The Royale sneaker from Greats.

Founded by two industry veterans, the company will offer classic shoe styles with high production values and accessible prices.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 06/20/2013

The direct-to-consumer efficiencies of e-commerce have become the go-to business model of many a fashion start-up. Following in the well-trod footsteps of companies like Everlane, Flint & Tinder and Harry’s shaving products comes Greats, a new men’s footwear concept that launches in August.

This story first appeared in the June 20, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Founded by two footwear industry veterans, Jon Buscemi and Ryan Babenzien, the company will offer classic shoe styles, beginning with retro-looking sneakers, with high production values and accessible prices. “The footwear industry is incredibly inefficient. By disrupting the traditional retail and e-commerce model, Greats will be able to make a premium-quality shoe and offer it to the consumer at a much lower price,” said Babenzien, who has been the chief executive officer of tennis apparel maker Boast since last year, but is stepping down from that position this month.

Apart from its founders’ own seed money, Greats has been funded by a small group of angel investors, including New York-based High Peaks Venture Partners and NFL player Adrian Wilson of the New England Patriots.

The company has tapped Nickelson Wooster as “stylist in residence” and a member of its advisory board. Wooster exited his role as senior vice president of product development and design of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. earlier this year.

The initial launch at will offer two sneaker styles, each in three color options. The Wilson, priced at $59, is a low-top retro basketball sneaker in cotton canvas based on the silhouette of the Converse Chuck Taylor shoe, available in red, white or blue. “We’ll be working on the most classic men’s sneaker silhouettes and reinterpreting them in a hyper-relevant way,” explained Buscemi.

The Wilson is actually priced higher than the basic version of the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, which starts at $50. The price of the Wilson is reflected in premium materials and construction, such as a synthetic pigskin foot bed, leather toe cap and an innovative elastic shoelace with a toggle closure that eliminates the need to tie your shoes, said Babenzien.

The Royale is the second available style, an upscale take on the Sixties tennis sneaker based on the classic Adidas Stan Smith silhouette. Priced at $99, the shoe is made from deerskin and lined in calfskin leather, with a decorative felted quarter panel on the side.

Buscemi likened the look and quality of the Royale to similar versions from higher-priced brands like Common Projects, Buttero and Visvim.

Greats will expand into a range of casual and dress shoe styles down the road, with some product made in Italy, which will push up prices. Currently, the product is manufactured in León, Mexico, an emerging center of shoe production.

Deliveries will be fulfilled by a third-party service with warehouses in California, Pennsylvania and Canada. Greats will only ship to the U.S. and Canada at launch, with international deliveries coming at a later date.

Babenzien has been ceo of Boast since last year, prior to which he was global director of lifestyle marketing at K-Swiss from 2008 to 2011. Earlier, he was director of entertainment marketing at Puma from 2005 to 2008.

Buscemi was cofounder and chief marketing officer beginning in 2006 at Los Angeles-based Gourmet Footwear, where he remains a minority owner. Earlier in his career, he was a men’s category director at DC Shoes.

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