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Flanagan launches The People’s Movement

Kevin Flanagan, owner of The People’s Movement. Photo by Shelby Stanger for Shop-eat-surf.
By SHELBY STANGER
September 26, 2011 07:17 AM

Since leaving Reef where he was formerly the VP of marketing, industry veteran Kevin Flanagan has been busy building a new company, The People’s Movement. We caught up with Kevin at his office in Solana Beach to find out about the brand, the history behind it and where we will soon be finding it.

The People’s Movement

Kevin started the People’s Movement after buying The People’s Shoe, a company started by his brother-in-law Mark Wystrach and close friend Anton Brandt. The company was based on a shoe the working class people wore in China.

Peoples Movement shoe
Anton first saw the shoes in China where he was living at the time, and he and Mark, who was working as an actor and musician, decided they could put their own spin on the shoes. They manufactured and sold a container full of their new styles back in Los Angles about two years ago to shops like Sportie LA as well as other boutiques that cater to the tastemakers in Southern California.

The product itself is a vulcanized shoe with a rubber toe cap in front and an insole featuring their mascot along with the word “The People’s Shoe” written in Mandarin on the back. There’s a sidestripe across the side that the company now has trademarked.

Peoples movement shoe
“Mark and Anton developed a solid PR campaign and successfully sold the shoes into the boutique market, but they lacked the connections and capital to get to the next level,” said Kevin.

At the time, Kevin had left Reef and been approached by several companies in and out of the action sports industry and was deciding on his next move. “I ended up consulting with my 30 closest mentors, and about 99% of them agreed it was time for me to go for it and do my own thing,” he said.

Kevin bought the shoe rights directly from Mark and Anton, became 100 percent owner of The People’s Shoe, and rolled that company into a new umbrella brand call The People’s Movement, a company that will make a variety of products inspired by the working class from different parts of the globe.

Chris Swortwood
COO Chris Swortwood
He hired Mark to run the design and marketing for the brand, and also hired Chris Swortwood as COO. Chris comes from the golf industry and has worked at companies including Oakley and Kaenon.

To fund the company, Kevin raised his own money from friends and family. Being on the board of SDSI, he was also able to use resources from San Diego investors to help fund the startup. “SDSI has been a big help,” he said. “They helped me find my bank, Security Business Bank and my legal team, Sheppard Mullen,” he added. The People’s Movement runs the operations out of an eco-friendly design building in Cedros in Solana Beach, and Kevin sounded enthusiastic about the company. “When I wake up in the middle of the night it’s now because I have an idea that has me excited not because I have a huge presentation the next day,” he said. The People’s Movement is starting as a footwear company, but Kevin sees it evolving to feature several different categories. Currently, “The People’s Shoe” is the main product, and with Kevin’s footwear background, he updated the original design founded by Mark and Anton. It comes in a lo-top called the “Scaffold,” and a hi-top called “The Monochrome.”

Peoples movement shoesThere is a noticeable sidestripe that runs along the side of the shoes. Kevin said they had to run two, 500-page reports (a trademark filing and another report that looks at internet data) to make sure they own the stripe 100 percent outright.

“That was important because you look at pictures of people wearing shoes, the sidestripe makes them recognizable,” he said.  The shoes look like they are from a brand that has been around for a while, but with a new twist. They have a clean outline and the colors are simple and wearable from black on black (something you would not typically see in China) to more traditional color ways like white canvas with a royal blue stripe – something Chinese workers would wear.

Environmental Message

The products have a strong environmental message embedded in them. All shoes are made from organic cotton canvas, they use waterbased dyes, nickel free eyelets, have a strong factory compliance code, and to eliminate packaging, all shoes come shipped in “up-cycled” bags.

Shoe bagsThe People’s Movement uses shoes bags from Bombastic Plastix. The bags are made from plastic bags found on the beach in Bali. Different from “re-cycled bags,” The People’s Movement has an exclusive footwear packaging contract with a company called Bombastic Plastix out of Bali, Indonesia. Bombastic Plastix pays people to pick up trash including plastic bags that float up on their beaches and through a heat process they meld plastic bags into stronger, more durable re-usable bags. Because the bags come from various areas and float to Balinese beaches, each bag is different. Some may feature an old McDonald’s logo on the front, and others could feature a Circle K logo or logo from a grocery store. The People’s Movement also uses the materials from the heated plastic bags on different side stripe applications for some of their colorways in their footwear line.

Shoe eventThe People’s Movement’s clothing and food drive on Skid Row.

“As surfers, partnering with Bombastic Plastix was important because they not only help clean up our beaches, but we’re actually adding value to a product that has no use and is just littering the beaches where we play,” said Kevin.

The People’s Movement also gives proceeds of shoes to certain causes every year. This year they have chosen The Plastic Pollution Coalition, a nonprofit that works to stop plastic pollution and reliance on plastic products.

