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Melissa CEO Michele Levy Talks Rio Games & New Disney Store

“Rio stands for happiness, Rio stands for color, Rio stands for passion and fun, and these are the things Melissa stands for.”

As the eyes of the world turn to Rio this summer for the Olympic Games, Brazil’s footwear industry is basking in some newly found spotlight too.

Made famous for their plastic shoes, Melissa has been a staple in the country for 40 years, helping to pave the way for others with their innovative use of PVC materials and big-name collaborations—long before the collaboration market was even a thing, working with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Rio is at the heart of Melissa’s Spring ’16 Wanna Be Carioca collection, inspired by Carioca–the local name for people born in Rio—and the eclectic bohemian vibe of the city. The Melissa Wonderful sandal, for instance, takes cues from the art deco architecture present in Rio with its mix of sandy hues and straight gold lines.

“The Brazilian aesthetic is well-reflected in our shoes. We’re people that like to laugh, we’re people that like to smile,” said Melissa CEO Michele Levy. “We have operations in 84 counties, so we consider ourselves a global Brazilian brand.”

As a global brand, Melissa has seen its retail presence balloon in the last two years. It now operates 11 stores in the U.S. and Caribbean markets, including five in Florida, all of which have opened in just the last 18 months.

One of its biggest openings to date is in Orlando, where the brand debuted a new concept store at Disney Springs in Walt Disney Studios, something Levy called a “big coup” for a foreign brand like Melissa. Helping the shop stand out from others on the Disney strip is its unique modular layout, allowing for elements to be easily swapped in or out. According to Levy, the format has been a hit, connecting with consumers who increasingly want experiences when they go shopping.

“People are so interested in experiences these days—selling shoes is almost a consequence, it’s not what they’re there for,” she said. “People are there to engage, and that’s what the retail is allowing us to do,” adding that the company is currently exploring further retail opportunities.

Another part of engaging customers will come this summer, when Melissa will play a part in the festive events surrounding the Olympic games, although the brand was still tight-lipped about specifics, only revealing that they’re launching an “exciting” collaboration with an artist.

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For Spring ’17, Melissa is taking inspiration from literally everything. Called Mash-Up, the collection is Melissa’s take on everything that’s in the market today, translated by the Melissa brand. “Our world is a crazy place now. You have influences coming from so many places. People are overwhelmed with information, so people are trying to find themselves,” said Levy about the eclectic collection.

She says that soft colors will be a big trend for spring, as will flatforms, which continue to sell well. This summer’s biggest hit has been Melissa’s Mar, a minimalist platform sandal, while flatforms make up as much as 30 percent of the collection. Levy is also excited about Melissa’s continued collaboration with designer Jason Wu, going into its fifth year. “Our Jason Wu collaboration will blow people’s minds,” she said.

While Melissa’s shoes have always had a designer cache to them, the brand is also looking to grab consumers who are being lured by cheaper options, and for the first time has launched entry-level capsule collections at select retailers. These collections will start around $55 and include a selection of Melissa’s sandals, flip flops, flatforms and platforms. “We want people to have a piece of Melissa,” Levy noted.

She is clear however, that Melissa doesn’t intend to battle with bargain competition like Old Navy. “People don’t come to us for the basic flip flop—ever. If it doesn’t have an ornament, we’re not doing our job. [laughs]”