20,000 of its $50,000 goal with 19 days still to go. The company was founded by Nilton Duque, Emre Ulasti, and Eamon Walsh, friends and colleagues who bonded over a shared appreciation of shoes.
Ulasti’s family owns a factory in Turkey that produces shoes for many European luxury brands. Walsh had done some work for the company and realized that the shoes the family was making were being marked up tremendously before reaching retail. That was the spark. Walsh, Duque and Ulasti recognized that there was an opportunity to develop a vertically integrated footwear company along the lines of what Warby Parker had done in eyewear.
OneGround’s first collection consists of three sneakers—the Edgar, a basic lace-up reminiscent of the Common Projects Achilles; the Maya, a chukka; and the Walt, a slip-on. But the company plans to expand into other types of shoes as well, such as moccasins, oxfords, and loafers.
I spoke with Duque, who’s based in New York, and Walsh, who is in Boston, (Ulasti is based in Turkey) to find out more about their ideas for a disruptive footwear brand.
Playboy: What made you want to start a footwear company?
Eamon Walsh: I’ve been helping Emre’s family [footwear] business for two years now. I kept running up against the same conversation over and over again. At the end of the day what we were selling was getting marked up 10 to 12x once it hit retail. Last spring I was talking with Nilton and I said here are these gorgeous shoes, there’s no reason why we can’t retail them for $100-150, still make great money, and truly be a vertically integrated company. The lightbulb went off because there’s some really good examples out there like the Warbys and the Everlanes of the world that have done this. Emre owns the factory. He can make us whatever we want. I’d like to paint this idea that we are this little artisan group, which we are, but the reality is we don’t have a real scalability issue. If someone were to say we need you to produce 10,000 shoes within 30 days we can do it.
Nilton Duque: I have been in e-commerce. Eamon has worked in a variety of digital roles. Emre is the shoe guy. We all love shoes. I own everything from Balenciaga Arenas to Louboutin wingtips to various Nike Roshe Runs. I was sick and tired of paying $500 for a Balenciaga Arena sneaker, if not more. Seeing that opportunity and being able to build a company in a space that was ripe for change, those are things that we look at in terms of why we did this.
Playboy: How do you plan to get the word out?
Duque: One of the main things is a very aggressive digital marketing and user acquisition effort. No. 2 is a pop-up strategy, which could include strategic pop-up stores or mobile pop-up stores across the country with a large emphasis on New York, Boston, Miami, LA, Austin—very metropolitan areas. The third strategy is we’re looking to partner with traditional businesses like barber shops that have the target demographic, both male and female, and give them a merchandising trunk and a commission on sales.
Playboy: This collection is clearly inspired by some iconic sneakers, how do you think the design of the shoes will evolve?
Duque: One of the things we’re looking to do is bring in a design director. Our mantra for our product roadmap is practicality and utility. The basics. I think that ultimately even the Tom Fords and Alexander Wangs of the world are still making the basics. If we have staple pieces in the future it will be by way of collaborations. We want to keep it very timeless, classic, and functional, but we will have opportunities to come out with more fashion pieces as time goes on.
Playboy: Greats Brand has also tried to position itself as a direct-to-consumer footwear company. How do you differentiate yourselves?
Walsh: This is Nilton’s favorite question.
Duque: I think that they have a great company. But the footwear industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s enough room for many players. Right now Greats Brand is only targeting males. We’re going direct to market with both male and female. Our collection right now is very similar to Greats, but this is only the beginning. We’re looking to expand to all types of designer casual shoes. A third differentiation is transparency. When you place an order on OneGround, you’re going to get a look at how your shoe is being made. You’re going to see a video of the materials, You’re going to see shoes being assembled. You’ll see the entire experience.
Walsh: I would add one last point. When we think of our target market it may be that person who has one or two luxury pairs of shoes in their closet, but in the end the practicality of being able to purchase multiple pairs of shoes at a $400 to $500 price point is not reasonable. They’re aware of luxury. They appreciate it. However, they’re about utility. They value a good value.
Playboy: Will OneGround go on regardless of if the Kickstarter gets funded?
Walsh: There’s no stopping this train.
Duque: We have a lot of open discussions.There’s a lot of people interested. We need to make the right decision for the business as co-founders. But our ultimate goal is, Kickstarter or not, we’re taking this to the masses.