Little feet, big ideas at Bobux

Be niche and you shall succeed, believes Bobux CEO Andrew Sharp.

Did you know that when your children learn to walk, they have not yet developed bones in their feet, and their feet will continue to develop until their late-teens? Although it’s not the first thing you expect to hear from a little one’s shoe brand, Bobux thinks our young children should not be laced into shoes. It’s this scientific and niche design approach that has given the company a leg up on international competition.

“We see ourselves as a global brand and we happen to be based in New Zealand,” says Bobux CEO Andrew Sharp. The children’s footwear brand has a solid footing in its niche market, exporting 90 percent of its products to 34 countries with elite stockists, including Nordstorm and Harrods.

Since moving into footwear from soft soles, Bobux has grown at 10-15 percent per year. Greg Parmenter, marketing manager of Bobux says: "With new CEO Andrew Sharp, we are forecasting 20-25 percent growth over the next eight years. We are currently selling half a million pairs worldwide with an initial target of one million pairs by 2020 and two million by 2024." 

Bobux has just released a limited edition range of childrens’ shoes, Aktiv & Xplorer, with French designer Solène Roure. One of two smaller injections in Bobux’s seasonal calendar, the collection focuses on internationally recognised fashion concepts. And Roure, having worked with Nike, Louis Vuitton, North Face and Levi’s was well placed to create eight unique designs.

“I think New Zealand has a strong market for quality and as niche exporters we need to be that and take it to the world,” says Sharp. “You’ve got to be realistic. You’re competing with Nike, you’re competing with Adidas.” Citing kiwi companies such as Icebreaker, he says New Zealanders have an amazing ability to build intuitive brands and, in fitting with the late Paul Callaghan’s vision, he says we should focus on clever design and quality as a country as we export.

Collaboration is key at Bobux. Since its inception in 1991, it has called on foot experts, partnered with podiatrists and studied the mechanics of ‘jumping little maniacs’. In 2015 Bobux created the X range with Prada and Adidas designer Sean Maisano, which won a Red Dot award for product design in Germany and a bronze award at the Best Awards in 2014 – The company has since won silver for its Bobux Blaze at the Best Awards in 2015.

The shoes, which range from $45-$100, focus on three very different stages of little people’s lives; as newborns and pre-walkers, first walkers and toddlers and pre-schoolers – to ensure shoes are fit for each specific stage. “We’ve always had a major focus on foot health,” says Sharp. “We want our parents to have piece of mind … they trust us.” Bobux’s design thinking is close to the supply chain – regular testings with the end consumer ensure it achieves “the quality deserving of our customers”, he says.

Bobux was first manufactured in the founders Chris and Colleen Bennett’s basement. They kept manufacturing for 17 years but now Bobux’s East Tamaki factory services only a small market, keeping on sewers that have worked with the company for 20 years. Their latest collaboration was manufactured in Indonesia, a decision Sharp says was down to the high quality of leather and good treatment of animals there.

Footwear manufacturing in New Zealand has been on the decline for several years, however some manufacturers, such as McKinlays Footwear, which was established in Dunedin in 1879, are still going strong. And although designer footwear designer Minnie Cooper reluctantly closed her brick-and-mortar stores mid 2015 she has since opened a shop at her Auckland factory in Avondale.

Allbirds is another unique footwear company driven by New Zealanders, with the help of American investors. Co-founder and co-CEO Tim Brown of the woolen sneaker brand told Idealog earlier this year that quality is key to Allbirds' point of difference. “If we were selling through Footlocker, we’d be like all the other guys and we'd have to make the shoes for $9. So we have an opportunity from our margins to make it out of 16 micron New Zealand wool,” he said.

A number of designer childrenswear and footwear brands have bounced on to the New Zealand market. Pretty Brave is a children’s footwear company tapping into the quality kidswear market, with hand-made soft leather shoes in a range of designer styles, including high-tops, espadrilles and moccasins that retail from $40-$70.

When Trelise Cooper closed her flagship childrenswear store in Newmarket in 2011 she told Stuff:  ''It is our intention is to revive the Trelise Cooper Kids label in the future once global economic conditions improve.'' And it seems the time has come, with Little Trelise opening this year.

With parents wanting the best for their young children quality products need to be more than just good looking, and Bobux's unique mindset has walked the talk.