Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert, the two German sneaker kings, met while studying at Wharton Business School. It was during a shopping spree in Manhattan in 2014 that their idea for “anti-luxury” KOIO shoes & sneakers made in Italy was born – after stumbling upon a pair of $ 1,000 Louis Vuittons in a pretentious boutique. They wondered how to deliver a brand of great, affordable leather products for a generation that increasingly values quality.
So they set out on a mission: to create the perfect leather shoe, which combines the practicality of sneakers with the demand for luxury. Both from the financial world, the duo entered the New York fashion industry to establish an impressive network of advice and traveled all over Italy to find the best manufacturer possible. In 2015, they launched the brand with their first pop-up, selling their first collection in a few hours.
What you will learn
Koio shoes Products
Koios provides three footwear types, The Primo, The Gavia, and The Capri, a commonly modeled sneaker. Koio delivers $178 men’s and women’s shoes, $298 men’s and women’s hi-tops, $128 flip-flops and $18 assorted sneaker accessories. Infant shoes start at $78 for girls and boys.
Koio sneakers are made from the finest calfskin leathers, with attention to detail hand-finished. In order to produce only one pair, all Koios sneakers contain 88 individual parts that take more than four hours.
Only Prada and Gucci are more expensive
In the online shop or one of the five US shops, the shoes cost between 250 and 370 US dollars. For shipping abroad, for example to Germany, customers pay an additional thirty euros. Not for the tight budget. But compared to Prada, for example, where a white sneaker often costs more than 600 dollars, the customer saves money – with the same quality, as the founders assure. The founders can offer their customers a lower price through a direct-to-consumer approach (DTC); middlemen or sales agencies are excluded. The margin and thus the turnover remain high for Koio. The Berlin startup Aeyde for women’s shoes is pursuing a similar approach. Likewise, the eyewear companies Warby Parker or Viu and many young mattress dealers, to name just a few examples.
But the brand, i.e. a cool brand, is the alpha and omega of Koio’s success. The founders benefited from praising reports in magazines such as GQ, Vogue and Forbes early on. In 2015, the men’s magazine The Esquire voted Koio first in the “Cool Sneaker” category. But how did Koio become a trendy brand? “With good quality from day one, a minimalist but interesting product and through cooperation,” sums up Quodt.
But Koio’s strength is also a weakness: It is difficult to build a trendy brand. Keeping a trendy brand is even harder. Anyone who is not at the forefront when it comes to design, constantly presenting cool collaborations and uploading new pictures to Instagram almost every day, will miss the boat and be pushed out of the market. The Koio founders are aware of this, they don’t want to lose focus. An online shop for Germany is therefore not planned for the time being.
The $300 shoes have Good Reviews by customers. How so?
Two German founders have founded a startup for handmade sneakers from Italy in New York.
There is this shoe that Koio burned himself into the memory of sneaker fans with. It’s completely golden. A small hand is attached as a pearl to the laces, also in gold, of course. The sneaker looks valuable – and it is. Because it was never for sale, the few pairs were raffled off. The shoe was made by the New York startup Koio, founded by the Germans Chris Wichert (32) and Johannes Quodt (32). It was created in cooperation with the TV broadcaster HBO and pays homage to Jaime Lannister, one of the main characters in the globally successful series “Game of Thrones”.
Cooperations like this are at the heart of Koio. Due to their small number of items, they hardly generate any sales, but they have made Koio a cool brand in the sneaker market – that’s worth a lot more, as the founders know. According to the company, your start-up made “a good seven-figure sum” with shoes for women and men last year; If models were limited, customers would queue up in front of one of the shops from 7 a.m.
Munich-based investor Acton Capital invested three million euros around a year ago to drive growth. Koio’s donors also include the Winklevoss twins, from whom Mark Zuckerberg is said to have stolen the idea for Facebook, as well as actor Miles Teller and director Simon Kinberg. Andy Dunn, founder of the pants brand Benobos, and trunk club founder Brian Spaly have also invested.
Formerly McKinsey and J.P. Morgan, today sneaker
It is hardly surprising that Chris Wichert and Johannes Quodt were able to attract well-known investors. Only the best names can be found on their résumés: Wichert completed his bachelor’s degree at WHU before spending two years as an analyst at Bank J.P. Morgan hired. After completing his training at the University of St. Gallen and the London School of Economics, Quodt worked for the management consultancy McKinsey for around two years.
Chris Wichert and Johannes Quodt met five years ago during their MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where they also developed the idea for Koio. “Even when I was studying, I found the sneakers by Italian designers such as Gucci, Hogan or Prada great and I always waited for the sale to be able to buy the shoes for less,” says founder Johannes Quodt in an interview with Gründerszene. “Chris and I had the same taste.” Despite the great competition in the market, the two saw a gap for their business – especially in the USA. “The market for sneakers in the US is incredibly large and customers are willing to spend more money,” says Quodt.
Before founding the company, the friends traveled to Italy, the country of leather manufacturers, and opted for a family-run factory that also produced for the French luxury label Chanel and is now fully owned by Chanel. They keep the name a secret. Just so much: a pair of Koio sneakers is handcrafted there in four hours. The shoes are sold by a team of eight from New York, with twelve other employees working in Koio stores in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago. The most important target group are the millennials.
