Footwear veterans Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi are projecting good things from their new brand Greats.
The e-commerce-only footwear brand launched last year and is expected to hit $1.8 million in sales this year. The shoes go for $59 to $159.
Babenzien said the site sold more sneakers in June than in the preceding 10 months combined. The most popular style was the Bab, a nylon mesh sneaker that comes in eight colors.
“We’ve really grown exponentially, that’s for sure,” said Babenzien, noting that the conversion rate for the site is growing to a little above 3 percent, without a dollar spent on marketing.
“It’s all word-of-mouth marketing, which is the best type of marketing,” he said.
The company closed a $1.5 million funding round led by Resolute Ventures in conjunction with High Peaks Venture Partners, Adrian Wilson of the Chicago Bears, and Mark Gerson of the Gerson Lehrman Group.
With the funds, Babenzien said that he would be able to offer more shoe styles on the site. Currently, the site offers three styles, but in the next half year, he said that there would be 10 looks.
One new shoe is Greats’ collaboration with contemporary men’s wear line Orley. The shoes will come in two colors: salmon and a powder blue and made in Greats’ Royale-styled sneaker, and will come out spring of 2015. Pricing is still to be determined, but Babenzien said that it would align with current prices on the site. The sneakers will use elements of Orley’s spring 2015 collection, which features Italian suede, twill, canvas, with hidden grommets and white calf lining.
“We met 18 months ago at Pitti [Uomo],” said Babenzien. “I thought they had an amazing point of view. It’s great that they’re CFDA finalists, but even if they weren’t, we would have collaborated anyway.”
Alex Orley, cofounder of Orley, said, “They have an amazing sense of design and a really inherent understanding of the quality we try and put into our own work. It was important to us that the shoes were made in Italy, and for this season we just wanted to start small and focused.”
The collaboration will be showcased at Orley’s spring 2015 show in September. Greats also partnered with style guru Nick Wooster on a sneaker collaboration earlier in the year.
“The collaboration business was built from the footwear business,” said Babenzien. “Sneaker [companies] have been doing this for 15 years and it’s part of our strategy and marketing.”
He said that there would be more collaborations by yearend.
In terms of e-commerce, Babenzien said that 38 percent of business came from mobile commerce, even though the brand’s site isn’t optimized for mobile. “I didn’t think we’d perform that well on mobile since mobile checkout isn’t the greatest,” he admitted.
The site partnered up with the shopping app Spring, which launches today.
“Spring brings us to another level, there’s a one-touch checkout,” he said. “We’re learning from them that that’s where Greats looks to go.”
The brand is also looking into retail. Already, the company has a weekend pop-up shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where its shoes are sold.
“It’s only 100 square feet but we’re looking to definitely open a proper store,” he said. “It will happen in the next 12 months.”
With so much going on, Babenzien is expanding his six-person team. Recently, the brand hired Salehe Bembury as its new director of footwear design. Bembury worked at brands like Cole Haan, United Nude and Birkenstock, among others, before joining the team.
“He called us and we were very lucky,” Babenzien said. “He’s the same guy who created the LunarGrand shoe for Cole Haan. He’s already started and brought a lot of value to the team. We’re still hiring. We’re conservative in how we hire but we’re definitely growing and looking for customer service, engineering and retail people.”
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