You Made What?

John Eades ’93

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A. Sue Weisler

Not many sandals are made in the United States. Eades is changing that. He opened a sandal factory in his hometown last year and the sandals, which he designed, hit the marketplace in August.

John Eades has a rule about wearing flip-flops in the winter.

“I have a 20 millimeter height limit on the snow because my sandals are 21 millimeters high,” says Eades ’93 (industrial design). “If there’s 20 millimeters or below, I’m wearing sandals.”

Eades isn’t wearing just any sandal. In August, his company’s first batch of flip-flops hit the marketplace. This winter, he’s working on producing 50,000 more for the summer season and he’s doing it in the heart of New York’s wine country, which is known to get a little bit of snow.

Vere Sandal Co. opened in August 2010 in the former American Can Co. factory in Geneva, N.Y. It is one of only a few companies making sandals in the United States.

“It has been an incredibly hectic year,” Eades says. “We started with basically an empty building and built a sandal factory.”

Eades began thinking about American-made sandals when he was the footwear product director for Reef, a company in San Diego that makes surf-inspired footwear and apparel. He would travel with the sales representatives and ask buyers what their customers were asking for that they didn’t offer.

At first, the responses were all over the board, but in 2006 and 2007, clients began telling him that people wanted to buy products made in the United States.

Eades researched the idea with the goal of pitching a domestic-made product to his bosses at Reef. But in June 2009, Eades was laid off.

He moved back to his hometown of Geneva, called his grade-school friend, Michael Ferreri, and began running some numbers and shopping for industrial space. Geneva offered the best incentives.

Eades, who had designed shoes for New Balance and Airwalk before working at Reef, created the styles and oversees production. Ferreri is the numbers guy who handles the business side of the operation.

“The American-made gets us in the door. That’s what gets people’s attention,” Eades says. “But it really is the quality of them that gets people to stick around.”

Along with being domestically made, Vere is concerned about the environment. The company uses recycled content in each layer of the sandal and focuses on eliminating waste by buying pre-cut products from suppliers who recycle all scrap material.

They have seven styles and 16 color options. Sandals sell for between $25 and $50. They can be found in surf and outdoor shops along the coasts as well as locally.

Joe Fragnoli, an owner of the family-owned clothing and footwear store Super Casuals in Geneva, says Eades personally delivered the first shipment in late August and also set up the display. The store sold 16 pairs on the first day.

“This is a breath of fresh air,” says Fragnoli, who remembers Eades buying jeans from his store when he was in high school. “This is a local guy making a product locally.”

The company is able to stay competitive because Eades designed the sandals to be easy to build. They also don’t have to pay a protective tariff on sandals with a textile upper piece like their competitors in China.

“I’m pretty proud that we have been able to do it,” Eades says. “A lot of people when we first started talking about it just shook their head and said, ‘You guys are nuts. There’s no point in that.’ Now those same people are openly rooting for us. That part is kind of cool.”

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