There’s something rather heart-warming about seeing a start-up coming-of-age, especially in the fast-paced and unforgiving world of fashion. If you’re anything like us and keep a close watch on the daily going-ons of the industry, you’ll agree that certain new arrivals somehow seem more astute than others at remaining at the top of the hype chain, with unconventional launches, meaningful communications strategies and, above all, strong products with distinctive brand attributes. Faguo, that unassuming shoe that seems to have popped out of nowhere, is one of those intriguing new arrivals.
Launched in 2008 by Frenchmen Nicolas and Frederic as part of their end of year project, they make starting up in the notoriously fickle fashion industry sound easy. “We went to Beijing as part of our Erasmus exchange year, were taking aback with the entrepreneurial culture there and came back to France knowing we wanted to start our own company” explains Nicolas. The pair already being sneaker aficionados (“not necessarily Air Force Ones but, rather, Fred Perrys and Feiyues”), the decision to move into sneakers was instinctive as well as contextual, China being sneaker kingdom. Back in France, they asked their professors if they could, instead of doing the classic internship in one of France’s major employers, work on the launch of their own brand; he accepted. “The most challenging part at the time was balancing our student life with launching a start-up” continues Nicolas, who is quick to point to their inexperience in the field at the time, “Our philosophy was: lets design our little shoe, put in an order for 5,000 (the minimum quantity allowed) and see what happens.” It turns out that ‘what happened’ is nothing short of spectacular.
The pair decided to launch entirely through Facebook, creating a Faguo fan page (“the perfect tool to put us in touch with our network of friends from business school”), which racked up a mind-boggling 5,000 fans in 15 days – and without even one pair of shoes having hit the shelves. True to form, Faguo was on everyone’s lips, with every self-respected hipster wondering (worrying, even) who would end up getting the first pair. With such preliminary buzz, it is no surprise that the brand’s first collection sold out in 12 days, whilst attracting the attention of key stockist. “We begged Kiliwatch (the avant-garde Parisian style boutique) to come visit us at one of our private sales” fondly remembers Nicolas, “The buyer ended up coming, was instantly seduced by the shoe and, the following Monday, Faguo was sold in their store.” The apparent ease with which Faguo manages to win the hearts and minds of its ever-growing fan base is essentially due to the brand’s essence, its spirit. Simply put, it ticks all the boxes as far as successfully launching a new product in today’s digitally-literate and well-informed consumption culture goes. Sustainable sensitivity? Check (for every Faguo bought, a tree is planted in either of three forests in France). Responsible approach? Check (reduction of CO2 emissions, transport by sea). Smart communications strategy? Check (witty use of social media platforms, reliance on non-traditional media). Transparency? Check (“right from the start, we acknowledged our Made in China label”) Appealing design? Check (think the finesse of Tretorns, the comfort of Keds and the style of Jack Purcells). No wonder, then, that within four years, the company’s workforce grew from two to ten (including a staff of two in China), and its turnover from 375,000 euros in 2009 to 700,000 euros in 2010, with the figure set to double in 2011.Faguo is available in Brussels from Mapp