How Ales Grey Plans to Grow Its Sustainable Clog Business After a Blockbuster 2023

Leaving the world of sneakers behind for sustainable clogs has proven fruitful for Steve Patiño.

The entrepreneur, who is often referred to by his “Sneaker Steve” nickname, was behind the rise of influential sneaker companies for two decades, including skate brand DC Shoes and luxury label Android Homme. However, he found his footing in sustainable clogs with the launch of Ales Grey in 2019.

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Patiño told FN that Ales Grey has grown tenfold since 2022, and has landed top-tier retail accounts in various channels, such as premium department stores (Nordstrom), the outdoor market (REI Co-op) and PacSun. “This is not normal for any new brand in terms of speed,” Patiño said.

This success has been discovered because Patiño is not just a sneaker guy. He is also a student of the footwear industry.

“I saw that injected molded EVA companies like Crocs are now doing over $3.5 billion dollars. They have proven that consumer behavior has changed,” Patiño said. “And when you look at companies like Hey Dude, as well as Birkenstock going public, comfort is not going away any time soon.”

What separates Ales Grey from other brands with clogs is that these products are both sustainable and safety-certified.

The brand’s biggest product win of 2023 was the Frontline Pro, which launched in August at Nordstrom. The eco-friendly look — which retails for $98 — was created with bio-based foam and recycled circular materials, and was created in an International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) Plus certified factory. It is also non-slip certified, features removable comfort-focused insoles and is water-resistant and washable.

“We’re really excited because we brought a category that’s been overlooked to Nordstrom. When you look at the workforce industries, it represents 70 percent of all jobs in America. When we shared the data with them, they were just like, ‘Wow, this is an untapped market,'” Patiño said. “We want to be the vendor to supply them with footwear for the frontline industry.”

Ales Grey Frontline Pro
Ales Grey Frontline Pro.Courtesy of Ales Grey

These wins for Ales Grey are a bit more rewarding for Patiño knowing the challenges he’s faced as a Latin business founder — although they’re often bittersweet.

Last year, Ales Grey launched a pilot program with Foot Locker as part of the retailer’s Home Grown effort, which brings BIPOC-founded brands to consumers. At the time, Ales Grey was the only Latino-founded footwear company sold at Foot Locker. (Foot Locker confirmed via email with FN that it carries Latino-founded apparel companies affiliated with Home Grown.)

Patiño said having that designation was “massive,” but he said that he had mixed feelings about the responsibility that comes with being the only one.

In October 2023, Patiño spoke with Foot Locker’s LatinX employee resource group, Tenis, where he discussed entrepreneurship and the importance LatinX owned businesses hold within footwear and fashion.

“I’m on the call with 96 representatives of Foot Locker and I’m telling them yes, it’s incredibly exciting that I’m the only one, but it’s scary because I don’t want to be the last and I need to open up doors for more — and not just Latino. All BIPOC underrepresented founders, and female, too,” Patiño said. “I was open and direct with Foot Locker and said this is an incredible opportunity, but it’s also important that they pass this along to stakeholders, to decision makers and their higher ups. It’s important they pass along this information to create programs to hold our hands as BIPOC founders.”

Patiño not only applauded the efforts of Foot Locker for its Home Grown program, he also praised an initiative of another Ales Grey retail partner, REI Co-op, for its Path Ahead Ventures program.

“They’ve created multiple steps depending on the stage [of business] where you’re at. It’s like you’ve got a great idea but you need mentorship, or you have a product but you need the ability to scale. Or you need an investment. You have an idea, you’re scaling and now you need an investment to accelerate growth,” Patiño said. “REI is the example for all companies in terms of creating a multi-pronged approach, depending on the founder journey, so they can get to market and then scale.”

Outside of current retail partners, Patiño said Dick’s Sporting Goods is another great example of a major retailer opening doors for underrepresented entrepreneurs, citing its decision to bring in female-led basketball and running shoe brands, as well as its work with BIPOC-led companies.

“I want to get my message out at a corporate level so corporations can see that not only actual representation is happening for future generations of entrepreneurs to see, but that I have created the best product in this category in terms of quality, sustainability, supply chain efficiency,” Patiño said. “I don’t lead with, ‘I’m a minority founder.’ I lead with, ‘We’ve created a solution for the future of the footwear industry that is the most scalable business and highest quality, and it just happens to be that I am a minority founder.'”

