Robert Nand is no rookie to the footwear industry. Starting off at Vans, the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur founded the upscale fashion sneaker brand Creative Recreation with a partner in 2002. After selling the brand two years ago, Nand took a close look at the industry and “realized that no one was addressing the ‘affordable luxury’ market for men’s footwear and accessories”, as he puts it. That’s when he had the idea for Grand Voyage, his latest footwear baby.
Grand Voyage has all of its shoes made in Italy, in the same factories as many luxury fashion brands, but sells them for much less – a condition made possible by the fact that Nand is skipping the whole retail process and margins and sells his product directly to consumers via the brand’s website only. The premium men’s footwear will be dropped in six deliveries per year and retail between $195 and $295 (comparable qualities would typically retail from $300-$650, says Nand.)
Just in time for the launch of www.thegrandvoyage.com this Friday (January 8), we speak to Nand about how he wants to bring Grand Voyage out to the world, the challenges of a direct-to-consumer model and what he thinks of grown-up sneakerheads. Interview by Maria Hunstig

Nubuck high-top sneakers by Grand Voyage
Nubuck high-top sneakers by Grand Voyage

Multi-brand retailers (on- and offline) are usually the ones to introduce new brands and make them popular. How shall people find out about Grand Voyage if it’s only happening on its own website?
I believe that a tightly curated distribution strategy is one of the strongest marketing strategies any brand can have. One of the things I enjoy the most about shopping at great multi-brand retailers is knowing that a very sophisticated buying team vetted each brand carefully before that product made it to their department floor. Therein lies the dilemma with the direct-to-consumer model. That being said, I do believe that things are changing so fast these days, whether we truly acknowledge it or not. Social media has had a profound impact on the way we shop and where we get our influences from.
For our first season we have only made 99 pair of each color. I’m not too worried about getting the brand out on a large scale at this point. I’m really depending on word of mouth and social media to raise brand awareness for the first few seasons. I’ve had the website up and running for the past 30 days but it has been password protected so only those who I gave the password to could view the collection. I really wanted to send all my friends and colleagues some product as a “thank you” for supporting me over the past decade with my last venture before I offered the brand to the public.

Grand Voyage imagery starring real friends of the brand
Grand Voyage imagery starring real friends of the brand

Don’t you think it’s a barrier for customers to order shoes by a brand that they have never heard of and have never had the chance to actually touch and try out in the offline world?
If someone were to ask me to invest in Zappos in 1999 I would have laughed at them. Thinking there is no way possible people would start buying shoes online as shoes were considered a product that had to be tried on as sizes vary so drastically from brand to brand. Two billion dollars a year later seem to have proven that thinking wrong. However; I still believe it is really hard for me to buy a new brand online without ever seeing it in person that’s why we have made it risk free for our customers, offering free returns and exchanges.

Saying that no one is addressing the “affordable luxury” market for men’s footwear and accessories – who do you see as your competitors?
I’m not really sure who I would consider our competition is. There are a few brands making shoes in Portugal, Netherlands and the UK that are all doing a great job but I still believe that the true footwear artisans in Italy make the best footwear in the world. Our range consists of a full footwear collection all handcrafted in Italy. I’m a shoe connoisseur and appreciate quality as much as I appreciate design and for me no one comes close to the Italians. Our shoes are made alongside some of the most established design houses in the world. The brands that I would consider to be our competition are selling their collections through the traditional retail channels and are charging twice as much as we are for similar quality products.

'Bowie' bootie by Grand Voyage
'Bowie' bootie by Grand Voyage
 
Your Instagram has been active for a few weeks, showing mainly inspirational travel/interior pictures, never shoes. What kind of image do you want to get across?
I’m really trying to promote the idea of the modern gentleman. I refuse to believe that chivalry is dead, I just think we all have gotten so busy that people are losing sight of it. I really want to showcase the modern gentleman. For my first campaign I did not use models, I used good personal friends of mine that I looked up to and respected the way they lived their lives. I asked friends that I knew were truly in love and I really wanted to showcase that love. When they showed up to the studio the only direction I gave them was that I wanted to capture their love for each other. I told them I wanted to capture a collection of pictures that they would be proud to show their future kids.  I feel like we are constantly fed so much photoshopped “life” that we’ve forgotten what real life is. I really wanted to try something refreshing and real.

What kind of customers are you addressing? Do you target real sneaker aficionados as well?
To be honest, I created this collection for my personal friends, colleagues and myself, anyone that appreciates it outside of that is a bonus. Regarding the “real sneaker aficionados” I’m not really concerned with them as I think that the sneakerhead thing is something most people should grow out of after high school. I’ve actually always found it strange that grown men would wait in line for a “limited edition” sneaker only to impress other young men.
I’m not promoting hype, I’m offering amazing quality at a real price to those who appreciate quality. The collections that we offer are targeted at likeminded professionals and entrepreneurs.

Grand Voyage imagery
Grand Voyage imagery