Hound & Hammer, a contemporary line of men’s casual dress shoes founded by footwear veteran Chris Ryan and his son, Sean, bridges the gap between college kicks and serious fashion. “The genesis for this brand was Sean’s high school days when we would look for shoes for him that weren’t athletic shoes or Vans. You would literally go from Nike to bespoke fashion,” Ryan said.
The father-son team found that the options for versatile casual dress shoes for young men didn’t stack up to the women’s market. “A lot of my background is in women’s and that whole category of fashion casual—shoes that can be worn to work, on an interview and out at night—is virtually everything in the women’s side of the business,” he said. “There’s not the parallel to that in men’s.”
By working directly with factories, Hound & Hammer launched as a direct-to-consumer brand in November 2016, offering full leather lined men’s shoes and boots for $99 to $119 retail. The collection includes desert boots, Chelsea boots, moc-toe constructions and the “Interview Boot” a six-eyelet boot with a flared collar. The brand also sells vegan lace-up boots made with burnished course-weave canvas uppers.
Sean, who manages marketing and social media, remains a muse for the brand. “My sons’ generation wants to dress up more than mine. We didn’t have choices, but we didn’t care,” Ryan laughed. “That’s not the case for young men today. They are in the work environments like WeWork and it is great because it’s a social setting.”
Hound & Hammer plans to break into wholesale starting with FFANY Nov. 29-Dec. 1. “We don’t need to make a full markup to sell to retailers. There’s still room to do wholesale,” Ryan said. The plan, he explained, is to partner with a select group of retailers that want to join the company in keeping the price tight. “We don’t need huge orders from them and we can keep their stock levels down,” he said. “The model wouldn’t work if we weren’t working directly with the factory.”
In this scenario, Ryan says everyone wins. “We might make less money selling to retailers, but it helps get our name out and the consumer gets a cheaper shoe.” Factory workers also benefit through a fund the brand pays into to help support the people who are making the shoes.
The popularity of Allbirds and M.Gemi has placed a spotlight on the cost advantages consumers and brands can reap through the direct-to-consumer distribution channel. However, Ryan points out that it is time factories see some of the reward. “We can pay the factory more. Being in product development for most of my years, it is always the factories that are squeezed for every nickel and dime. And that affects wages. We like to think that in our model, both ends of the supply chain will benefit and factories will receive more to pay their workers more,” he said.
Consumers are responding positively to Hound & Hammer’s modern styling, accessible price points and the company’s mission to be a socially responsible brand. However, Ryan said it’s still a grassroots effort. The company holds consumer outreach events at California breweries and works with influencers to promote the brand.
“Going directly to consumers and learning how to build those bridges to the consumer is a challenge, but it is also historical. We are living in the era where the internet is young and everything is new. And that is why we are launching brands and are bullish,” Ryan said. “There’s a lot of talk about how retail is tough, but traditional retail is tough. Consumers are not buying less, they are buying more and they are finding new ways to buy. It’s time to start reinventing ourselves.”