Upstarts: Praxis Footwear Team On Innovation & Building Retail Relationships

PRAXIS CEO Brian Krauss and Creative Director Reggie Gilbert on the PRAXIS Candyman tour last month in Orange County.

PRAXIS CEO Brian Krauss and Creative Director and Co-Founder Reggie Gilbert on the PRAXIS Candyman tour last month in Orange County.

More than twelve years ago,  Brian Krauss co-founded IPATH in his garage. The brand was built on his passion for skateboarding, his love for footwear, and the idea that the market for this category was stale and needed some new life breathed into it. Krauss, who very shortly was joined by Travis Matsdorf on the executive team, continued to nurture the growing company until its sale to Timberland in 2007. At that time, Krauss and IPATH parted ways, leaving Matsdorf at the helm for an additional four years, before he left to start a new brand.

Matsdorf partnered with long time friend Reggie Gilbert, who later become the brand’s full time creative director and lead footwear designer, and in October 2011 PRAXIS footwear was born. A few months later, Krauss jumped on board and now acts as full-time CEO. On the manufacturer side, the crew has brought in BS Jeong, who worked with them previously at IPath for 10-plus years, and now acts as “the glue that holds our supply chain together,” says Matsdorf. The crew also added skate ambassador Karl Watson, a close friend and pro-skater who heads up Organika skateboards. Step by step, PRAXIS put the band back together, and a year later it’s resulted in some successful moves on the business side, including signing on with major retailers like Zumiez, Tilly’s, CCS, and Journeys.

“I really spent some time looking at the market and realized the same reasons I founded IPATH in ’99 still exist today,” says Krauss. “It was about being contrarian—seeing an opportunity and doing something different. Now I see the same opportunity. Both the consumer and the retailer are ready for something new and fresh.”

The innovation comes from a new footwear model, the first of its kind, that sees the whole shoe created from 100 percent “Gorilla Gum”—a material that is typically only used on the sole. According to PRAXIS, this makes the shoe more durable, lasting two to three times longer than other skate shoes. The overall design behind the footwear also diverges from the rest, the founders say. Coming from a diverse background, that includes being part Choctaw Indian and a student of esoteric teachings, Gilbert is able to draw on his beliefs, heritage, and studies for brand inspiration rather than looking to traditional design sources.

“We see the big four brands dominating the space: Vans, Nike, Adidas, and DC,” says Matsdorf. “That’s fine with us, but we think that creates an opportunity  for something unique, something different, and something fun. And that’s the idea behind the inception of the brand.”
Take a look at the latest collection from PRAXIS and read on for more on the brand from Matsdorf and Krauss:

VIEW: THUMBS ENLARGE
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 What are your thoughts about the skate footwear market, and why did you see a place for another footwear brand on the market today?

TM:We see it dominated by billion dollar corporations, but we also see stagnation in the product—we don’t see a lot of uniqueness on the walls. We don’t see a point of difference, don’t see the fun, renaissance, and creativity that we grew up with—that we had when we ran IPath and that other brands had. We see it being stale and dominated by big corporations. This creates opportunity for someone like us.

We also see an opportunity in market for a great  partner for the retailers. A lot of the retailers are controlled by the big companies and are told what to do. We are coming from a different perspective like we did at IPath and just offering a solid, great partnership. We are an easy and fun brand to work with and a great long term, solid partnership that’s built on trust, respect and relationship, not just dominated by dollars or big budgets.

BK: The timing is perfect for a new brand. You really don’t see any start-ups in footwear right now and I think it’s primarily because the cost of entry is so high. I started IPath with $300,000. Today that’s barely enough to say “hello.” We’re competing against multi billion dollar corporations with marketing budgets in the eight figures. To exist and compete today, you need to be capitalized with a couple million bucks to build infrastructure, create brand awareness and to have there factories pay attention to you for capacity in their facilities. Unless you already have solid factory relationships or can come to them with major units they’re not interested. It’s a tough time to be in the industry, but if you’re capitalized properly and can ride out the necessary few years of branding, its a great time. I think retailers are tired of being held hostage by the Nikes and adidas’s. First time around with IPATH, these athletic brands weren’t even accepted. Now, not only did they muscle their way in, they took over. The retailers have become dependent on them to pay rent.

I look at Supra and they’ve done a great job transcending skateboarding into lifestyle footwear. I feel that the retailers are begging for new product and excited about Praxis. IPath was a cool niche brand that had a difficult time breaking out. Praxis from the foundation up is structured to be a much broader and bigger brand. And with our retail partners— Zumiez, Journeys, CCS, Tillys, and other select retailers, we’re confident that we are going to see double digit growth the next few years.

PRAXIS ODD Boutique high-end $400 boot

How has the first few product lines been received by retailers? 

TM: We just released our Spring 13 collection over the last few weeks. Fall 12 was our first delivery, but we see our Spring ’13 collection as our true launch into the market. We have some fresh designs including our Trojan shoe. We feel the Spring ’13 collection is our platform to really position the brand for the future.

BK: We’ve showed our Fall 2013 “Renaissance and Revolution” collection to the best retailers worldwide and have received a great reaction. Most shops are looking for something new and fresh.

What’s the story behind the product – what sets it apart from other footwear out there at the moment?

