A brand new company looking to make its mark in an underserviced market, jbrds makes anatomically correct footwear for infants who are beginning to stand, balance and walk. Its mission is to start them off on the right foot and the company’s vision is to become the walk, run, play brand for infants, toddlers and kids, ages nine months to eight years of age. Running Insight+ caught up with jbrds co-founder and industry veteran Mike Gugat to gain some insight into this new brand and its positioning in run specialty.

RI+: How was the idea for jbrds born? 

Gugat: Dr. Jay LeBow, a long-time podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon for the Baltimore Orioles, had the insight with his grandson. Most of the shoe options for infants, toddlers and kids are either miniaturized adult shoes, or simply foot coverings.  

What is the distribution strategy at this point? Where does run specialty fit into the picture?

jbrds is currently DTC, but we are developing a wholesale strategy, hence our desire to exhibit at The Running Event in Austin in November. We are also exploring distribution partnerships in Europe and South America. 

Who are some of the key people involved? 

We designed the shoes with former Mizuno and Under Armour designer, Greg Newman. Our last maker is Jones & Vining. Our sourcing and development partner is Kevin Huckle, the former owner and operator of Kodiak Boots, which he ultimately sold to VF Corp. Our co-founder, David Hirshfeld, the owner and operator of Holabird, handles fulfillment and customer service. Our digital agency, Crossroads Co.Lab, is owned and operated by Jordan Zukerberg. 

That certainly is some good talent. What are some of the other details around the line – number of products/styles, release dates, pricing, etc.? 

We began selling our "stand2walk" model last July. It is designed for infants 9-18 months of age. Our goal was to sell 1000 pairs in the first six months to know our cost of acquisition, etc. We sold 1200 pairs. We then doubled that number in the next six months. The retail price is $48.

What is Step 2?

Our next model "walk2run" will debut in the spring and is designed for toddlers ages 18 months-3 years of age. As we raise venture capital, we will add the "run2play" model for ages 3-5 years old and "Go play" model for 5-8 years old. 

What is the thinking behind the different stages of development?

We are ranging the models to reflect kids’ physical developmental milestones. With our tagline being "start them off on the right foot," it's our desire to flex this into headlines, such as "start daycare off on the right foot," "Start school off on the right foot," "Start running off on the right foot." 

There is obviously a shortage of “technical” products for young children. How is jbrds going to fill that void? 

Most established brands treat kids product as an afterthought. We are laser focused on making the most technical and attractive product for ages cradle to eight, as eight year of age is when the foot is fully developed.

Understood. Now what about the engineering behind the shoes?

An infant’s foot is not like that of an adult foot. It's flat — and baby is bowlegged, the opposite of the developed adult foot, so why do we put them in miniaturized adult shoes that have a drop, or declination that often trips a little? Our first walker has a zero drop, a suede bottom for a baby’s sweeping gait and support cage anatomically designed to support the cuboid bone and stabilize the developing heel. 

Please tell us a little more on the distribution strategy short-term and longer term. 

In the short terms, we are focused on a DTC strategy of connecting with new parents and grandparents wanting to invest in their kids’ feet to prevent future problems. Long term, we are looking for retail partners who share our belief that running is core to play and should be promoted at the earliest stages of development so there's a love affair with running for a lifetime ahead. 

So what is the sales pitch for run specialty retailers to carry the jbrds line? 

We believe that when baby starts to stand, balance and walk, it's an optimal time for mom to be fit or re-fit in running shoes as her foot has changed after giving birth. We think it's a wonderful opportunity for new families to be fit in shoes together and potentially a Thule or Bumble Ride stroller. 

How do you plan to spread the word through marketing, social media, advertising — and The Running Event, of course? 

We are leaning into a paid and earned media strategy that not just promotes jbrds, but promotes the category and our future retail partners. 

Finally, where does jbrds go from here in 2023 and into 2024 and how are you going to get there? 

jbrds is actively raising venture capital in 2023 to expand our offering by 2024 so we can support both a wholesale business and international distribution.