Why We Like Koio
For several reasons, we like Koio. In the footwear industry, Koio has entered a very competitive market competing against giants, while their sales continue to be good. Koio sneakers are premium, sturdy, comfortable sneakers that meet the needs of their customers. Compared to other similar brands on the market, Koio sneakers are costly which could directly impact their future sales.
Koio appears to be working well and continues to add new items to their rising luxury footwear inventory. Perhaps adding additional clothing lines will increase their possible growth rates in the future.
One of the most dynamic markets in nature is footwear. It takes high-quality products not only to start a footwear company, but to continuously develop and expand. Koio has developed and instituted a firm and well-managed program that remains. It remains to be seen what the future will hold for Koio.
An interview of Johannes and Chris
Where does the name “KOIO” come from?
Chris: “KOIO is a game around the Italian term ‘cuoio’, which means leather. It’s a tribute to our roots: our production is entirely based in Italy and all our products are made of leather. It seems essential to us to create an authentic brand, a true reflection of this work.
A lot of things frustrate us with big luxury brands; their offline presence is much more important than online; customer service is often very impersonal; and the price of access is unaffordable. With KOIO, we wanted to offer a more affordable, accessible and personal brand of leather products. “
Neither of you had any fashion experience before you started. Wasn’t that a problem?
Johannes: “When we still lived in Germany, we spent our time saving up so we could buy luxury sneakers. We have always been fascinated by this product and we took the plunge. Chris worked at JP Morgan and I at McKinsey – we both knew how to produce a huge amount of work to get maximum results in a very short time. We used to do a lot of work, and that’s the spirit that drove us with KOIO.
We started with research: from working on our first sketches to the manufacturer’s quest to make our first prototype sneakers in New York. We then went to Italy to find the best manufacturer. It was all done step by step, and we stayed motivated to move forward quickly – that’s how we were able to create a product that was very well received from launch. “
Chris: “We also wanted to reach the right people as quickly as possible. We reached out to shoe teachers at FIT and Parsons (two New York fashion schools) and spent many hours with them learning how to make a shoe. We then wanted to meet people who had been successful in the world of direct sales and start-ups, like Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker. These people introduced us to the members of their networks and that is how we were able to create our own network of advisers. “
When did you say to yourself, “this could really work”?
Johannes: “When we found our Italian manufacturers. The factory we work with in Civitanova is a family business that worked exclusively for Chanel. We are the only other brand to work with them. Succeeding in convincing them to follow us on this project gave us the confidence to launch our product on the market.
We visited 34 different factories for a month before finding the rare pearl. Their factory almost looks like an R&D lab – it’s beautiful – and the shoes they make are of truly exceptional quality. They hand paint the edges of the leather of each shoe, which is usually rather reserved for handbags. “
Why did you choose to start in New York and not in Berlin?
Chris: “New York sets the trends and the world is watching. We have a lot of friends in Europe who are interested in what we do and want our shoes, but we are not yet ready to ship to Europe – which is probably a plus. We are increasingly known as a New York brand, which will only increase demand.
The sneakers market is quite fascinating and is growing at a phenomenal rate. Sneakers will soon be number one in most people’s wardrobes. We wanted to design a versatile shoe that could be worn in any circumstance – for walking around town, going to the office or going out. New York is the perfect place for this kind of brand. We are targeting this highly motivated urban fauna who really need quality shoes on a daily basis. “
You recently decided to change your positioning: from men’s shoes you went to unisex. Why ?
Johannes: “For the launch we had produced four models in men’s sizes, but right from the start the small sizes were bought first – and not by men. We quickly realized that we also had to offer sizes for women.
We therefore proposed sizes for Men and Women, with specific colors for each group. But men started to ask for women’s colors, and vice versa. So now we’re more or less 100% unisex and that suits us very well. No one wants to be put in a box or have a brand tell them what to wear. “
Chris: “We found that women were complaining about other brands reserving their cool designs for men. If they create a female model, it’s often very girlish. And that’s what we wanted to avoid. “
KOIO has opened several pop-up stores and corners in other stores. What conclusions do you draw from this?
Chris: “We have been using pop-up stores since the beginning of the brand. We started with weekends to try out different neighborhoods or spaces, and we found that our customers liked it. Seeing and touching the shoes, they really want to buy. The results of all this? We should have started earlier! “
Johannes: “Our new sneaker gallery in SoHo is an immersive experience. The pop-up store has been profitable since day one. By opening a space for a longer period of time, we were able to distribute our workload and enjoy better media coverage. It may take 3 or 5 weeks for people who work in the neighborhood to realize that our store has opened. “
You have also organized many events in your sales area. How has it helped your brand?
Johannes: “We organize events almost every week in collaboration with other brands, creatives and artists who share our DNA. For us, partnering with tattoo artist JonBoy in particular offers a lot more depth to the brand. “
Chris: “If you want to create a new brand, there aren’t a thousand things to say about the design and craftsmanship behind the product either. What people are looking for is experience and this is what we want to offer them with KOIO. “