It all started when entrepreneur Vincent Lebon watched his flight attendant wife constantly struggle to fit comfy but clunky, shoes into her impossibly small suitcase. He was determined to create the perfect pair that was both comfortable and practical, so in 2011 Rollie shoes were born. Today, they’re sold in stores from New Zealand to the Netherlands.
Rollie’s innovation, aside from noticeably lightweight make (which is less than half that of other leather brogue and sneaker styles) is that the shoes have three main makes but come in countless colour, material and pattern variations. There are shiny patent leather loafers with goldflecked black pony hair, bold florals with burnished detailing or peach with lattice-like cut-outs. All styles are unisex and lighter than seemingly possible.
“I really wanted to design a shoe version of Havaianas,” says Vince, as his friends call him. “I wanted people not to think twice about what shoe to buy. Every season you go and buy new Havaianas; you know your size, you know they’re comfortable. It’s not the cheapest on the market but it’s affordable. That’s what started our business model.”
It took a year to take the initial concept to market. Vince did the product sketches and designed the paper pattern himself, which became the template for production. Then, he set up a website and got the shoes made by a friend’s factory in China before launching in an outlet for up-and-coming designers in Melbourne.
While the shoes sold well from the start, not even Vince could have guessed their first international customer would be the world’s largest shoe store, located in the Dubai Mall. And he has his own product to thank for it. Fortunately for Vince, the store’s main buyer saw a stranger in Rollies and stopped them to find out more.
As the main man in charge of development and production, Vince’s hands-on role in the business shows in the most important place: the product itself.
“All the materials are either hand-picked by me or developed by myself,” says Vince. (Which explains why his Melbourne warehouse includes two floors for the business and two floors for their family home).
“I’ll look through every corner to find materials that I love. If I can’t find anything I will make my own patterns and get the factory to make them.”
Pride of place in Vince’s office is a mood board of his dream shoes. Rollie’s style is fairly consistent so trend forecasting at a colour and material level is very important.
“I’ve got huge RSS feeds that I check every morning. I might spend an hour just going through them to see what’s happening. It’s not just fashion and shoe sites, it’s design blogs, music blogs, a bit of everything. I do [this] to make sure that I’m hitting the right trends.
“It’s about creating an emotional connection with our consumers. Some customers love pink polka dots and some hate them. It’s about making shoes that one person can fall in love with.”
And considering how attentive Vince is to everyone from suppliers to consumers, it’s little wonder the company is going from strength to strength. On building relationships, Vince stresses that you should “make sure everyone in your supply chain right through to your customers is getting the benefit of working with your brand or with you.”
Now that’s putting your best foot forward.