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Children’s Footwear Brand IFME Crosses Continents

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Bright, cute and packed with doctor-approved technology, Japanese children’s footwear brand IFME will make its U.S. debut this spring through U.S. distributor, North American Shoe Company.

The line, for baby size 4.5 to kid size 1, was the first original brand of the Marubeni Footwear company, which prior to IFME’s launch in 1999, specialized in sourcing for other companies. IFME North American Brand Manager Matt Butlett said the company saw an opportunity to build a brand of its own based on the know-how and experiences gleaned from its private label business.

“Marubeni wanted to come out in Japan with footwear that was functional and price right. And that’s why IFME has taken off,” he said.

The shoes feature kid-friendly design elements like a wide toe box that supports a child’s foot movement and helps strengthen muscles. To promote correct foot position and posture, IFME developed a functional (and washable) insole with input from Japanese medical professionals specialized in pediatric podiatry, which allows toes to splay and advances healthy arch development. Shoes are also equipped with MOFF, short for Marvelous Odor Free Fiber, a cotton-based deodorizing fiber that absorbs 150 times as much ammonia odor as activated charcoal, at 20 times the speed. It might seem overly technical for a shoe so small, but as Butlett noted, “Kids feet sweat more than adults.”

IFME’s Spring ’16 line includes double-strap Velcro sneakers and athletic-inspired sandals with a water drainage feature designed for the beach. Styles are emblazoned with colors like pink, purple, blue and lime green. Each shoe is accented with IFME’s signature stripes in primary colors red, blue, yellow and green. Butlett added that the Fall ’16 range will offer Mary Janes and extend to other casual products outside the standard athleisure realm.

Butlett said IFME is one of the top three brands for children’s footwear in Japan where it is sold in department stores. The brand has also expanded to Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of Asia. Butlett aims to recreate that momentum in the U.S. by targeting better independents and boutiques that have the sales floor and staff to teach parents about the foot health benefits IFME provides.

When the line launches in February, IFME will support in-store efforts by reaching out to parents and the mommy blog community via social media, and through a new website complete with 360-degree views of product. Butlett commented, “We know that is extremely important. Parents see tweets and blog posts and links on Facebook before they even go to the website or see the shoes in stores. I think that’s all important in reaching consumers, especially with something new and with unique functions to it.”

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