Hoka One’s dream team of Gretchen Weimer and Wendy Yang are back together — but this time, they’re putting their skills to work at Kizik, the originator of the hands-free shoe.
The duo worked together for seven years in their roles as global vice president of product and president, respectively, for the fast-growing Hoka brand. Yang stepped down last May as president of performance lifestyle at Deckers Brands, where she oversaw Hoka and Teva, while Weimer quietly left Hoka in early January.
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At the end of last year, Yang joined Kizik’s board of directors, and now, Weimer has come on board as chief merchandising officer.
At Hoka, they partnered to transform the brand from a niche cushioned running shoe to a buzzy fashion industry darling with sales of over $1 billion. Now they’re hoping to replicate that success at Kizik, which currently has sales of just over $100 million. They also worked at New Balance at the same time before they joined Hoka.
The Lindon, Utah-based Kizik is the footwear brand from HandsFree Labs Inc., a business that licenses hands-free solutions. It was founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Mike Pratt as a direct-to-consumer shoe company targeted to people who need assistance lacing their shoes because of disabilities, medical conditions, pregnancy or aging.
It holds the patents or the pending patents to more than 150 hands-free technologies and as a result, Nike Inc. in November 2019 made a strategic investment and entered into an exclusive intellectual property licensing partnership in HandsFree Labs so it could utilize the technology in its product line, including the Go FlyEase that it introduced at the beginning of 2021.
Kizik also received $20 million in series B funding led by The Newcastle Network last April.
Although hands-free shoes were initially targeted to those with disabilities, they have since become popular with a larger swath of the population. In addition to Nike, whose Go FlyEase was marketed as a hands-free alternative for parents holding toddlers, dog-walkers rushing to get out of the house or yogis running late for class, other sports brands have embraced the trend.
Both Under Armour’s UA SlipSpeed, which is targeted to young athletes, as well as Skechers’ Hands Free Slip-ins, which have been marketed by both Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, also home in on the hands-free trend.
At Kizik, Weimer will be charged with elevating the shoe brand and creating a merchandising strategy to further drive sales, the company said. Currently, the brand offers six silhouettes in men’s and women’s sizes and three in children’s. “The Kizik brand has a unique selling proposition that we are just tapping into, and consumers are responding,” Weimer said. “Our growth is limitless. Our industry patents are changing the way people experience footwear. The future is bright for Kizik.”
She said that although she and Yang have had parallel career paths over the past few years, it was actually Kizik’s chief executive officer, Monte Deere, who recruited her to join the brand. But having Yang as a colleague again is seen as a bonus.
“Wendy created a winning strategy at Hoka and built an amazing team that took the brand to $1 billion,” she said. And at Kizik, Weimer hopes to execute the “same playbook.”
“We see the same opportunity here,” she said. “The brand in the trailing 12 months increased sales 70 percent and we just hit $100 million. It has interesting technology and a story that appeals to a lot of people.”
The key to future growth, she believes, is to “understand the audience we’re targeting and build products” to address their needs. The fact that the brand has so few styles is “super-efficient,” but also leaves the door wide open to expand through new offerings that are promoted through compelling marketing.
“Kizik was a pioneer in hands-free footwear that can address physical needs, but it’s an interesting experience for the everyday consumer,” she said. “They’re easy to put on and you don’t want to take them off.”
The first major move is Kizik’s entry into brick-and-mortar retailing this spring with Nordstrom. The brand’s adult and kids shoes are currently being sold at Nordstrom stores in Lynnwood, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Oak Brook, Illinois; Scottsdale, Arizona, and Roseville, California, as well as online. Models include the athletic-inspired Athens shoe with a Rabbit Foam outsole, external heel cage and four-way knit upper as well as the Lima sneaker and the Roamer, which features a Unified heel tech.
Weimer said that “out of the gate, we’ve seen great sell-throughs.”
To introduce the brand to customers, Kizik and Nordstrom have created an in-store display featuring a video demonstration of its step-in technology.
Weimer said working with Nordstrom to tell the brand’s story in a physical space is an important tool to create awareness. That’s also the reason that Kizik will open its first physical store in Salt Lake City at the end of next month, Weimer revealed.
Going forward, Kizik hopes to expand through both physical retail as well as with wholesale partners, with the latter seen as key to accelerating the brand’s growth.
“I’m just super-excited to be here,” she concluded. “This brand has such great opportunities.”
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