New Bootie Company Stresses Function Over Fashion
A new bootie company that started as DTC-only has branched out into the wholesale market after retailers began asking for the product.
Solite Boots was founded by two people with lots of experience in the industry.
Partner Tyler Callaway, formerly of FCS, answered a few questions for us about the product, including how Solite is already using its technology to expand into new categories.
Who is involved in the company and how is it financed?
Tyler Callaway: Solite Boots was founded by Jamie Meiselman, formerly of Transworld and Burton, based in New Jersey, and myself, formerly of FCS and Reef, based in California.
We are two guys who love surfing and have been in the action sports industry all of our careers. We shared a vision to make a game-changing performance bootie that actually helps you surf better. We also have a European subsidiary in the UK run by Dee Caldwell, the former O’Neill Wetsuits Europe Sales Manager. The company is totally self-financed.
Why was there a need for a better bootie?
Tyler Callaway: Most surfers hate wearing booties. They do it out of necessity. Common complaints are they are awkward to surf in, they fill with water becoming heavy and cold, and they wear out quickly. Oh, and they can be pretty stinky after a while.
We wanted to reinvent bootie construction to solve all of these problems. Basically we wanted them to disappear, to feel like being barefoot and perform like being barefoot. That means lighter weight, perfect, custom fit, and minimal seams and bulk.
What is Solite’s point of difference?
Tyler Callaway: Our entire foot section is made from one single injection molded “Thermofoam” component. This “Thermofoam” is half the weight of neoprene/rubber, very durable, and heat-moldable for a custom fit to anyone’s foot.
We know that foot shapes are all over the map. It is basically impossible to design a piece of high performance footwear without some form of customization. For example, look at ski boots and snowboard boots, etc.
With surfing and other boardsports, the goal is to make it feel like you aren’t wearing anything on your feet. Our Thermofoam sole essentially feels like thicker skin and provides a direct, instant connection to your board. There is no slop or lag time; when you move your feet, your board reacts instantly.
Thermofoam is completely hydrophobic, absorbing no water, so your boots stay incredibly lightweight and dry quickly, preventing them from developing a funky smell.
We’ve also developed our Heat Booster Socks, which are removable, split-toe Nylon/Poly/Spandex socks that come in the box with every pair of Solite boots. The Heat Booster socks provide an optional barrier for warmth and comfort in a greater range of conditions.
For frigid water, we also developed a 1mm lined neoprene version of our Heat Booster Sock. Combine these with our 6mm boots and surfers are warm for multi-hour sessions in Iceland, Maine, Norway and everywhere else conditions get sub-freezing.
Why did Solite start with direct-to-consumer and how has that changed?
Tyler Callaway: We launched as a DTC brand but a funny thing happened almost right away. Our technology was so well received that retailers started calling wanting to carry our product. We realize that there is still tremendous value in working through the brick-and-mortar retail channel.
Fortunately our custom-fit boots are a perfect tool for retailers to engage the consumer, building relationships and loyalty critical to long-term success.
Is there a service component to the product that retailers might like?
Tyler Callaway: Yes! Solite boots work best when they are custom fit by someone familiar with the process. Providing this service in the shop insures that the customer gets the right size boot to mold perfectly to their foot. They should feel a bit snug out of the box, and the heat-molding process will expand them to fit every individual foot shape. The custom molding process takes about 15-20 minutes and customers love the feel of it.
Most of the time is spent waiting for the boots to mold to the feet while customers roam the shop looking at other gear they like. This gives retailers time to talk to the customer about other offerings in the shop (fins, boards, wetsuits, etc.), all while earning the credibility that comes from custom fitting them with the latest performance tech in boots.
How have sales been so far this year?
Tyler Callaway: We’ve exceeded our expectations with several styles and had to fly in more product twice to keep up with demand. We just launched in Europe in November and we’ve had a great response from the retailers there as well.
Even though booties are a pretty niche category, we have plenty of growth potential. Our tech applies well to nearly every watersport, and our goal is simply to keep innovating and producing category-leading tech and products.
For example, we have innovative warm-water boots, including custom-fit Reef Boots with an urchin-proof sole-laminate and this year we introduced a new “Omni” series of boots with thicker gum soles for river and lake sports, where foot protection is equally important to feel.
Looking ahead, we are in the process of developing and applying our tech to watersports gloves, another category that has stagnated for far too long. This is the kind of stuff that motivates us – providing meaningful innovation in long-overlooked categories of our sports.
Any concern that Vans is getting into booties, too?
Tyler Callaway: We are 100% focused on innovation and developing proprietary technology. We already have a U.S. patent on our tech and patents pending worldwide. From what we’ve seen from Vans, they are offering old tech with Vans stripes and checkers.
That may resonate with Vans’ die-hard fans, but we are betting on function over fashion.