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Can Regetta Canoe Become Asia’s Birkenstock?

Rivet's 2020 Denim Circularity report takes a deep dive into how the global denim industry is plotting its circular future amidst a worldwide pandemic.

With their playful design and unmistakable curved shape, one of the most unique shoes to make its way to U.S. shores this year has been the canoe shoe from Japanese brand Regetta Canoe. Boasting huge growth in Asia since launching in 2012 (the company reports to have sold more than five million pairs of shoes in the region in the last three years), Regetta Canoe is now setting its sights on global expansion, hoping to compete with the likes of Birkenstock and FitFlop.

“If we can have FitFlop from the U.K. and Birkenstock from Germany, why can’t we have Regetta Canoe from Japan?” said Wilson Hsu, CEO of CCILU International, global licensee of Regetta Canoe. “Our shoes [provide] better balance [than Birkenstock], and have a better insole, actually.”

Founded by designer Yasuo Takamoto in Osaka, Japan, Regetta Canoe’s unique curved shape is designed to support feet while walking and standing, and reduce pressure on joints. Inspired by traditional Japanese geta (a wooden, platformed sandal worn with kimonos or yukata) Takamoto desired to create a new type of geta using modern and innovative techniques. This idea resulted in Reggetacell, a lightweight, low-carbon material that features anti-abrasion and anti-microbial technologies.

This technology is key in Regetta Canoe’s new initiative to create footwear with a ‘vegan’ philosophy. That is, starting with the company’s Spring ’16 line, Regetta Canoe footwear will be made cruelty and animal-free, utilizing Regettacell technology to craft a shoe that is both practical and reduces the suffering of animals.

“Regetta Canoe is all about balance, including balance between man and the earth,” said Hsu.

In Japan, the shoes enjoy broad popularity among both families and a younger, trendier set, which Hsu hopes will translate to western consumers. Part of the company’s PR strategy is to get the canoe shoe to become a celebrity favorite in the same way the Birkenstock has, a company which he counts as a rival.

“In Japan they are starting from quite a family-oriented point, but gradually, because the product is pretty cool, because it’s very traditional and unique, more and more the young started to wear the brand. So now it’s actually a very cool brand, and at the same time a lot of families still buy them because they are very comfortable.”

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Regetta Canoe is starting to make inroads in Europe, where the company is using its foreign cache to appeal to buyers. The brand is already being sold in boutiques across the continent, including fashion capitals like Milan and Barcelona. But America is a different beast.

“The product is very special but it also makes it a little challenging to market, because it is very different,” said Hsu. “Some people feel it is very strange or unusual, so we’re trying to communicate more with the market to let them know this is a very good product.”

To appeal to a western audience, Regetta Canoe is launching a new line for Spring ’16, the RC 4.0, specifically for the European and U.S. markets, in addition to the company’s signature RC Origins line. While the Origins line errs closer to the more neutral palate of the original Japanese shoe, the new 4.0 range introduces vibrant, in-your-face colors. Canary yellows and bright oranges dominate, contrasted with neon greens and rich purples. New silhouettes including wedges and even a sneaker make for a surprise from a company primarily known for its sandals.

Currently Regetta Canoe is trial launching their collection at 10 stores nationwide in anticipation of a full-scale U.S. launch starting next March. While the Regetta Canoe imprint is still relatively young, Hsu wants the quality of build and unique technology behind the shoe to speak for itself.

“We want to continuously create a better product every season. We are selling in over 70 countries and USA is our most important market, but I want to make sure we have a good quality product above all else. I believe as long as we have a good product season after season, we can grow in a very good way.”

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