Everyday presents a new challenge for brands during the current health crisis. Despite obstacles, made-in-USA-favorite George Esquivel is betting big on the in-person experience he’s offering at his brand new atelier in Los Angeles.
Here, the founder of Esquivel Shoes opens up on why he decided to open a new workshop amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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Why did you decide to go forward with the launch of your L.A.-based atelier during the health crisis?
George Esquivel: “You’ve just got to deal with it and you got to move forward and you got to find ways to survive. It was hard in the beginning to make the move, but then we got into a rhythm. Just get it done. That’s been my philosophy during this whole thing. This was already in the works. You’re not going to stop halfway, right?”
You’ve been based in Orange County, Calif., for 20 years — how will this location be different?
GE: “It’s different in the sense that it is a [loft-like space that includes a workshop, concept showroom, offices and open kitchen]. Most of our business that we do in person is made to order, so people will come in and get fitted. Right now, it’s our soft opening. In the fall, we will be officially open. We’re keeping part of Orange County as our warehouse. So raw goods will stay there. And in L.A., we’re only bringing what we need. It feels like home.”
Have you experienced any challenges so far due to the health crisis?
GE: “There are some logistical issues we’re trying to overcome, and we’ll get there. We need to be very cautious. It’s not about the almighty dollar. Right now, it’s about getting things done right and making sure everybody feels safe and comfortable. We’re getting hurt on the wholesale side. Some stores took the product, but the sales are slow. We don’t know when fall will ship. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I also wanted to have my own place. Because if you have something like the coronavirus that shuts down wholesale, I can try to keep that balance and control it.
What’s your goal for this atelier, and how are you enticing customers to shop in-person?
GE: “I’ve been wanting a place like this for eight years. I wanted a showroom and a place where my craftsmen and craft are on display. That’s been my dream. This [atelier] is what my brand is. It’s an experience. Our goal isn’t to sell $20 million worth of shoes out of the space; it’s for people to come in and experience it. The sales will take care of themselves. Plus, it’s 6,500 square feet — I think that’s very reassuring to keep shoppers coming in. And it’s not [a traditional] store. We give customers two to three hours, and all our workers are a minimum of six feet apart.”
While experience is important for brands, how is e-commerce coming into play during this time?
GE: “We are very small and we’re trying to figure out how can we get this experience online. When you’re in my showroom and you get to look out and see somebody make your shoe lace, that is my branding. I want to share it with everybody. But the online component is mandatory. We are figuring out [what works] because it is very important for us. That’s the future.”