Brand Profile: Melissa Shoes
Having the idea to create a plastic shoe company in Brazil might seem insane; after all, importing footwear from China is cheaper and reaches a wider audience of people. When it comes to plastics, China is the end all. Why plastics to begin with? A plastic shoe seems a bit unfeasible, especially in Brazil, where plentiful supplies of leather would make crafting shoes way easier and more cost effective.
Two Brazilian brothers, didn’t quite see the insanity, and launched Melissa shoes in the late 1970s. The brothers already owned, Grendene, a sprawling Brazilian footwear group. If you’ve never heard of Melissa shoes, ask a teenager or a street style guru or an esoteric fashion fiend; odds are, they know the brand well. Melissa shoes are a more fashionable (and comfortable version) of the Jelly shoes so many of us wore to the beach as a kid. However, Melissa shoes has found a strange audience in Urban areas. Over the past four years, Melissa’s sales more than doubled, leaving many to ask what the brand’s secret truly is? The answer may be simple: innovation and creativity. The cornerstone of what makes Melissa shoes the brand it is today.
In the 1970s, Brazil was in the position that China is in today, exporting shoes to the US and other European countries for cheap prices. Now almost 80 precent of the shoes shipped to America are made in China. Back in the day, it was the Brazilians trumping the Italians, thus forcing the Italians to get creative. They realized that instead of competing on price, they would have to reposition themselves to compete on quality. In a rich history of fashion, this has been the model many industries have been forced to follow, and Brazil is not any different. Melissa shoes realized that with a unique and innovative approach to shoes, they could offer something China couldn’t: cult fashion.
The history of Melissa, and more importantly Grendene, has always been a leader in adapting to a shift in circumstances. If fashion is anything like evolution, Melissa will thrive while other companies struggle to adapt and survive. In 1971, when Alexandre and Pedro Grendene developed their company in Rio Grande Du Sul in Brazil, they started making plastic packaging with wine bottles. Due to Southern Brazil’s temperate climate and large Italian population, it has traditionally been the capital of wine production in the country. They could cheaply make and sell the plastic packaging, garnering great profits. However, not soon after their foray into packaging the shoe industry began to boom in Southern Brazil. The brothers moved from making packaging to making footwear parts, in particular, plastic heels.
By 1979, Paulo was smitten with the idea of an entire line of shoes made from plastic, finding inspiration with a fisherman he saw wearing jelly sandals while he was away on Holiday in France. The concept was a hit, and for much of the 1990s, the Melissa brand of plastic shoes sold like hot cakes. Demand was high and the concept was good, but plastic shoes had a tendency to bob in and out of fashion. When plastic shoes were “in,” Melissa’s sales soared. When they were “out,” sales faltered. This forced Grendene to shut down the brand for a time, in order to further develop newer footwear lines such as Ipanema.
Melissa shoes are now sold in more than 60 countries worldwide, most often in high end department stores like Nordstrom and Selfridges in London. The company is also working to open Melissa stores, referred to as “galleries” in strategic cities throughout the world. SoHo in New York already has their own New York gallery, and London is in the works. When it come’s to location, Melissa has found that finding an audience, is more important than shelling out inventory. The company is looking to tackle Paris, Shanghai, and eventually Tokyo, which is the fashion capital of Asia. The company has also hoped to lower price and cut costs by moving production to Brazil’s poorer north-east region and out of the South.
On average, Melissa brand shoes sell for R$100 in Brazil and $100 abroad. Melissa shoes are not only known for their charm, comfort , and unique design; they are distinguishable by their smell, which is the result of fragrances being mixed into the plastic during the shoe’s production. The shoes are made from Melflex plastic which is a hypoallergenic flexible PVC that is 100% recyclable. While the brand has certainly found success in building customer bases world wide, investors still have mixed feelings about the brand’s potential to last.
Despite this Melissa has attained numerous industry awards and is included amongst the Design Museum’s list of “Fifty Shoes That Changed the World.” The brand even boasts several major fashion leaders as fans including Katy Perry and Dita Von Teese. Grendene has full power to be a major player in a myriad of shoe markets. So long as the brand keeps recreating itself, Melissa will continue to enchant fashionable people of all agrees. Melissa was created in 1979 and has never stopped recreating itself. This brand is truly royalty when it comes to being the same, yet different.
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