To most, the non-slip rubber liner inside a kitchen drawer or beneath a rug is just that—a non-slip, functional piece of rubber. For Mitchell Fein and his brother Michael, the material is the foundation to their unique surf footwear concept called Orcatex Design, and has become the former Wall Street-ers gateway into the footwear industry.
“We’re watersport guys from Long Island—certainly not shoe guys—but we stumbled across this rubbery material and set out to turn it into footwear,” Mitchell said. The unisex footwear is made with a patent-pending breathable, flexible and washable material with a minimal non-slip outsole. The idea is that the shoes can effortlessly go from dockside to country club, with its preppy silhouettes and timeless colorways. Plus, Mitchell says the shoes dry in ten minutes.
The brand’s name, as well as the signature orca medallion on each shoe and whale-shaped packaging, is a nod to the brothers’ love of the ocean. The company will donate a portion of sales to marine wildlife conservation groups.
The material might look familiar, but Mitchell said it took some tinkering to ensure that it could withstand the wear and tear of walking on slippery docks, beaches and beyond. “We had to modify it to make it more durable. It took about a year to get the secret sauce exactly right,” he explained. Mitchell recalls one of the initial prototypes left pieces of the material’s bumpy surface all over a friend’s home. “It was trial and error,” he laughed.
Orcatex began to test the shoe last year in Key West. From there, the line has picked up traction with surf retailers and mom-and-pop shops looking for new products to help differentiate themselves from the big box competition. In January, the Feins took the shoe Surf Expo in Orlando, where they began to pick up a following with the surfer set looking for an alternative to flip-flops.
“Sometimes you need coverage if you’re walking on rocks or into a yacht club. This is that lightweight alternative you can fold up and slip into bags to wear in common areas or into town,” Mitchell explained.
The line launched with a driver moc in white, light blue, navy, red and black and will expand to include boat shoes later this summer. Mitchell says the new style will have a “more substantial outsole” for versatile use. “The material is so unique and there are so many applications you can do with it,” Mitchell added. The company plans to roll out two-tone colorways and children’s styles, as well as tap into licensing opportunities.
The challenge for Orcatex, Mitchell said, is one shared by all new footwear brands—getting exposure. “It’s such a visual item, that unless you touch and feel the shoe, you can’t fully appreciate what’s so great about it,” he explained.
The company is mixing traditional selling techniques, from sending samples for retailers to wear-test and cold calling, to taking to LinkedIn to connect with buyers and Instagram to showcase its appeal. Mitchell added, “People don’t like to try new things or be the first one, but everyone that sees the shoe buys it.”