When twin brothers decide to use their business savvy and eye for fashion toward shoe manufacturing, not only do they raise their pimp status with the "Sex in the City" crowd, but they get the most props from the over-30 working women, who are starting to consider trading in couture for comfort.
With a history in sneaker design and a keen eye for fashion, Shane & Shawn Ward combined their resources and created two footwear lines - Shane&Shawn and Detny by Shane&Shawn – designed to make men and women feel as good as they look. Their shoes have already made their way into top boutiques and department stores and, with plans to launch their own store and clothing/accessories line, they’re guaranteed to be around for as long as women stay sexy.
Can you give us a little background on your company?
Shane: Well, we both went to the University of Michigan, and I studied industrial design in the art school, and Shaun studied mechanical engineering, and when I graduated in 1996, I was offered a job at Adidas in Portland, Oregon, to design cross trainers, women’s workout shoes, and cleats...so that’s pretty much how we got into the industry. [Eventually] the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and I really wanted to work on my own, and I decided to start a freelance design company called SW2 Designs and move to NY.
Shawn: When I graduated, I spent five years [working] at Daimler Chrysler, in automotive engineering, while earning my master’s in mechanical engineering. In 2001, I moved to NY because I had the opportunities there to work for myself, become an entrepreneur, and trade stocks in the stock market as a day trader, [but] when the market was closing at 4 o’clock, besides working out, I had pretty much nothing to do, so I started to help Shane out with the freelance company and brought a little bit more of a business side of the operations. My goal was to really take Shane as a one man show and take it to a formal company and expand it, but in the next two years, we ended up designing shoes for Reebok, Converse, Merrill, etc. [With] a really successful freelance design company from 2001 to 2003, we decided to start our own shoe company that reflects our own sense of style, but also combines with the athletic comfort that we’ve had expertise in over the last three years. So, in fall of 2003 we launched Detny, which is a combination of Detroit and New York, where we’re from.
Women love shoes and women love the men who make the shoes, so how has your life adjusted to the career switch (from sportswear to high-end fashion)?
Shawn: It’s definitely an unfair advantage to introduce yourself to a young lady and say you’re a shoe designer. So, obviously, there aren’t too many cooler things that you can say outside of “I’m a rock star.” But usually, if you’re a rock star or an actor, they should know who you are, but as far as like a regular job, designers are really perceived as “cool”. I’m coming from engineering and stock trading, and those aren’t really glamorous jobs, but, you know, being in this field where women love shoes, we’re able to put our shoes on celebrities, and we get a chance to meet celebrities who really embrace our product. Just being in the footwear industry has definitely enhanced our lives big time...it’s definitely a perk.
Shane: We really are all about the kind of rock-n-roll lifestyle - going to parties, having fun - but we also have substance to our shoes, and I think that’s what brings people back. We actually get, like, old ladies - literally 60 year old women - coming in and telling us how comfortable our shoes are!
If you guys started out with sneakers, what made you branch into shoes? The women’s shoe industry is tough, especially for two straight guys – and, you know, women are picky!
Shane: Well, from a business standpoint, women buy shoes, men don’t -
Shawn: - Generally speaking -
Shane: So, we were forced into it from a business standpoint, but I think over the years we’ve definitely come to appreciate putting shoes onto women, like during our events. We hang around a lot of women, and we don’t wanna just outfit ourselves in what we think is the coolest, hippest shoes that are comfortable, but we would like the girls around us to wear what we think would be hot on them. Another thing is, because we have the athletic background, we know how to build really comfortable shoes, and we would see women in elevators all the time wearing their office gear, but then they have like, New Balance or Nike shoes on and their office shoes in their bags, so there was a need for a shoe that at least can combine the two extremes.
Any plans for the future – expanding your brand, opening your own store, etc.?
Shawn: We’re gonna place [Detny] as a lifestyle brand; footwear’s our expertise right now, so we’re really building our foundation on what we’re experts in, like Kenneth Cole did. But we’re also gonna be launching handbags and hats – limited edition – for fall 2007, and then eventually go on into jackets, denim, shirts, etc, and a part of our business plan is to open our first Detny/Shane&Shawn boutique in 2008.
A PimpWiz Exclusive By Alyson Mance