You see them in every city: women on their way to work, decked out in beautiful professional attire all the way down to--oh, wait, are those sneakers? Their "real" shoes--foot-punishing heels--are tucked into those oversize handbags.
Kfir and Elram Gavrieli, along with their 32-year-old sister, Dikla, have a better alternative. They make Tieks, a flat leather shoe that folds and fits in a purse. Dikla, a co-founder and the company’s president and designer, is also a former professor at USC--one who logged plenty of miles in work clothes and flip-flops between her car and the lecture hall.
Each pair of Tieks comes with a pouch that turns into a reusable tote for stashing heels, as well as clips for pants legs. The shoes' signature blue soles provide padding and support.
Kfir, despite having no prior fashion, retail, or footwear experience, has a slew of shoe patents. He and Elram, who is director of product and supply chain, have spent months vetting and training manufacturers, and frequently travel to Italy to meet with tanneries.
The Gavrieli siblings have created a powerful brand as well as their own category of footwear. “Like Uggs and Spanx, we weren't the first to ever make a product like ours, but we made it better and are the first to make it take off,” Kfir says. “We want to be synonymous with the split sole ballet flat category.”
In spite of the price tag--between $165 and $295--women are crazy about them, and Oprah herself is a fan. Thousands of women have raved about the comfort of Tieks on the company’s Facebook page. Every time Tieks garners a Facebook "like," it sends $1 to Kiva, which loans the money to women entrepreneurs who don't have access to traditional banking systems. That promotion helped win Tieks nearly 300,000 “likes” and gave it the fastest-growing fan page for a clothing company, worldwide, for several months.
The Gavrielis say customers appreciate Tieks because they’re the only foldable flat made with Italian leather, hand-stitched and designed to fold but not disintegrate in a few months, which is what often happens with cheaper alternatives.
“Once we were able to nail the design and manufacturing challenges involved in creating that combination, we knew we had something special on our hands,” says Kfir, a Stanford business school graduate who describes himself as a perfectionist. “As it turned out, the flexible outsole, which was necessary for the foldability, actually made the shoe more comfortable than anything women had tried before, since the shoe molds to the foot.”
Tieks are manufactured overseas and, for now, are sold only on the company’s website. “So far, we've grown tremendously online and have managed to build the kind of product, brand, supply chain, team, operations, and scale that would help us get into department stores on our terms and when it's best for us,” Kfir says.