RG: Our designs, for one are unique and I feel they look like nothing else. i draw inspiration from growing up in the late ’90s era of skate and aesthetics in LA. I have a lot of respect for brands like fuct, fresh jive, xlarge & stussy and I keep that in mind today. I was one of the groms at the time skating the world industries park and doing graffiti around LA … I draw on these experiences to keep the fun alive and capture the feeling of what was influencing me back then.

BK: While skate remains our DNA, PRAXIS is an indie street wear footwear brand. Skate is just part of who we are—Our skate ambassador is Karl Watson who oversees a cool crew of skaters. Outside of that we’ve been getting love from accomplished DJs and rappers including Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and Kendrick Lamar. Just cool footwear. That’s how we want to position it.

TM: When IPath started in ’99 it was a start up, but so was everyone else we competed with. You had C1RCA, you had Osiris and DVS; they’re all friends of ours and they’re all entrepreneurs who started brands, the biggest one at the time was maybe DC or Vans at $50 or $100 million.

Now we’re competing against Nike, Vans, and billion-dollar companies. So the only way to compete  is to be unique, creative, and different, and that’s really where we tried to focus the product. It won’t be like anything else you see. We are calling it a “Renaissance & Revolution.” It’s a renaissance period because gentrification always creates a renaissance period. That’s what PRAXIS is.

The Trojan is the first ever all-gum shoe. It’s 100 percent gum, which is typically only on the sole. This has never been done before in skate. It’s 200 times stronger than suede or leather and it’s a very unique piece. It has a skate durability story because it lasts 2-3 times as long, but also has a fashion boutique story behind it. It’s a little offbeat and different than everything else you are seeing in the marketplace.

 If you had to describe Praxis in three words, they would be:

TM: Three words, that’s tough. I would probably say: Originality, skateboarding, and thought.

Praxis footwear is NOT:

It’s not the same, it’s not generic, and it’s not conforming.

PRAXIS XLARGE boot is a limited edition collab with the streetwear brand XLarge.

What does your distribution look like on a domestic vs international level?

TM: It’s a bit of a different strategy. At IPath we grew it very grassroots and it took time. Now coming in with a different perspective, with history, with experience, and the relationships, we are quicker to the draw and understand the necessary channels of distribution. We’ve launched with Journeys, Tilly’s, CCS, Zumiez, Bob’s and some of the best specialty stores in America . It’s a very precise strategy. That’s the brand’s foundation and domestic strategy.

International is a huge component and where a lot of growth can be realized. We are in Europe and just came off a solid Bright show. We’re in Canada, we’re in Japan, as well as New Zealand. International growth will be a main focus, at least for the rest of this year.  We are growing with our current partners and adding sales reps domestically to build each territory.

 What do you think is the most crucial thing a start up company can do to be successful?

BK:  Keep it simple. Be creative and keep it clean. Most important, keep it authentic.
TM: Thankfully having the experience from IPath we have learned what to do and what not to do. We had a ton of wins and a ton of mistakes over 10 years. Certainly Brian has the experience of how to structure and how to run a company. I think the main thing is to have a clear message & a great team. Your crew you have around you is the key to success in anything. You want to surround yourself with the right people and that’s what we’re doing with putting the band back together—it’s people that we trust and we know. That’s what’s critical is harmony and communication with your team.
What key lessons have you learned since starting Praxis? 
BK: In this world, it’s all hands-on training and no one can tell you how to run a footwear company. IPATH was my graduate degree. We did a great job in some areas but made tons of mistakes and that’s my education for Praxis.

TM: We’ve learned pretty quickly it’s a different world we live in than when we ran IPath—it’s a different game. The competition and leverage has changed.  The retail landscape has changed. I think the key lessons are understanding today’s market versus how it was prior just a couple years ago, and adapting to that  and developing a strategy around today’s landscape. Being nimble and able to adjust quickly to what you need to do to survive day-to-day.

Are you talking about online retailers and e-commerce? What do think has been the biggest change in the retail landscape?

TM: The most significant change is that the bigger retailers are dominating the space. Margins aren’t what they were. A lot of the independents are gone, ones that we dealt with down through the years and who were friends. Certainly the online commerce component is big and has to be managed with the right strategy and guideline. Understanding who your competition is and the leverage they carry. Also, where the bar is today versus where it was in ’99. Those are the lessons we’ve learned and had to adapt to very quickly, and we’ve been able to, but there have been some key challenges there that we’ve had to overcome.

PRAXIS is the official shoe of the Maloof Money Cup Skate Event in South Africa.

What do you think is the most overlooked opportunity within the skate market at the moment?

TM: I think the most overlooked opportunity is the room for small start-up brands and the opportunity that exists in the marketshare. We are staking our claim and fighting for it in the footwear space, but I think in all categories there is room for new brand creativity, independence, and individuality.

Closing thoughts?

BK: I’m stoked to be back in the industry and the biggest pleasure is working with these guys again and the retail partners that I go back with for over ten years. I’m proud to see all the guys that I’ve worked with in the past advance to senior positions within their respective companies.

TM: We just want to send a heartfelt thanks to all our retail partners, everyone who has been behind us since day one, and all the industry support we’ve received with PRAXIS —it’s pretty amazing. We truly value everyone that’s grown with us the past year. We feel humble and grateful for the support we’ve gotten from some of the best retailers in America. Continue to look for innovation, creativity, and uniqueness in our product line. We are here to be a great partner and build a special brand.

RG: As an artist and designer myself, I look forward to the opportunity to work with other artists and designers I respect. We are working on special projects that will open the thought process into untapped areas, awaken new ideas, and keep pushing the envelope.