When it comes to having a passion for leather sneakers, Koio founders Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert’s penchant for cool kicks, comes close to an obsession.
Quodt and Wichert told me over the phone a few months ago that you can trace their love for sneakers all the way back to high school.
“We’ve always been aesthetically inclined and have been fascinated with high end sneakers since high school,” Wichert said. “When I grew up in Germany sneakers were always pieces of apparel that I had the most connection to so I would save money and wait for sneakers to go on sale and then buy them.”
That fascination for sneakers never ceased to exist when the two eventually met while pursuing their MBAs and quit their jobs in consulting at McKinsey and investment banking at J.P. Morgan.
But what they noticed that still didn’t exist were luxury sneakers that didn’t cost $900, Quodt said. In addition to those steep price tags, walking into a luxury shoe store felt sterile and impersonal to them, he said.
The budding shoe entrepreneurs set out to change that and traveled over 4,000 miles from New York to Italy to find the best leather crafter in the Le Marche region. And they weren’t fazed by the fact that they knew no one in the industry.
“We pretty much packed our bags and went into the factories,” Quodt said. “[We] went there, got a hotel and started asking at the reception for potential manufactures.”
At the end of that trip they found a family owned manufacturer to produce luxury leather sneakers that are “approachable,” with a three pillar brand foundation where Quodt and Wichert focus on craftsmanship, versatility and a human touch — the last of which they say a lot of luxury brands lack today.
Because of their relationship with the family manufacturer in Le Marche they are able to keep the shoes at a $250 to $400 price point.
“Our shoes are made for go-getters, doers that have a very intense life,” Quodt said. “They don’t have to worry about how they look, because they know that our shoes are always the perfect [fit].”
As of now the shoes are currently stocked in a few retail locations including Steven Alan in New York and Alchemy in Los Angeles in addition to a few pop–up shops Koio hosts to give their shoppers an added experiential element.
Their last pop-up shop had an on-sight tattoo artist that drew on the shoes as shoppers purchased them. This is where they also found out that women wanted to buy their shoes too, and now 50 percent of their sales are from women, Wichert said.
“We feel like the unisex approach is a natural progression of our brand,” Quodt said.
Last May Quodt and Wichert raised $1.3 million to launch the brand and said they are now focusing on finding a more permanent retail location in the near future.
The brand now counts Neil Blumenthal, co-ceo and cofounder of Warby Parker, and Ken Pilot, former ceo of J. Crew and former president of Gap, as advisors.