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Kory and Mallory Stevens never thought they would be designing and selling stylish shoes that athletes seem to love. Yet after a dual boost from crowdfunding and social media, here they are.
In 2013, the husband and wife team launched Taft (their son's middle name) as a sock company. After multiple customers saw their products and suggested they sell shoes, the Stevens' abandoned socks and did exactly that — and the rest is history.
"Since we launched shoes, the trajectory has really sped up. It has been a really crazy ride. Ever since we launched shoes it has been on the way up," Kory Stevens told CNBC in a recent interview.
The 29-year-old Burbank, California native attended Brigham Young University, where he started out as a linguistics major with a desire to work in soccer. He gave up on that dream after a corruption scandals engulfed FIFA, the sport's regulator.
After creating a successful Kickstarter campaign to start a sock business, Taft slowly garnered a huge social media following, primarily on Instagram. By the time the brand switched to shoes, Taft had over 200,000 followers on the popular social media site, which eventually more than doubled to its current following.
In the years since its launch, Provo, Utah-based Taft is now expecting to ring up $20 million in sales this year, translating its massive following on social media into a stepping stone to becoming a luxury brand. Most notably, Taft has become popular with urban professionals, celebrities and professional basketball players — all with a staff of only seven people.
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We started Taft with big hopes and high aspirations. We dreamt up a brand that was bold, inclusive, friendly, and personable. We embraced unique designs and unconventional business methods. We made friends of our customers. And we set big goals. And somehow, despite dreaming big from the start, you guys are always surpassing our expectations. We’re floored and humbled by the community we have here. Breaking into the shoe industry is no joke. There are countless other brands, countless places to shop, and yet here you are. We knew Taft was different, and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing so many of you catch our vision. Running a small business is taxing and exhausting, but the rewards are sweet. When we saw this picture of @therock wearing the Lucca Monk to the Rampage premier, we had to share, because it felt like a win for all of us. Because despite being a small, new brand, we’re making an impact. And it’s not because we have the most funding or the most connections or the most experienced CEO. It’s because of you guys. Seeing celebrities in Taft will always be fun, but nothing will ever be more flattering to us than seeing each of you in our shoes.
Taft has enlisted bold face names like singer Tim McGraw, action hero Dwayne Johnson and NBA star James Harden to advertise the shoes. The company has manufactured them in Spain, but with new investment and a boost from social media, it recently opened a factory in Portugal.
"I think having a big internet account is a huge asset for us," said Stevens, noting how active many athletes and entertainers are on social media. Those influencers have helped grease sales, he added.
"All of these guys comment on our photos. So what we will do is reach out on Instagram," which works better than a cold-call, Stevens added. "So having that presence makes us legit. They will [direct message] us and say how much they love it."
Taft's unique set of names for each shoe are personal. Each one is taken from an aspect in Kory and Mallory's life. For instance: The popular "Jack Boot" was named after Kory's grandfather and nephew, while the Lucca was named after the town in Italy that inspired the couple to start Taft. Other names are pulled from the names of their son's favorite movie and cartoon characters, he added.
Kory designs all the shoes himself, right down to the stitching. It's a surprising skill from someone who wasn't formally trained in fashion design (although he was once voted "best dressed" in high school).
"I didn't learn how to design shoes, but now I handle all shoe designs for the company," he said. "I'm not a design by trade but I think I am good at it."
Taft has begun to to expand more into the NBA world, establishing good relationships with players from the Utah Jazz.
Stevens said he plans to establish more connections in the league, with hopes to entice an up-and-coming young crop of basketball stars into being Taft ambassadors. The company's long-term goal is to become the premier dress shoe brand of NBA players when they're off the court, a space that even Nike and Adidas have yet to fill.
"We have gotten very lucky with celebrities and athletes liking our products, but professional athletes really like the brand. We have good relationships with these guys and wanted to lean into that category." said Stevens.
"When they are walking from the bus to the locker room, I want them to be wearing Taft," he added.