Footwear News Magazine features SoleWood in an article entitled One to Watch "Man Made"

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Text from the "Man Made" article:



Age: 29

Launch season: Spring ’13

Headquarters: Miami

Training: Man graduated from Carnegie Mellon University

in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. Prior

to his work in footwear, he designed luggage as well as

medical devices.

Mentor: “[Max Debiase from Brain Lab] taught me

everything about the shoe business. He’s taught me how

to be a businessman and not just a designer. I’m constantly

striving to do better and become something even bigger.”

Icons: Twentieth-century American designers Charles and

Ray Eames, who pioneered trends in architecture, furniture

design and photographic arts

Business lesson: “The Golbert family of Pajar, who I [design

for], are a great example of what a business relationship

should be. They treat everyone they do business with like

family, from retailers and salespeople to those in their

showroom. They’re genuine people.”

He’s ready to break out.

After five years of behind-thescenes

work in the footwear industry,

designer Elie Man launched Sole-

Wood, a collection of men’s shoes and

accessories for spring ’13. As the name

implies, each piece has some element

of wood — even the sneakers are trimmed with

100 percent cherry and the seersucker fabric

loafer has a wooden keeper.

The collection has been picked up by independent

shoes stores and boutiques around the

country. Steve Jamison, owner of Blue Sole Shoes

in Philadelphia, carried the new label for the

launch season and will reorder for fall ’13. 


“There’s been a good reaction across the

board,” Jamison said. “[My customers] gravitate

toward something new.”

Man’s industrial design background inspired

the launch, said the 29-year-old, who continues

to work full-time as a product manager

for Brain Lab, a design and product development

firm. And while wood may seem

an unlikely material for footwear and

accessories, Man said the challenges of

the medium are worth the extra e.ort.

“I picked wood because I loved building

furniture as a student at Carnegie

Mellon,” he recalled. “I always loved the

old craft feeling of wood and being able

to use [a range of ] textures and species.

There’s something about the warmth of

wood when it’s on a product.” However,

he emphasized, “It has to be treated with

a lot of time. It’s trial and error, prototyping

over and over.”


Man has managed to incorporate

wooden touches in wearable ways. The

penny moc’s keeper, for instance, is a

wood veneer backed in leather for flexibility.

On the flip-flop, wood lines the heel of

the insole and accents the upper. All the wood

pieces used in the line are sustainable and

sourced from countries including China, Malaysia

and Canada.


In addition to footwear, the collection includes

leather wallets with wood panels, ebony and

bamboo wood sunglasses, wood headphones and

wood skins for iPhones. Retail prices range from

$65 for flip-flops to $120 for shoes, with wallets

sold for $43 to $65, and headphones for $140.

According to Man, about 40 percent of the

label’s o.ering is devoted to shoes, with the spring ’13 collection focused on three styles in a

range of colors and materials. “I’m hoping shoes

get to be the biggest part of the business because

that’s my passion,” said Man, who has designed

footwear collections at Brain Lab for brands

including Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess

and Armani.


It was the line’s unique wood

treatments that caught the attention

of Portland, Ore.-based

retail chain UnderU4Men.

“There’s a fashion trend on the

West Coast for things with a

natural feel,” said owner Steven

Lien, who bought SoleWood’s

footwear, wallets and sunglasses.

“The collection complements

our other wood and wood-based

products.” (Lien also o.ers a

selection of men’s underwear in

bamboo and rayon.) According

to the retailer, the sandals are sophisticated

and well priced. “Our

swimsuits are a great match with

the sandals,” said Lien, who plans

to continue to the Sole-

Wood sandals as a year-round look, thanks to the number of his

customers who take cruises.

Brain Lab owner Max Debiase

said the positive reaction to

Man’s line comes as no surprise.

“Elie has a great ability to

combine marketing and product

[skills],” he said. “He’s extremely

up on what’s new in the [footwear]

business. And he’s in tune

with what the current generation

is looking for.”


Moving into fall ’13, Man plans to expand his footwear o.ering with such

looks as a high-top sneaker. “I’ve always thought

[simple styles] were some of the best-selling

shoes. I’m probably going to keep the line more

casual and a.ordable for now,” he said.

While Man sees expansion opportunities down the road, he’s taking it one day at a time. “Everything

I do is funded by my salary,” said the designer,

who works on the collection on evenings

and weekends out of his home studio. “Just to get

to where I am today was a huge challenge. I plan

on doing a lot of things. I have a huge appetite.”