As we explained, the idea of PêcheBlu™ started in Barcelona, when we couldn’t find a good pair of flip flops – the ones available were either cheap, flimsy, rubber models or expensive brand names with inferior design in dark colors for sand that reached 120 degrees in the sun. After coming home, we started to examine the flip flop industry.
In the back of our mind was that we could do better. Once home, we looked at almost every flip flop made; who made them and how. We wanted to reflect how people actually wore flip flops. While people still wear them to the beach, more wear flip flops almost all the time. Thus, we needed flip flops that would cushion feet on sidewalks, provide better support with arches and heel wells, and supply traction so feet stayed in the flip flops and didn’t easily slip.
Choosing A Name
First, we needed a brand name. Something that gave consumers an image of what we were – what we stood for – something memorable. We then needed to make sure that the image worked, that others saw the brand name as we did and that it reflected good design, subtlety, elegance, comfort, and craftsmanship.
We needed an original name that we could trademark – something more difficult than it sounds. Many companies trademark numerous potential brand names that they might want to use in the future. Thus, those names are taken. Other companies want to ensure that no new brand name looks like or can be easily confused with theirs. Even if one can find a name and prove that there will be no confusion, these companies like to make sure to have an extra wide fence – fighting them can cost $100,000 or more in legal fees. So we had our lawyers search to find out if the names we liked were available. Each search took a week and we did a number to find PêcheBlu™.
Then we needed a logo that worked with the name. We spent days on it, finally settling on the fish within the blue peach. In fact, one of the more difficult design tasks was to place the ribs of the white fish so that the image did not interfere with the wording of PêcheBlu™. We moved the fish rib by rib so that both were clear.
To design the flip flop itself, we looked at numerous products and usually cut them in half to see how they looked internally and where the straps were attached. Our designer, who has designed sports shoes for many years for such brands as Tod’s and New Balance, came up with the ZFLEX sole, because its structure was the most comfortable while offering the most support. The design made intuitive sense. We then did mock ups, planning on using a series of molds for the inner softer phylon and stamping out the ZFLEX in harder rubber to epoxy onto the soft phylon upper.
Immediately, we ran into several problems. We could not get the ZFLEX to hold the right curve unless it was also molded, so we needed a second set of molds: two molds per size for each of the right and left feet. Expensive but necessary.
Then, we found that the bottom mold for the ZFLEX needed to be a complete bottom sole, not just the Z, as we had originally intended. This was for two reasons: first, it would have been impossible to attach the Z with its many zig zags with epoxy to the upper and get all of it to adhere perfectly before parts of the glue dried out, making attachment very difficult within too short a time frame. Then, second, the soft phylon upper, with only the Z beneath it in harder rubber would find itself sinking into the Z as the weight of the wearer pressed down over time, thus, deforming the soft upper after several months of wear. By making the bottom mold cover the entire sole – with the Z as just the tread on the sole – we could distribute the weight of the phylon evenly and solve the problem of the Z starting to compress and cut through the soft phylon.
We needed to have the curves of the flip flops front to back and side to side be right too – so we made constant adjustments to the curve – and to the preliminary molds. Then, we needed an edge wall to keep toes from sliding off. We did several different models, sharper edges, softer, more rounded, before settling on the soft round one we used as the most comfortable and best looking.
Strap placement underwent subtle readjustment – we would wear a pair and see how they worked – where the pressure was, how the straps felt, how much the base flip flopped, how sturdy the whole shoe was as one took a step. We then adjusted the sizing for the average American foot. Eventually, we intend to offer different widths, so that very narrow or very wide feet can wear PêcheBlu™, which will require additional molds.
Since we designed coordinating t-shirts, baseball caps and camisoles to go with the flip flops, getting the right colors was important, since our colors had to be the same but cotton and rubber took dye in completely different ways. It took several tries to get the correct colors adjusted and matched.
We produced PêcheBlu™ in China because we needed injection molds for the bases and the Chinese factories have long experience in producing athletic shoes for major producers, such as Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, and Diesel. Costs in China were significantly lower both to produce the molds – the most expensive part of the process – as well as the assembly line to produce the flip flops themselves. We worked with the mold maker to design the molds to meet our specifications and tolerances so that uppers and lowers fit perfectly and there were minimum flanges (the excess rubber where the top and bottom of the mold fit together).
Finding a factory for final assembly – to produce the straps, attach them, and glue the uppers and lowers together as a finished shoe – was a problem. We were a new producer and Chinese factories are now getting choosy about with whom they would work. One large factory was preparing a public stock offering and only wanted large brand name new clients in preparation for the offering. Another would only do huge runs, which were far too large for us, a first time producer.
Finally, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we found a producer, that wasn’t too large, nor too small, yet had the experience we needed so was just right. We wanted the straps attached so they couldn’t separate, and we needed the base of the sole, where the hard outside shell was glued to the soft phylon upper not to delaminate as well as fit together perfectly. The factory could do this.
For the PêcheBlu™ production run, our CEO wanted to be present. His ticket kept changing as production dates changed. Finally, he was off to Shanghai. It was unusual for one of the factory’s clients to attend production, other than a cursory visit. However, we wanted our fit and finishing standards to be perfect. Our CEO told the factory that tolerances had to be better than Nike’s. They understood how much work that would require.
All of the hard rubber outside bases needed to be hand trimmed to remove the remaining flanges adhering to the outside of the bases from the molding process. Our CEO was initially not happy with the trimming. The factory changed the process – now, each worker was assigned a specific size to trim – so that all the size 6 lefts were done by the same person. If there was a problem with a size 6 left, we knew who had trimmed it. Instantly, all trimming problems were resolved.
One entire production line was devoted to PêcheBlu™ for a week. The first few pairs came through the line. First, epoxy was spread on the phylon base uppers to attach the straps, which went through a heater to set. Then, the hard rubber bases were attached with additional epoxy, pressed together both by hand and by specialized shoe presses, and then passed through another heater. The first quality inspection looked over the flip flops as they came out of the second heater, cleaning and wiping down the flip flops, which then were placed on racks to cool. Everywhere we looked, there were hundreds of PêcheBlu™. We were finally going to market!
There was another final quality inspection before the shoes were packaged and placed in boxes for shipping.
All in all, about 60 people in production and another 10 in administration were involved in producing each pair of PêcheBlu™ flip flops. We achieved the quality and attention to detail we had required. And the workers were impressed. Never before had one of their clients sat on the production line and showed workers how to trim rubber outsoles – or pulled random soles from the production pile to spot-check, or examined pairs as they came out of the heaters to look at strap placement and to test attachment strength.
One more thing. The good Chinese factories provide meals for their employees, who work very hard. We had lunch every day there – always a soup, a vegetable, a meat dish, and of course rice. The food was as good as the best Chinese restaurants in New York. We went to the kitchen and found a full time staff of six who cooked for everyone. Produce, fish, chicken and pork arrived in crates and the kitchen staff had their own assembly line as they chopped, peeled, fried, boiled, stirred and served 200 people lunch and dinner. After our production run, they are now wearing PêcheBlu™.