Thursday, April 10, 2014

Civic Duty Shoes at CLT's SilverFly

Who would have thought that Tyvek - that papery-looking material usually used in FedEx envelopes and home construction- could be so stylish?

But the New Jersey-based brand Civic Duty found a way to be fashion-forward while creating shoes with uppers made entirely of Tyvek.

Designer and brand founder Steven Weinreb said that Tyvek, which is made by DuPont, was an appealing material for his casual footwear line for several reasons:

It’s water-resistant but breathable. Extremely lightweight, yet very durable, and full of unique characteristics such as its ability to be scrunched up (perfect for packing) then “fluffed back up” and be ready to wear, Weinreb said.

Also, because the material takes print very well, it’s great for printing bright colors. (Have you seen the company’s hue of orange? Love.)

Plus, the papery appearance is just fun.

The line has been featured in Oprah’s “O” magazine and has been a hit with a number of customer bases: the trendsetters - who gravitate toward the bright colors - the eco-conscious (the shoes are completely recyclable) and the animal lovers (all styles are entirely vegan), among others.

It looks like patent leather, but is actually a cruelty-free synthetic.

Weinreb started tinkering with Tyvek years ago while working for an international distributor near his home in New Jersey. They were distributing a casual travel shoe in the U.S. and he found himself more interested in the shipping bag than the shoe itself.

The recession ended that job at the close of 2008, he said, and searching for a new one revealed that Weinreb’s age and level of expertise essentially made him unemployable in a market trying to stay afloat.

So his interest in developing Tyvek into shoes was prompted by job necessity and, voila, Civic Duty Shoes was born. The small company got its official start about four years ago and now his line is the one with international distribution.

Weinreb will be at SILVERYFLY at the Metropolitan Friday and Saturday, helping pair people with their perfect shoe.

Civic Duty Shoes founder Steven Weinreb

He’ll bring numerous styles (for men and women) and colors in a variety of sizes for the trunk show. While customers won’t walk out of the store with a new pair, he said, their order will be shipped (likely directly to SILVERFLY) within the week.

Weinreb said he enjoys visiting the stores that carry the shoe line because he values the customer feedback. "It gives me really good insight on what we're doing right, wrong and suggestions customers have and would like to see."

The casual footwear brand is partially known for its trademark argyle strip down the back of the shoe, which made more sense than a large logo typically found on athletic shoes, which Civic Duty shoes are not, he said.

“If you go try to play basketball in them, forget about it,” Weinreb said (with perfect New Jersey phonetics). “It’s not going to happen.”

But just because the shoes aren’t meant to run a 5K in doesn’t mean they’re not comfortable. One thing he hears most often from customers is how surprised they are with the comfort level, as casual sneakers typically don’t offer much arch support, he said.

Real life example? Weinreb said he can walk all over New York City visiting boutiques that carry Civic Duty (we’re talking up to 60 city blocks in a day) and the shoes remain comfortable for hours

Civic Duty Shoes usually retail between $50 and $60, come only in whole sizes and – despite their delicate appearance – have the lifespan of any other shoe, Weinreb said, adding he's had pairs that have lasted more than two years.

“They’ll wear down the same way other sneakers will, but it won’t be the upper that wears out," he said. "The more the rubber hits the pavement, the more it wears away ... It depends on how hard and how often you use them."

At shows such as the one this weekend in Charlotte, Weinreb said, they've invited people to pour water on the shoes or challenge them to "tear the Tyvek," to demonstrate the shoes are much sturdier than expected.

"It's really taken a good bit of education to let the consumer know it's okay to buy these shoes. First thing they think is 'It's paper, it'll tear, it'll disintegrate,'" he said.

"But to have these big macho guys trying to tear this piece of paper, it's kind of fun to watch. Obviously there's a tearing point for everything. It does happen," he said. "But 98 out of 100 people can't do it."

Weinreb said the brand's offerings are growing slowly, typically adding one new style per season. They’re experimenting with messenger bags and backpacks, as well as exploring creative marketing methods to boost brand exposure.

"I'm not enamored with the traditional 'Lets buy a billboard' (approach)," Weinreb said. "I like to try to find other creative ways to do things ... To let people know these are fun, comfortable shoes."

More trunk show details here.


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