For Rothy’s Next Act, the DTC Shoe Brand Is Expanding Into Bags

Brand has unique advantages as it expands beyond footwear

The bags range from $65 to $350. - Credit by Rothy's
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

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In its eight-year history, direct-to-consumer brand Rothy’s hasn’t really strayed from its original and core product: a washable shoe made from single-use plastic water bottles.

Even as the company expanded into new silhouettes—from a sneaker to kids shoes to a merino wool line—Rothy’s still stuck to making machine washable and comfortable footwear. Now, after nearly a decade, the brand is expanding beyond shoes and into bags in five different styles. It’s the company’s biggest launch since 2016, according to Erin Lowenberg, creative director at Rothy’s.

“We’ve been waiting to expand at the right time, knowing that we want to be more than just footwear,” Lowenberg said. “We want to be more than the front-of-the-closet shoe, [and] we want to bring the technology and the sustainability and the ethos of the brand to her life in new ways, and showing up for her with a new category like bags was kind of our logical, passionate next step.”

There are five bag styles in total, ranging in price from $65 to $350. There’s the handbag, which retails for $350 and comes in four colors, to “catchalls,” an accessory storage box ranging in sizes from mini to large, with the smallest starting at $65 and the largest going for $125. (Sorry, the biggest “catchall” can’t store Rothy’s shoes.) The brand’s other silhouettes include a tote, a crossbody and a pouch.

Like the shoes, the bags are washable and come with a wash bag. They are also made from single-use water bottles, and in a first for the brand are also made of marine plastic. And for any Rothy’s loyalists out there, don’t worry—the bags have the brand’s signature blue “halo” mark.

The bags launch will also include an out-of-home campaign in New York with posters, billboards, subway takeovers, digital newsstand ads and more. Beginning March 9, anyone in New York can see the bags for themselves when Rothy’s opens its first store.

In manufacturing the bags, Lowenberg explained that there isn’t as much waste as in traditional bag-making. With its knitting machines, Rothy’s can “program shapes and [the] size we need,” and since the product is assembled by hand, the company’s workers can ensure each step is monitored carefully to reduce any mistake.

Rothy’s, which owns its own factory in China, isn’t too concerned by the ongoing spread of coronavirus, as its factory was approved to reopen and no one on the team there has the illness. But if anything were to impact the supply chain, Lowenberg said the company would first ensure the team in China is healthy and then let customers know about any delays in delivery.

“Whomever needs to take their time to get back or make sure they stay healthy, that’s the single most important thing—that everyone’s health is protected,” Lowenberg said. “And we have been blessed right now to have nothing but great reports that everyone’s really healthy, and we’re hoping that, globally, this can continue to get contained.”

But owning its factory is partly why Rothy’s can pull off this expansion of the brand. With the launch of the bags, Lowenberg expects customers to start telling the brand which silhouettes are working for them and which aren’t—giving Rothy’s an extra edge to either ramp up production or slow down on different styles.

“From the beginning of our time as a company, we’ve been buying only what we feel really comfortable buying up front and then replenishing based on demand, and will continue to do that with bags,” Lowenberg said. “And we can we can pivot into different categories and allocate resources that we already have. She’s definitely going to tell us right away.”

With the launch of this new category, Lowenberg said Rothy’s is only looking to grow further into new styles that make sense for the brand and its customer. It’s a trap many brands can fall into; start off as a footwear company, expand into socks, and eventually become a company that sells everything under the sun and loses its vision.

“We want to do what only Rothy’s can do,” Lowenberg said. “We have a [sustainable] material that allows us to do color beautifully: a soft, post-consumer waste material. The way we manufacture on machines allows us to have very little waste. Our designs tend to be timeless, classic with a modern twist, very much something you can use again and again. So if it doesn’t fit into that category, with those attributes, it doesn’t make sense for us to do.”

Many have raised questions about the lifecycle of a shoe made from recycled plastic, which doesn’t tackle the larger problem of ending the use of plastic. It’s a growing concern for the brand. To address this question, as well as the brand’s supply chain, Rothy’s has hired Saskia van Gendt as the company’s head of sustainability. 

“Her sole role within our company is going to be not just what are we doing with sustainability, but how are we improving every aspect of our business?” Lowenberg said. “How can we keep a circular lifecycle in our product flow and—it’s very important to our brand—to make sure we think not just about today, but five years from now and 10 years from now.”

The expansion comes at a time when other brands are coming to terms with how and when to grow into new categories. A recent Business of Fashion report cited the issues Glossier, a DTC beauty brand, had when it launched Glossier Play, a makeup line last year. The company decided to ultimately shutter the line and move remaining products into its regular Glossier brand. It’s a lesson Rothy’s is contemplating as it moves into bags and sees how its customers react.

“How do we show up in a way that we want our customer in the marketplace, both those who know us and those who don’t? To know that we’re building really quality product, that we believe is industry game-changing?” Lowenberg said. “We can pivot; we’ve got quarterly assortments planned, and the way we can manufacture is going to be really based on learning as we go, which is how we built the brand. Depending upon what she wants from us, we’re ready to respond.

“We’re going to know quickly what’s right, what she likes, what what we may want to do differently.”

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.
Publish date: March 3, 2020 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT