Victory Sportswear isn't trying to become the biggest footwear brand on the planet. With decades of heritage under its belt, this American label is carefully making product with character and integrity, and that's a claim that not all brands can make.
During our discussion, owner Stephen Keoseian makes a note of mentioning, "the product will pass through my hands at least 30 times before it gets boxed."
In 2015 the brand changed ownership, and was reborn, ushering in refreshing updates to its original silhouettes. Constructed of suede and mesh uppers, the shoes carry a unique feature in the form of their Soletech EVA bottoms, allowing the soles to be replaced when worn down, something not often seen in the world of running sneakers.
During a time when sneaker news moves more rapidly than ever, Victory Sportswear has mastered the art of doing things slower, but better.
See our full conversation with Stephen below.
Tell us about the beginnings of Victory Sportswear.
The company actually started as a custom shoe company called Hersey Custom Shoe. I bought it 10 years ago and two years ago I decided to split the brand in two, and bring it to the mass market. That’s when I launched Victory Sportswear - to differentiate from the initial custom-made nature of the business. Hersey would always remain custom fit and Victory would be our mass-produced side.
Where did it all begin for Hersey and where are you based now?
Hersey originated in Wilton, Maine in 1981 and was started by a gentleman named Bart Hersey. He strictly made custom footwear up until 2007 when I took over the company. Now we are based in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
That makes you neighbors with New Balance, Converse and Timberland to name a few...
I think the skillset and the labor, although not in abundance, is still here [in New England]. We adhere to smaller production runs, in comparison to the larger brands, but labor can be hard to find.
For Victory, everything is still made right here in-house, in our shop. We cut the uppers, we sew them, and assemble right here, which I don’t think you see too often, especially in the sneaker industry. We have a niche market where we are able to do all that in house. It is certainly a labor-intensive shoe that we make; the product will pass through my hands at least 30 times before it gets boxed.
Every so often, when I get a new employee coming through, they don’t appreciate the quality until they actually see how a shoe is made, and the amount of pieces that go into the product. We hand-trim everything, which is why you’ll see subtle differences in each shoe.
What prompted you to get into the sneaker industry to begin with?
I was actually in the shoe repair business before I got into the sneaker business, so I had this hands-on approach to shoes in general, then when I came across Hersey Shoe Company, I took a trip up to Maine and I completely fell in love with it. So I ended up buying the company on the spot, investing my entire life savings in the process.
I always dreamed of taking it to a bigger market. I always thought they could be on a lot more people’s feet. Two years ago that’s what we did, and I won’t lie, its been a rollercoaster ride ever since.
Where do the silhouettes come from?
The design we use originated from Hersey. We’ve made running shoes for over 30 years, and most of our customers have been running injury-free for that long. We add a few details into our shoes that are so labor intensive that most mass-producing companies would never consider them.
We’re starting to come out with some new designs, new styles, but we’re always going to have our roots. This coming season will be the first time we change the style.
Some people don’t understand that we've kept the style the same, but when you put the shoe on, you find out how comfortable they are.
But the shoes look great even if you're not a runner.
When we hit the wholesale market, it kind of transitioned us from an original “running shoe” to more of a fashion-driven shoe. The higher end stores [Nepenthes and Kinfolk, among others] that we ended up in, also helped direct it to where it is now – a more casual sneaker for people to wear. We are hoping to hit the running market again, in Fall 2018 or Spring 2019, to bring back the one true running shoe.
We recently invested in new machinery that is capable of more traditional type stuff, as well as cupsole stuff so we can branch out to new styles with our own flare. There will always be new styles to add to the mix, but I feel our traditional shoe will always remain number one.
How did your collaboration with JJJound come about?
Ah man, Justin has been great, he’s a fantastic guy. He came to us about a year ago, and he fell in love with the shoe when he saw it. It brought him back to some old-school roots and we ended up having a great conversation. He had the respect for handmade labor; his dad was a woodworker so I guess that’s where that comes from.
This conversation evolved and we worked with him, he put his own little spin on a few things, adding his logo here and there and he did well with the product. He has worked with Kanye West and has his own imprint, so for someone that busy to have seen our product and seek us out, we feel so fortunate to have worked with him, and for him to appreciate what we do.
Why are replaceable soles important in this day and age?
All of our shoes can be resoled, we do that in house, so we don’t tend to see many come through the majority of our market in terms of where they sell. But we are starting to see more resoles here in the U.S. When we do it, we replace everything from the midsole to the outsole, and put them right back in their original forms.
I’ve resoled shoes that people have been wearing for 15-20 years going back to the Hersey days! The owner of Samuel Adams Brewery is a good customer of ours and he always says, "the only problem with your shoes is they last too long."
It’s a good problem to have!
Where can sneakerheads find Victory Sportswear?
We’re global. Our biggest online markets are Japan and the UK; Australia has also been a good market for us. We have four stores here in the U.S. and two in Canada.
What else do we need to know about Victory Sportswear?
We’re a passionate company, true to our roots and appreciate what we do. We have the labor of love, and put our heart and soul into what we do everyday. We put the best materials into our shoes and make a great product, and we hope that comfort continues and we keep people's feet happy – that’s the main thing. Comfort and usability is at the forefront of the product we produce.
Style-wise we hit the market at the right time, and it is a style that will live on and on. I’d say if you don’t like the looks of the product in your hands, put it on your feet and you’ll love it.
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