polo wallet How Geox Changed the Footwear Industry
On a sweltering day in Reno, Nevada, 39 year old Mario Moretti Polegato was enduring the torrid heat during his ritual jog. Polegato, an Italian winemaker attending a wine conference, was so frustrated by the humidity he decided to cut holes in the outer soles of his Nike sneakers to let his sweaty feet breathe better.
Inspired by his discovery, he turned his attention to giving people better footwear. When he returned to Treviso, Italy, Polegato developed his makeshift shoe into a marketable one, thanks to his entrepreneurial attitude and the much needed assistance of a family owned leather business. In 1994, he created the first pair of shoes with perforated soles. They allowed feet to breathe, while at the same time preventing water from penetrating through to the foot. The marriage of fashion and technology gave birth to Geox, a footwear company redefining how we view comfortable and functional shoes.
The success of Geox is based on a simple but unusual idea, says Polegato, chairman and inventor of the brand. He says the shoes come with holes in the rubber sole and a unique waterproof and breathable membrane.
Made from microporous material, this membrane absorbs sweat through the insole and lets it out in the form of water vapour. The shoes don’t leak because the membrane’s micropores are larger than water vapour molecules but smaller than water droplets. Outside water is kept out and feet stay dry.
When the shoes first hit shelves, the industry was unprepared for Geox’s innovation. The company’s footwear experiments had never been done in the fashion world.
“People could not comprehend the fact that shoes with holes did not leak,” says Phillip Nutt, president of Wenco International, a footwear consultancy company in Toronto. “As a concept for the shoe industry, it is a little bit of an oxymoron.”
I needed some convincing myself, so I tested a pair that retails for $168. I trudged through puddles, walked through the rain, even stepped into a pile of snow. Miraculously, my feet stayed dry.
But how would Geox shoes stand up to sweat and the subsequent smell? The shoe’s interior is entirely leather, and while leather is a naturally breathable material, nylon and microfibre pant socks are not. Regardless of what socks I wore or how long I used the shoes, my feet smelled as good as clean feet can.
“Geox is the answer to the main issue when you buy a pair of shoes: perspiration,
” Polegato says. “Once the customers try Geox, they keep buying them and speaking well about them.”
Numbers back up Polegato’s claim. Geox is sold in 68 countries and 500 stores worldwide. Since 2002, the company has had a growth rate of 30 per cent each year: In 2006, Geox secured $912.2 million in revenue, compared to 2005’s revenue of $691 million. In 2006 alone, the company sold 16 million pairs of shoes, with plans to sell more than 20 million pairs in 2007.
While Geox can’t be grouped in the same league as Michael Kors or Prada, they offer a simple, classy style, free from four inch stiletto spikes or ultra pointy cockroach killers. While a traditional leather moccasin remains the company’s top seller, other styles reflect a younger attitude, with brighter colours and sleeker designs.
Nutt says the brand’s attractive Italian designs tempts a niche market. “Geox appeals to the BMW crowd,” he says.
The high fashion appeal of Geox shoes are winning fans in the celebrity sphere. Fans range from Angelina Jolie’s son Maddox; Monaco’s royal family; and even Pope Benedict XVI, giving a new meaning to “holey” shoes.
Apparently, Geox isn’t just for the rich and famous. While I’m browsing through the shelves one afternoon at a Geox store, I notice a family of four spending more than $600 on four pairs of shoes. The young kids were so excited with their new footwear, they wore their new shoes right out the door.
As popular as the shoes have become, the continual challenge for Geox is making the technology work well within the fashion. This has spurred Geox to invest three per cent of its revenue in research and development.
“Technology is our trademark,” Polegato says. “We believe that innovation is the secret to always being very competitive and meeting the needs of consumers.”With three patents filed and about 30 more in the works, Polegato is optimistic about the future. Particularly, he is excited about Geox’s apparel line, which launched worldwide earlier in 2006.
Combating sweat in the upper torso this time, Geox’s apparel line lets warm air and humidity rise along a cavity and dissipate through aerating holes around the shoulder area. While the Geox shirts currently represent only five per cent of the company’s revenue, it sold more than one million pieces of clothing in 2006.
As much as Geox wants to look upward to more financial prosperity, its leaders are looking downward in another way: to the shoes we wear,
and to our feet we can’t help but use every day.