For months, shoe startup Rothy’s had been gearing up to launch its latest shoe, a summertime slide with a vegan leather sole. This week, it told its customers by email that the shoes launch, planned for Tuesday, was off.
The reason: Scaling up from prototype to production isn’t easy, and some of the shoes had quality issues that couldn’t be fixed in the short summer sandal season.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Rothy’s president Kerry Cooper told Forbes. “We all love the shoe.”
But the shoe, which has a different construction than Rothy’s original woven flats made from recycled water bottles, proved tough to make in production quantity at its company-owned factory in Dongguan, China. The sole, made out of recycled polyurethane, a.k.a. vegan leather, was particularly difficult to work with on the mold.
“If one in 100 are bad, you don’t want to send them out,” Cooper said. “Our brand is immeasurably valuable, and I don’t want to do anything that hurts the brand even if it’s one in 100.”
Founded by Roth Martin and Stephen Hawthornthwaite, San Francisco-based Rothy’s gained a cult-like following for its eco-friendly, 3-D knitted ballet shoes and point-toe flats. In just three years, it expanded rapidly with direct-to-consumer sales online, reaching revenue of more than $140 million last year.
Last weekend, just days before the launch and with a small quantity of slides already in the company’s San Francisco store, Rothy’s executives decided unanimously to pull the plug. The decision grew out of a conversation that Cooper had with the company’s head of production, Lauren Taflinger, who raised questions about the quality. “She got some samples, and said, ‘Kerry, I don’t know about this,’” Cooper said. “We did an audit of the small amount we had in the store.” The result: When they opened the boxes, most of the shoes looked fine, but some did not.
On Monday, the company, known for its transparency, sent customers an email explaining the decision with the subject line “Ouch.”
With summer sandals already on the shelves and the launch planned so close to Memorial Day, there wasn’t time to fix the problems. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board for Rothy’s, which intends, Cooper said, to come up with a new summer shoe for 2020 that would likely be ready to launch next April. The decision will not meaningfully impact the company’s revenues, she said.
As for the small quantity of slides that Rothy’s had already produced, consumers won’t be able to get their hands on them: Rothy’s intends to recycle them all.