Call him mad — or perhaps only a cockeyed optimist — however Justin Schneider seems to be hopeful.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pressured iconic manufacturers and legendary retailers to stumble or crumble (Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor, amongst them), Schneider, a 31-year-old footwear entrepreneur behind the workplace-oriented shoe model Wolf & Shepherd, remains to be counting his blessings.

“Having moved to Los Angeles and being the only dress-shoe company in a less formal environment,” he instructed me on the telephone on a current morning, “we had already asked ourselves, ‘How do we create a dress shoe for today’s working professional?’”

Wolf & Shepherd’s elevator pitch is straightforward. Its shoes really feel like sneakers however look, on the exterior, like a brogue or derby — you realize, the sorts of kinds often discovered at blue-chip legislation companies or monetary establishments, the ones that clacked down workplace hallways and lobbies earlier than the world out of the blue hit pause earlier this yr. These tony lace-ups have been the final bastions of a sure C-suite way of life the place fits and ties reigned supreme. However, the days of desk lunches and boardroom conferences are in a state of great limbo. So perhaps a shoe that performs each side of the fence is, unusually, completely in tune with this very in-between second.

Wolf & Shepherd’s Crossover Longwing in a coloration known as honey. The model launched the shoe final yr, and it has been a bestseller throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Hope Schneider, 30, the model’s cofounder and Schneider’s spouse, knew the second issues have been altering nicely earlier than the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. “When Goldman Sachs put out a memo that you don’t have to wear a suit to work anymore,” she mentioned.

Last yr, the international monetary and banking agency made headlines when it mentioned it might enable a extra “flexible” workplace uniform going ahead. It was an announcement that sparked the Schneiders’ model to create its Crossover Longwing, a hybrid shoe with an higher produced from full-grain Italian leather-based and contrasted with a white, high-density outsole. “If Goldman Sachs, one of the most dressy workplaces in New York, is telling their workers ties are not required, then those guys are probably looking for a formal shoe that is not Cole Haan,” she mentioned.

Wolf & Shepherd’s Crossover Longwing, launched late final yr, bought out of its preliminary launch and, in response to the model, collected a wait record of greater than 2,500 folks. During June, they restocked the fashion with 5,000 pairs and bought greater than 4,000 by mid-month. During the quarantine, it’s turn out to be considered one of their bestselling kinds. “That hunch was right,” Hope mentioned. “So we’re just following our intuition on what’s next.”

I first met with Justin late final yr, lengthy earlier than pandemics, distant working and face masks have been a part of the on a regular basis dialog. We toured Wolf & Shepherd’s industrial-chic area in El Segundo. The area featured glass partitions and concrete flooring and was furnished with boys’ membership decor together with tufted leather-based couches and oriental rugs. In one workplace have been boards crammed with inspirational photos for every little thing — from packaging and social media to the shoes themselves — together with photos of tire treads and woven leathers contrasted with photographs of the easy curves of contemporary structure.

The Crossover Longwing at Wolf & Shepherd

Wolf & Shepherd makes use of sneaker know-how for its line of dress shoes.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Schneider’s specialty is sneakers. He relied on them as a track-and-field athlete whereas at Notre Dame and helped design them for manufacturers equivalent to Adidas and New Balance. However, he had an appreciation for extra formal fare too. “I love the timeless style of a traditional English-made dress shoe,” he mentioned. “But then it’s like, well, I also like the raw performance of a specialty running shoe.” Therefore, he married these oppositional concepts and set off to basically construct the mullet of shoes: enterprise in the entrance, occasion in the again.

Schneider, who’s biracial (his mom is Korean and his father is white) has lengthy been fascinated with bridging collectively two potentialities and did so with shoes. “I’m pretty fixated on these adversarial components and bringing them into one thing,” he mentioned. His strategy might need one thing to do with being the little one of an immigrant and having to straddle the roles of insider and outsider. Or it might need be his time at Notre Dame, which he attended on an athletic scholarship and the place he studied structure after which industrial and product design. “Most times when people meet me, the perception is like, ‘Oh, he’s a jock or bro,’” he mentioned. “But there’s a whole other side. I’m a creative person that happens to like to run in circles too. Why can’t I be both?”

Design board for the Crossover Longwing

A have a look at the design board for Wolf & Shepherd’s Crossover Longwing shoe, which was developed in collaboration with former NBA participant Steve Nash. Wolf & Shepherd makes use of sneaker know-how in a dress shoe.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

This duality performs out in the model title: the wolf is tenacious and a hunter, the shepherd is a sensible sage. “If every brand is selling a fantasy, ours is that you can have innovation and tradition,” Schneider mentioned. “You can have comfort and style. You can be premium and mass market. You can be good-looking and intelligent.”

