Discover why entrepreneur John Peters is launching his affordable, comfort-focused shoe brand in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and get to know Amberjack, designed for the new future of work.
Amberjack is a new men’s fashion brand that specializes in shoes “designed for the hybrid future of work.” Founder John Peters launched Amberjack in November 2020 with the goal of building a brand “for the new world we live in.”
The brand joins a variety of direct-to-consumer menswear brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age and navigate professional wardrobe choices in the age of remote and hybrid work models.
Amberjack is bolstered by an experienced team of advisors including:
- Jim Seuss, a former CEO of Cole Haan and early investor and strategic advisor;
- Johnny Kraljevich, Amberjack’s designer and former head of footwear design at Allen Edmonds, Coach, Rag & Bone, and John Varvatos;
- Steve Beccia, who is in charge of development and commercialization and was former VP of product development at Caleres and Cole Haan; and
- Jake Rudin, who serves an advisor and is manager of new footwear technology at Adidas.
How much do Amberjack shoes cost?
Amberjack went live with a public launch on November 18, 2020, initially offering one style in three colors (tan, brown and black). Amberjack’s shoes cost $179.
Interview with Amberjack Founder John Peters
What made John and his team want to launch a brand during the COVID-19 pandemic? Find out in my interview with John:
Tell me about your background.
“I grew up in Miami, went to Cornell for college and then joined McKinsey out of college. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but quickly fell in love with the consumer space. I spent 6 years at McKinsey working with a lot of the big brands in the footwear and apparel space.”
What made you want to start Amberjack?
“The short story is that I just I wanted to a pair of nice pair of dress shoes that were comfortable and cool.
“The longer story is that I was never a fan of dress shoes. Personally, I found the options to be either uncomfortable, or clunky, or sometimes both.
“I just hated wearing them, and I had to everyday. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to see how the big brand players focused almost entirely on cost cutting, how little money was being spent on product or innovation, and it struck me as a category with room for something new and exciting.
“So I quit McKinsey last year and started trying to figure out how to make a shoe.”
Direct-to-consumer shoes for men is a crowded space. How do you seek to differentiate Amberjack from other direct-to-consumer footwear brands out there?
“Comfort is our #1 focus area, but there are a lot of “comfort” dress shoe brands out there. I think the difference for us is the combination of style and quality at a $180 price point.
“We spent almost 2 years developing proprietary footbed and outsole technology, derived from high-performance athletic and hiking shoes. The footbed is heat-activated and molds to your arch, while the outsole is shock-absorbing and mechanically designed to support your feet while walking. We work with the same supplier that developed Adidas boost.
“Amberjack also partnered directly with one of the world’s leading tanneries which allows us to source 100% A-grade full-grain leather — a higher grade than what’s typically used in footwear — at a fraction of the cost of other brands. This is leather typically used in shoes that cost two-times our price point.
“I know that is the standard talking point for all DTC brands, but the difference here is that most DTC brands make this claim by ‘cutting out the middleman,’ when in reality, their margin structure is almost identical to wholesale players.
“We are able to offer real value to the consumer because a vertical supply chain creates significant material cost savings and leather is by far the biggest input cost for a pair of dress shoes.”
What challenges have you and your team faced getting Amberjack off the ground during the pandemic?
“Starting a new business is always challenging, but doing so in the middle of Covid, while working with international partners in Korea, Italy, Mexico, and Portugal, was particularly so.
“We were originally scheduled to launch in the Spring, but made the difficult decision to delay things and switch factories from Korea to Portugal.
“This was a really, really tough decision as there is a lot of work that goes into shoes pre-launch but ultimately we felt it was the right thing to do.
“Making shoes requires a lot of nuance. The difference between slim and bulky is sometimes a matter of millimeters, and those nuances are really challenging to convey on video or pictures.
“Our designer Johnny Kraljevich, who is amazingly talented, hasn’t been able to travel for 6 months because his passport expired and passport processing centers have been closed since March. So we spent a lot more money than we wanted on shipping shoes back and forth across the ocean.”
What does success look like for Amberjack’s first year?
“Right now, our goal is to create a shoe that’s perfect for this new hybrid future of work.
“As people head back into the office, we’re betting that there will be a more permanent hybrid working model (flexible days and hours and work styles), which we think will translate to different workwear choices.
“In particular, we think this means increased casualization, an emphasis on comfort, and a growing importance of value.
“That’s all easier said than done, so our focus right now is listening to customers and trying to create the right shoe for this moment in time.
“At this point, I think success is almost entirely defined by customer satisfaction. I know that’s simplistic and cliché, but I truly believe that the north star should be customer feedback, and even more so when starting out. I think we’ve done a good job of doing that pre-launch; we have over 10,000 people on a waitlist and we regularly text them to ask for design, marketing, and product feedback.
“Some people have called this a wasted effort and that you can’t run a company ‘by committee,’ but I think it’s helped us get to a better outcome.
“If we can keep doing this genuinely, it will pay off in the long run.”
About JakeJake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.
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