Minutes from the beach, in a nondescript storefront in a busy small town, three guys are planning the latest release of a new shoe. I recently spoke to the Tweak Footwear team: Andrew Long, James Hotson and Chris Powell. The Hermosa Beach, California-based company stands out from others in its field; while other designers keep to themselves and introduce their own designs for consumer consumption, Tweak Footwear is truly a company of the people owing to asking the public for suggestions for new shoe ideas tailored to emerging Internet celebrities. Yes, you heard that right. YouTube stars like Timothy Delaghetto and Victor Kim have their own shoes—all thanks to ideas from people like you!
Unlike traditional shoe companies that follow seasons, a Tweak Footwear shoe goes from concept to doorstep in 10 weeks. Since collaborating with Rhett&Link on their first shoe in 2010, they have spawned 12 Internet celebrity approved shoes and culled through hundreds of thousands of suggestions from Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. So how does Tweak Footwear truly listen to the masses when it comes to making the next sensational shoe? Here are a few things to consider:
The “Magic” of Shoes
Why is connecting through social media a prime opportunity for shoemakers like Tweak? James Hotson, the company’s business development manager, said that shoes—above all other types of clothing—have a special attachment to people since it’s a necessity of sorts. He explains, “There’s a certain magic to shoes. Everyone needs shoes and they have more significance than just a t-shirt. We really wanted to connect with people on a basis of that they want to enjoy it.”
Tweak understood that people wanted to connect to a shoe, just like Air Jordans connected to so many fans in its heyday. By collaborating with emerging celebrities like Olga Kay and Timothy Delaghetto, they are using their star power to promote their brand and extend the social media conversation beyond just watching YouTube videos.
The People Rule
The main selling point for Tweak Footwear, of course, is that it’s strongly social media consumer-centered and reflects its motto “It’s YOUR Brand.” What brings many of its customers excited about the product is their involvement. Andrew Long, Tweak’s marketing manager, told NMR, “We built that model around making videos telling their fans that they are going to be designing a shoe but they need your help. That’s why ‘It’s your brand’ is our tagline. So in the end, we want the fans to feel like it’s their shoe because they were a part of it instead of us dictating what we think is cool. They get to tell us what they want which is the fun part.”
How many ideas do they get from each shoe? Hotson said that on average, they go through about 30,000 to 35,000 submission for each project. He said, “We go through every single comment — all three of us — every single picture, every single video. We take the best ideas and put that into the final design of the shoe.” Competition for the best ideas can get heated, however. For instance, on their first project with Rhett&Link, Hotson said that there was a split amongst fans between having laces and having Velcro on the shoe.
“We ended up deciding that laces won out and that’s what we ended coming out with,” he said. “We really had to listen to the community to see which side had the stronger arguments and which side wanted the laces more.”
Staying on Top of Things
Although the vast majority of their fans’ suggestions come from Facebook, the guys of Tweak Footwear are on all social media platforms and fully understand the ever changing world of social media.
“There’s a new social media site popping up every single week and we need to stay on top of that because who knows,” said Chris Powell, customer service and shipping representative. “There might be an entire new opportunity in media that we’re not aware of yet and it can completely change us. We pretty much sign up for anything that comes up.”
To keep up with the myriad of interactions on its Facebook page, Tweak Footwear will unveil a new app on its page in the coming weeks to allow customers to submit ideas anytime instead of the design phase to help the overall product and get more inspiration.
“These days it’s important for people to have a voice and it’s gotten more and more popular,” Long said. “I think as time goes on it’s getting bigger and bigger on what you have a voice about and bringing the shoes into that, well, we’re the first ones to do that. So now people have a voice on their footwear style and fashion and that’s important.”
When customers know that they truly have a stake in how the next shoe is designed, it brings more emotional attachment to the product. Andrew, James and Chris know very well that social media and shoes are a beautiful marriage and they are listening to the Internet celebrities and the fans to make “YOUR brand.” That’s why Tweak Footwear will keep its customers glued to its brand as long as the ideas keep rolling from the Facebook page.