Direct-to-consumer fashion startups might be fairly common these days but in 2013, when Lane Gerson and Ariel Nelson launched men’s shoe brand Jack Erwin, it still felt like a revolution. Beautifully made European dress shoes designed with a minimalist eye, all for under $200? Yes, yes, yes. Lots of guys signed up. In fact, they sold out of their first run of shoes two months into business and pulled in close to $2 million in revenue during their first year alone.
Over the last five years, Jack Erwin has evolved and expanded, breaking its under-$200 positioning ever so slightly with a lineup of slick suede and leather boots, raising funds (and tapping into intel) from heritage shoemaker Caleres, and—as of this summer—opening their first traditional retail store in New York City. While the Madison Avenue boutique spans just 700 square feet, the decision to dive into brick-and-mortar is a big move for the brand. Lane was kind enough to hop on the phone with us to explain the decision.
Lane, before we talk about the new store, which is very exciting, I wanted to talk about the brand in general and the course it’s taken since you launched in 2013...
Lane Gerson: A short backstory is that my business partner Ariel [Nelson] and I have been good friends for a long time—I’ve lost track but it’s coming up on a decade at this point—and the two of us come from different backgrounds but we’ve always both appreciated well-made, good, simple stuff. The two of us, from the time that we met through when we founded the company, we saw prices go through the roof in everything we loved. Shoes got really expensive, jeans got really expensive, shirts got really expensive and we just said, there’s something here. There wasn’t a brand that was offering shoes out there that was both embracing a really well-made, simple, beautiful product, and also doing that at a price point that we liked. So we said to ourselves, let’s figure out a way to make products that we love, that we would buy.