Schneider began his profession with an internship at Adidas and later labored for New Balance, designing operating shoes. After a profession detour working for National Geographic, he returned dwelling to Atlanta, and it was there that Wolf & Shepherd was born. It began innocently sufficient. A pal complained to him after spending $575 on a pair of dress shoes solely to find they have been extremely uncomfortable.

“He’s like, ‘My feet are killing me, Justin. You’ve designed running shoes. You just need to come up with a pair of comfortable dress shoes,’” he mentioned, laughing. “Like that’s the easiest thing in the world or the most novel idea.” Dress shoes are, by nature, uncomfortable. They’re produced from hardy supplies made to final and which require put on for them to finally break in and obtain optimum consolation.

Hope Schneider and Justin Schneider pictured with Evan Tanaka, senior content producer at Wolf and Shepherd

Hope Schneider, left, and husband Justin Schneider with Evan Tanaka, senior content material producer at Wolf & Shepherd.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Schneider’s good friend had inadvertently alerted him to a gap in the market. “Most dress-shoe companies were built on the old adage of, ‘This is how things have always been done.’ They’re built on the idea of being made in Italy or made in America, all this nostalgia,” he mentioned. Tradition and heritage are the basis for these firms, not innovation, which governs optimization-obsessed industries equivalent to tech and health. Schneider had an thought: Could he carry the two worlds collectively?

“I took that literally,” he mentioned. “I took it seriously, and I approached it as I would a track spike or a trainer. What’s an attractive heel-to-toe ratio? Let’s take a really attractive shoe, and can I make it feel like a sneaker?”

That problem led him to start out engaged on prototypes for his first shoe. When requested if he’s entrepreneurial by nature, he mentioned, “I like to do things to get better at them. I’m just competitive in the sense that when I see something awesome or somebody do something really cool, I just go, ‘We can do that. What do we need to do to make something better or bigger?’ I don’t want Allen Edmonds to fail because we’re in business. I want to use them as a benchmark of what I need to overcome.”

Justin Schneider, Founder and CEO and Hope Schneider, co-founder and head of marketing

Justin Schneider, founder and chief government of shoe model Wolf & Shepherd, and Hope Schneider, co-founder and head of selling, at the model’s headquarters in El Segundo.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Five years after founding his enterprise — earlier than the coronavirus hit — issues have been going nicely. Schneider had a retailer on Madison Avenue in New York and one in Los Angeles at the Westfield Century City procuring heart. The model was bringing in tens of millions in income and had NBA star Steve Nash, whom Schneider met by means of a mutual good friend, as an envoy and a collaborator. (“I used to wear his shoes growing up,” Schneider mentioned. “Now he wears mine.”) Wolf & Shepherd was making a splash with social media stunts equivalent to having Juris Silenieks run the Atlanta half-marathon in a pair of Wolf & Shepherd cap-toe lace-ups (he received the race) or Nash play a pickup recreation of basketball in a pair. Also, final yr, Schneider himself took half in the operating of the bulls sporting Wolf & Shepherd shoes, and Chris Rock wore a pair of the shoes to this yr’s Academy Awards.

And then every little thing modified in 2020 — most of all, it was the means that we work, which was Wolf & Shepherd’s raison d’être. The Schneiders needed to pivot. They determined to construct on the success of their extra informal releases equivalent to the Crossover Longwing and the minimalist Glider sneaker. Last month, they debuted the SwiftKnit, which has a knit higher. It’s their model of the fashionable Allbirds fashion of shoes.

For now, a few of their unique kinds, the boardroom-friendly wingtips and cap toes, are on closing sale as a lot as half off. (Prices for Wolf & Shepherd shoes typically vary from $179 to $289.)

The Striker Chukka in Spanish red on display at Wolf & Shepherd

The Striker Chukka in Spanish purple on show at Wolf & Shepherd’s headquarters.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

According to Schneider, the dress shoe isn’t taking place with out a combat. He mentioned the variety of prospects including them to their carts on the Wolf & Shepherd web site has “never been higher.” It’s simply that they’re leaving them there for some far off day when folks return to their work cubicles and decide up some semblance of the life we knew earlier than. “There’s always going to be a consumer who wants to dress up,” he mentioned.

He’s on to one thing. When some kind of normalcy is restored, the considering goes, cooped-up residents disadvantaged of the easy act of expressing themselves by means of clothes will embrace the joys of dressing up once more. Before the coronavirus, there have been hints of a return to formality with males’s fits and loafers beginning to acquire traction once more. It’s the pure response to years of a market dominated by streetwear and sneakers. Therefore, months caught inside could also be the impetus for folks to dress once more.

All of which is to say, these are unusual occasions, and nobody can really say what the future will maintain. Which is why I used to be stunned to search out the Schneiders sounding so cheery after we reconnected.

“Any founder of any company probably wouldn’t make it very far if they weren’t optimistic,” Hope mentioned.

Max Berlinger – www.latimes.com

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