Building Off the Success of 2023

Ales Grey Frontline Pro
Ales Grey Frontline Pro.Courtesy of Ales Grey

In terms of the Ales Grey retail strategy, Patiño said he’s most interested in expanding the brand’s reach with its existing partners, with REI providing a presence in the outdoor market and Nordstrom being its better department store home.

That expansion is already happening. Ales Grey announced via Instagram mid-February that REI has expanded the brand to more locations in the U.S. Patiño said the brand started out in eight locations, and for spring 2024, it will be in 13, which includes 12 physical stores and online. This expansion will give Ales Grey a presence in Northern California, the Midwest and on the East Coast.

However, Patiño said he isn’t averse to working with other retailers, and has engaged in discussions with others in the outdoor industry and technical running shops. “We’re making sure that we’re being very strategic in our distribution model,” Patiño said.

Patiño said his goal for Ales Grey is to be in 100 by the end of 2024.

Ales Grey
Teaming up with corporations that need footwear for their workers is where Steve Patiño believes Ales Grey will grow the most. Courtesy of Ales Grey

Although retail is a priority, Patiño said business-to-business (B2B) is where he sees the biggest growth opportunity for Ales Grey. He is eager to sell Ales Grey footwear directly to hospitals, warehouses and food corporations that need shoes for their staff.

“Globally, there are 2 billion frontline workers. We want to be the company that provides footwear for all frontline workers in the U.S. and globally,” Patiño said. “Imagine creating shoes for the backbone of the workforce economy.”

Patiño said Ales Grey’s efforts to equip the workforce with footwear was recently bolstered, having launched a program with a Los Angeles-area Taco Bell franchise owner, C&R Restaurant Group, in December 2023. He also confirmed several local employees at Starbucks and Subway, as well as workers at Cedars Sinai Hospital, have all purchased and wear Ales Grey footwear, offering him the ability to present opportunities to those businesses.

“It’s a two-prong approach. I go in and build a rapport with local franchise shops, and once they’re comfortable and get good feedback [from employees], then I take that as a case study to corporate,” Patiño said.

As of now, Patiño said 70 percent of Ales Grey’s distribution is wholesale, with 20 percent B2B and 10 percent online. Ideally, in the next year or two he’d like the mix to be 40 percent wholesale, 50 percent B2B and the rest online.

Patiño also has is sights set on international expansion. In 2022, Ales Grey made its international debut in Korea, and expanded its reach to Japan toward the end of 2023.

“When I looked at Asia, I looked at Korea and Japan as two huge markets that are leading the way in terms of better products,” Patiño said. “Their customers like premium products and they’re looking at sustainability as one of their key features. That’s why we made the decision for Korea and Japan to be first.”

He said there currently are retailers in eight countries looking to carry Ales Grey, a list that includes Canada and the Netherlands.

“We wanted to make sure our product was working, that it was scaling and that we were able to deliver with our supply chain. Now that we have this proven, we’re able to expand and bring on the correct international countries for us based on the size of the country and the demand within the footwear market,” Patiño said. “I have great distribution relationships from my past when I was the global director of DC Shoes and the president of Android Homme. We’re using my relationships and my team’s relationships to expand.”

Ales Grey Frontline Pro 3
Ales Grey Frontline Pro 3.Courtesy of Ales Grey

In terms of product, after finding success with the Frontline Pro last year, Patiño believes the Frontline Pro 3 will also be a hit in 2024.

“We skipped [the No. 2] because this is our third generation of sustainability. The big news here is that this is Made in USA,” Patiño said. “This iteration has an even higher bio-based content and is made locally here in North America. We’re excited about that because it positions us with the top companies that are able to manufacture in the USA sustainably.”

Because Ales Grey is a smaller company on the rise, being able to make the product domestically, Patiño explained, has been a blessing.

“With all the geopolitical issues that are happening in the world and what’s happening with [high] shipping in terms of cost, I now can invest into better products because I’m not investing into high shipping rates,” Patiño said. “And then in terms of speed, I’m able to manufacture five times faster than our competitors.”

The Frontline Pro was revealed late in January and is available for presale now via It will ship in November.

Being made domestically has also allowed Ales Grey to reduce the price from its predecessor. Whereas the Frontline Pro retailed for $98, the Frontline Pro 3 comes with a $68 price tag.

“You remove overseas container shipping costs, importation taxes from duties because now you don’t have to pay 20-30 percent coming from Asia and you remove trucking fees coming from the port to your main warehouse,” Patiño said. “Removing those three costs allows us to reduce the price. It’s a better product with a lower price at a higher margin.”

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at

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