Backstory

Backstory: Trio blend talents, products to make Feelgoodz flip-flops

vbridges@newsobserver.comMay 26, 2014 

From left to write, Mark Saad, Lizzie McTighe and Kyle Berner came together in November 2011 to build flip-flop company Feelgoodz. Here they are standing in front of their retail store in downtown Raleigh on May 21, 2014.

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com

  • Advice from Feelgoodz’s owners

    • Be passionate.

    • Be tenacious.

    • Don’t look at challenges as obstacles but as opportunities.

— They met for the first time over Mexican food in Durham.

Lizzie McTighe of Raleigh was a former Roxy and Quiksilver women’s flip-flops designer. Mark Saad, who’s from Garner, was co-owner of Kinder Soles, a Raleigh company that sold leather flip-flops that he co-designed with a podiatrist to cradle the foot with support. Kyle Berner, who then lived in New Orleans, owned Feelgoodz, which was selling flip-flops made from rubber trees in Thailand in about 250 Whole Foods Markets.

“It was love at first sight,” Saad said of the 2011 meeting that followed Berner reaching out to McTighe and Saad to talk flip-flops.

The three became partners three months later by consolidating their talents and products under a Raleigh-based Feelgoodz footwear brand.

Two-and-a-half years later, the partners announced a collaboration with singer-songwriter Jack Johnson and have increased production from 58,000 units to 130,000 for their spring line. They have shoes in about 320 Whole Foods Markets in the U.S. and Canada and 125 independent stores.

While they are having success in natural products stores, the owners are positioning themselves for an expansion into the more competitive outdoor retail market.

“We are using that as a jumping off point to hopefully go after some more outdoor retailers and maybe some high fashion retailers,” Saad said.

After joining forces in November 2011, the owners spent the next year combining and improving their shoe lines and learning how to work together and communicate.

Berner continued producing his products in Thailand. Saad moved his production from China to Vietnam, which allowed the company to build on its mission to use natural products and pay fair wages to the farmers who grow the rubber trees and the artisans who construct their products.

In the first five months, the Feelgoodz partners pulled together a line for spring 2012 and produced about 58,000 flip-flops, Saad said.

To spread out annual cash flow and capitalize on the holiday shopping season, the company rolled out in fall 2012 about 6,000 pairs of Softsockz, indoor slippers handwoven in a Vietnam village.

A year later, they launched Flatz, women’s shoes made by weaving cooperatives in Guatemala.

Over the years, the partners said, they refined their sales, manufacturing and distribution systems and defined their individual roles.

McTighe, 32, is responsible for “everything you see visually in the company,” she said, from the look of the products to website graphics and tags to ensure the brand is consistent.

Berner, 33, secures and maintains relationships with supply chains, and handles marketing and sales.

“I am in the field 100 percent of the time,” Berner said. “I am out there meeting with our customers, telling the story, and then giving all the feedback in the field to the execution team.”

Saad, 28, oversees the warehouse in Garner and the finances. The company employs 17 and has about 15 independent sales representatives.

This year, the partners, who also have a retail store in downtown Raleigh, hired a public relations firm to help elevate their brand and compete in the outdoor, surf and fashion markets. They also invested in software that has helped them to better manage and restock inventory in real time.

Last week, Feelgoodz rolled out limited edition flip-flops designed in collaboration with Jack Johnson and his family.

Those flip-flop sales will benefit Johnson’s Kokua Hawaii Foundation, which supports environmental education in schools in Hawaii.

The opportunity allows Feelgoodz to do good while aligning with a popular and international brand.

“That is a big thing,” Berner said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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