The Spring 2012 line doesn’t hit shelves until next February, but Kevin said they have been testing the line in about 30 boutiques, including the Sneakery in Seattle and VeganEssentials.com. They also currently sell some styles on their own online site.

One of the interesting aspects of the company is that since there are no leathers in the line, the vegan community has taken strong interest in the shoes. Kevin said he fields at least one or two calls from vegan consumers or media every day.

He also said that the company is in that sweet spot where they can try new things and test out new ideas, but that The People’s Movement has three solid principles that guide their decisions.

The Movement Ethos

First, products must be affordable. Currently, shoes cost $42 for the lo-top and $48 for the hi-top. Kevin will add limited editions and collaborations but does not see pricing going above $80.

Mark WystrachMark Wystrach, Kevin’s brother-in-law who first brought the shoes to LA. He now handles marketing and design.

Second, every year they give proceeds to an organization or nonprofit they care about. This year they’ll give to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Lastly, the products they make have to be durable and need to last – “Something the hipsters and working class can wear,” he said.

Why Footwear?

I asked him why footwear. It seems like the market is pretty saturated, at least in action sports, and it’s a harder nut to crack in terms of logistics and factory dealings.

“To start off, the market is massive,” said Kevin, who has worked in the footwear industry for a good chunk of his career and saw five Presidents at Reef in the five years he worked there.

Peoples Movement officesThe People’s Movement offices in Solana Beach.

“Canvas vulcanized shoes make up $40 billion; and in lifestyle and action sports alone about $20 billion. If we can get one percent marketshare, we are well on are way.”

I then asked him how they are going to stand out.

“It’s pretty easy because it’s is a sea of sameness,” he said. “Right now the industry is dominated by a few players and I think that there’s always a warning sign when mature adults and young children are all wearing the same footwear. To me, that’s a signal that there is room for one company to come in and target one consumer. I think we have a unique style. People notice it. People noticed Mark and Anton in L.A. and wanted to know where they got their shoes.”

Kevin also said that their mission and mantra will appeal to the current upcoming generation.

“A part of healthy development growing up is about becoming independent. People growing up want independent products that speak to what they are going through.

“The Peoples Movement has that both in our name and that shoes are literally designed to move you forward. The winds of change are in are our favor in terms of our environmental mission, the name, and the timing is perfect.”

The People’s Movement is not going to just be a footwear company, he added.

The Sneaker Market

Kevin said vulcanized sneakers are the current focus, but Kevin is currently working on “The People’s Sandal,” a sandal worn by the working class of Latin America (think Huarache sandals). He also sees the possibility of The People’s Scarves and The People’s Hat.

Since the line doesn’t hit shelves until February 2012, they are still designing packaging, creating new marketing plans and continuing to let whatever inspires them trickle into the products they create.

“We haven’t even officially shown the new line,” said Kevin. “We’ve used this startup time as a chance to fly free of expectations or constraints that are put upon brands once they launch. I know that will change, but it’s been really exciting to test new ideas.”

Marketing

DisplayIn terms of marketing, their current design office in Cedros has bins full of shoes they are seeding to industry mavens and friends. I asked Kevin if they sampled shoes in bigger sizes since he wears a size 15.

He laughed and said they had definitely been making bigger sizes, mostly to outfit a lot of his friends who play in the NBA and NFL (Kevin played basketball at University of Arizona and his wife is an NFL commentator).

They will be launching a big social media push and have been having “People’s Sessions,” which Kevin says are independent events with like-minded activists, and artists.

“The idea was to have more intimate settings and let info be exchanged rather than do some giant launch parties,” he said. The last People’s Session took place in a studio in L.A. with White Buffalo. He performed in the stairwell. (Click here to see the video).

“Rather than write fat checks, we want to use, ‘Creativity as our currency,’” Kevin said.

The Goal

Lastly, I asked him what he hopes to make of it.

Kevin FlanaganThe People’s Movement has a dog-friendly office.

“To be honest, I believe that I can work hard and in a few years look back and be really proud the of what I accomplished and leave a positive impact on industry and planet by making responsible choices and responsible products,” he said.

“We were just at the Liquid Nation Ball where Shaney Jo (founder of Keep A Breast) was honored and she said to follow your heart and to be uncompromising. This is my chance to be uncompromising.”

I asked Kevin if he was okay to tell the industry all about his line before they even officially launched.

“The action sports industry is my family so I am happy to share with them. I wouldn’t have taken this step had I not consulted with my action sports friends of whom 99% of them said to fly my own flag and do my own thing.

“We all know a lot of people who have become successful in the industry and they all had to take huge risks. It’s not good enough to be smart or well intentioned, you have to also take risks so that’s what I am doing now.”