Shoes of Prey, the company that attempted to achieve footwear customization at scale, reportedly is liquidating assets after pausing orders and shutting down its website last August in an attempt to “pivot” the business.
Fans of Shoes of Prey appreciated being able to tweak certain shoe attributes to their liking. Nordstrom become one of the brand’s biggest partners, exposing Shoes of Prey to a wider audience. The company operated through e-commerce and wholesale.
FTI Consulting’s John Park and Kelly Trenfield are handling the liquidation, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, though investors like Blue Sky Alternative Investments and Greycroft Partners are likely to recover little of the nearly $30 million Shoes of Prey raised over six rounds through 2018. Remaining assets largely consist of intellectual property, the paper reported.
Michael Fox, who co-founded the Australian startup in 2009 with then-wife Jodie Fox and Mike Knapp, shared his takeaways about the Shoes of Prey journey in a Medium post on Sunday. While there’s certainly a market out there of women who are passionate about creating custom heels, flats and more, Fox said trying to expand from this niche audience to the mass market proved to be among the company’s biggest missteps.
“Despite all the right trends towards personalisation and our success within the customisation niche, contrary to our market research the mass market fashion customer just didn’t respond as we expected,” Fox wrote.
Rather, mass-market shoppers prefer to get their inspiration from the influencers and celebrities they see on social media—and they want the exact styles they’re wearing, he explained. That mismatch in customer theory versus customer behavior was a key factor in driving Shoes of Prey’s downfall. The average shopper isn’t interested in designing things themselves, Fox said, and faced with a “paradox of choice” they almost inevitably winds up with analysis paralysis, failing to covert at all.
Once Shoes of Prey realized that mass customization wasn’t viable, it stopped accepting website orders in August of last year and began to explore underserved footwear sizing: small, large, narrow and wide. That, too, sounded like a good idea but couldn’t be executed profitably at scale, due to operational complexity and high fixed costs, Fox noted.
“Producing shoes one at a time while also operating our factory legally and ethically — meeting all the environmental, health and safety and labor regulations which the vast majority of factories in China don’t, meant that our unit costs for producing each pair of shoes were higher than mass production Chinese factories,” Fox wrote.
Working on Shoes of Prey yielded valuable lessons for Fox. “If I ever find myself in a position where I’m attempting to change consumer behaviour, I will ensure I’ve peeled back the layers to truly understand the psychology of my target customer,” he noted.
Despite the demise of Shoes of Prey—among the original innovators in configurable fashion—interest in customization and personalization remains high as the apparel and footwear industry hopes to capture business from millennials and Gen Z shoppers who want to express their identities through unique product.