Ryan Babenzien no longer has time to dedicate most of his energy to designing Greats’ sneakers.
According to Babenzien, who founded the Brooklyn-based footwear company in 2013, the business is expanding at a rate that demanded a full-time design director, and he’s hired Charley Hudak to fill the position.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” said Hudak, who is being tasked with thinking about the holistic relationship between Greats’ men’s and women’s footwear collections and helping the business plan out its delivery schedule and produce shoes in a less reactionary way. He’s previously held stints at K-Swiss, AND1 and DC Shoes.
Babenzien said this new hire doesn’t mean Greats will be designing and producing more sneakers, but instead doubling down on what they do well.
“It’s not about more. It’s about better,” Babenzien said. “Our strategy and model hasn’t changed a bit. We have a frequent release calendar and every other week we have a drop, but we are refining that calendar so it won’t be as frequent. You need to continually have new product and new colors and relevant materials, but I’m not sure every week is the right amount of time. It creates a ton of soft demand in the market.”
Greats will also focus on making its collaborations more meaningful. This past September, the brand partnered with Jason Wu’s more affordably priced Grey line on a pair of Royale sneakers. The collaboration was a part of #GreyOut, an event that took place at the Cadillac House in New York during fashion week where Wu chose his favorite lifestyle brands and friends to create products in the same gray color. Babenzien said the roll out for future collaborations will be similar to this.
“We will probably increase how many sneakers we produce for these collaborations and produce bigger activations,” Babenzien said.
In terms of retail, after testing the line in a few Nordstrom stores in Canada, the label has been expanded to 8 Nordstrom locations in the U.S. and will open 20 to 30 more doors in March. Babenzien said he is considering other retail opportunities but nothing is confirmed.
“We’ve learned that the right amount of retail still works,” said Babenzien, who started Greats as a vertical business. “I don’t think that retail is going to go to zero. It’s just going to shift and continue on at some lesser amount of stores that are more efficient.”
In October, post raising $10 million in Series B round of financing, The Greats opened up a store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is designed as a lounge, that operates as a showroom from Monday through Thursday and a regular store from Friday through Sunday. Babenzien said customers who are able to interact with physical product are more likely to purchase it. Greats will outfit the front of house team at The Hoxton, a new Williamsburg hotel that’s opening in early 2018.
Greats launched women’s this year, and Babenzien said the women’s blush Royale sneaker is its best-selling style. For 2018 they will cater more to the women’s business now that they understand what this customer wants.
Greats’ growth is happening in tandem with the hype sector of the sneaker category, which Babenzien believes has lost its way.
“I think the sneaker industry as a whole continues to become more relevant just as workplaces are more casual in terms of dress. I think the hype of the hype sneaker market is in a scary place,” Babenzien said. “I think the speed and the hype of new, new, new is causing the customer to forget why they are buying this stuff anymore. I don’t believe this is what anyone intended for it to turn into. For whatever that’s worth, people should be mindful of engaging in too much hype.”