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From Fish Scales to Newspaper: All Black Looks Back at 10

Known for its innovative use of materials and edgy design aesthetic, Taiwanese footwear brand All Black has been a favorite at shops like American Rag, Bus Stop and Anthropologie for years.

From fish scale to recycled newspaper, All Black’s shoes are surprising not just in their make, but for how stylish and comfortable they are despite the use of such unconventional materials. Vamp recently chatted with brand representative Marty J. Rose, who discussed the evolution of All Black and how it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary in the U.S. market.

VAMP: You recently celebrated 10 years in North America. What’s All Black’s history?
Rose: All Black has been around in Asia for over 20 years and it’s manufactured in Taiwan by company called ACL Footwear. They were primarily making private label and local brands to sell in the Asian market, but about 20 years ago they came up with the All Black brand and began offering it selectively in Europe and a few stores in the U.S. like American Rag.

Our first FFANY show was in June of 2005 and as soon as we opened up our booth, one of the very first customers was the head merchandiser from Anthropologie, wearing a pair of All Black shoes she’d bought at American Rag. She’d been looking for this brand and couldn’t find it anywhere, and so she ordered 15 styles right away and sold them out, and they have been a loyal customer from that day to the present.

VAMP: What is All Black best known for?
Rose: All Black is known for its quality and innovation, but it’s also a little edgy. It’s not so edgy that it’s a risk—it’s the right amount of edge. That means it delivers something that’s different, that’s fashionable and with comfort feature. We do a lot of padding and we make a heel that can be worn all day long.

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VAMP: Tilapia skin, newspaper… How do you guys come up with these ideas?
Rose: The tilapia was our signature for years and years and we still use it, and it was received very well, because it gives a different texture to the shoe compared to the typical snake-inspired textiles you usually see. It has a more dimensional texture and when its dyed it takes the color very well, so it’s able to be a very dramatic fashion accessory. This is an attempt to benefit the environment. What we do is we buy the [leftover] fish skins from the fisheries, and rather than destroying them we recycle them. We buy them and we dye them, and we back them with pig skin to give them the substance of leather, and it becomes this environmentally-friendly skin.

Same thing with newspaper. We had seen in China that people were using recycled newspapers in different ways, and so we decided to treat it with lacquer, and [the texture] sort of becomes like lanyard. Then we buy it in rolls and it becomes a cord, which we then use to create a design around. And what’s interesting about the newspaper shoes is that no two are exactly alike. We try to match the colors but they don’t match exactly because they’re made from real newspapers. Lucky Magazine gave it the award of best green style—very well received. That was back in the beginning in the first three years.

“It’s not so edgy that it’s a risk—it’s the right amount of edge.”

VAMP: What about now?
Rose: This year we introduced a new form of heel construction. The pumps are a type of metal that looks like the Eiffel Tower. Two other heels are inspired by Lego [building blocks]—one of them has brass and sort of black metal and the other has a hole that goes right through the heel—it looks like you can see through it but you get all the support—it’s been received really well everywhere.

VAMP: Has All Black done anything special to celebrate its 10th anniversary?
Rose: At the Vegas show last August we gave a special reception for our customers, and we also created outdoor billboards for our 10th anniversary shoe which we called Scales. It’s a fashion sneaker with silver metallic detail that has look of animal skin-neoprene. For a lot of brands [10 years] is a significant accomplishment. We sell to around 300 boutiques around the country, and about 200 of them have been buying from us from the beginning, so they’ve been loyal to us and they’ve stayed with us. The brand has not just loyalty but it stands for itself—they know we’re dependable and will have styles no one else has.

VAMP: What’s new for Fall ’16, and when can customers get their hands on it?
The retail customers will receive goods as early as July. And the heels I mentioned before will be the most exciting. A lot of the retailers have ordered them because they believe if they put them in their window, they’ll get a lot of people into the stores because they’re just so innovative and eye-catching. In addition, in the fashion sneaker area we’ve added two more sub-segments. We’ve added what I call a sneaker pump—a very artsy, high-heeled women’s sneaker; and a sneaker boot—where we’ve used the last of our popular sneakers but we’ve done the upper of a suede boot.