Sole Society Expands Offerings

The shoe and accessories retailer is adding outside shoe brands and launching a capsule collection with accessory line Sylca Designs.

Proving how quickly technology can forcefashion brands to evolve, shoe and accessoriesretailer Sole Society this month rolls out several changes to its online and brick-and-mortar businesses. In the space of three years, the company went from being a pure-play online shoe store to a multibrand accessories destination with distribution in Nordstrom stores.

Launched in 2011 as a shoe brand within the Nordstrom-owned flash-sale site Hautelook.com, Los Angeles-based Sole Society shed the subscription business model within a year and spun off into its own site. In 2013, it added its own brand of bags and accessories. This month, it is adding outside shoe brands and launching a capsule collection with mother-daughter-owned handcrafted accessory line Sylca Designs.

“Realistically we know everyone is shopping multiple brands and shopping high-low,” said chief executive officer Andrea Wasserman. “We listen to our customer about where Sole Society fits into her closet and we know that we are never going to have every category under the sun.” To that end, the company is broadening its classification offerings with shoes from French Connection, Lucky Brand, Matisse and Vince Camuto.

It is also leveraging its manufacturing partnerships, such as the one with Vince Camuto, which is also an investor in Sole Society.

Nonshoe accessories make up 20 percent of the company’s business after one year, and will likely stay around 25 percent due to the lower price points of such items, though offerings within those categories will continue to evolve. For example, they are adding more handmade jewelryfrom Venice, Calif.-based line Ace Commune in August, and sales from the jewelry line Just Mel, which ranges from $25 to $39 an item, will amount to a few hundred thousand dollars this year.

Sole Society’s annual sales volume is in the $15 million to $25 million range, and it has more than doubled its online sales from 2012 to 2013 and expects to do the same this year.

The company is also growing its footprint in Nordstrom. One-and-a-half years ago, it started in three doors and is now in 25; the number is set to double by year-end. Apart from the shoe department, this month it begins an accessories presentation within the store’s apparel department with cross-merchandised displays of its bags, scarves and sunglasses in 60 doors.

“We are trying to think of new ways to get in front of our target customers, including the reverse showroom effect,” said Wasserman.

The company is taking a tentative step toward its own offline retail presence with a 400-square-foot pop-up shop at the Northside festival in Brooklyn, N.Y., in June, and opening up its Los Angeles showroom to the public as a company store, featuring both editorial presentations and special sales for local customers.
The wares will appear on QVC in July “as a way to tell a complete brand story.”
“We really want to provide content and the ability for customers to buy one item and have a way to wear it. Net-a-porter combines content and commerce, so does J. Crew. But it’s missing for shoppers at our price point,” she added.

Last but not least, Sole Society is adding apparel to its mix. “From Day One, instead of just putting a shoe on a site and showing it from six different angles, we wanted to speak to a girl who is building an outfit from the shoes up. The idea of selling apparel is tied to our original mission,” she said.

The site has always recommended brands to wear with its accessories, and had the technology to add an entire look to the shopping bag, but come fall will be taking a fully commercial approach. “We aren’t making a brand statement with our own line. It’s about filling in between the shoes and hat,” said Wasserman.

She noted that one filter the company will continue to use is value to the customer, and most items retail for less than $100.

Furthering the company’s commitment to being a fashion-versus-tech company, it decided to outsource its technology department in March, leading to streamlined efficiencies, while adding key positions such as an apparel buyer and a wholesale manager. Said Wasserman, “We just can’t be another shoe store anymore.”