How Taft footwear plans to become NBA players' favorite shoe off the court, with a little help from social media

Key Points
  • Kory and Mallory Stevens launched Taft footwear in 2013.
  • Now five years and $20 million later, Taft footwear has remade itself into a luxury shoe designer, most notably with young urban professionals, celebrities and NBA players.
Taft shoes
Source: Taft

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.

The social factor

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.

Over the last few months, the company raised $5.4 million, and counts NBA stars Dwyane Wade and Andre Iguodala among their investors.

"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.