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Tiffany Montgomery
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Sanuk’s Sidewalk Surfer wins award

By Tiffany Montgomery
February 08, 2008 6:18 AM

Jeff Kelley is very happy this week after learning Sanuk's Sidewalk Surfer was named Footwear Product of the Year 2007 by Footwear Plus magazine. The award is based on votes from footwear retailers.


Footwear Plus covers every major brand from Nike to Prada.


"It's a pretty big deal for us," said Jeff, the founder of Sanuk and design leader. "We're relatively unknown in the larger footwear world. To be recognized in that arena takes us to another level of brand recognition. People might start taking our phone calls who don't now."


Jeff came up with the idea for the Sidewalk Surfer about two years ago after running stairs twice in one day - once barefoot after surfing and once while working out in running shoes. He realized he had a much better range of motion, used his foot muscles and moved more efficiently while barefoot, and that the running shoes were too restrictive. He thought sandals captured some of that flexibility as well.


A week later while at the factory that makes Sanuk's sandals, he had workers add a shoe upper to a Sanuk sandal bottom. He wore that new shoe while walking for hours around Hong Kong and knew it was a home run.


"I couldn't believe how comfortable is was," he said. " My back felt better."


The Sidewalk Surfer has been a home run and has driven sales at Sanuk ever since hitting the market in 2006. Before, Sanuk was mostly a seasonal company because the sun needs to be shining for people to buy sandals. Creating a closed-toe shoe allows Sanuk to play year round.


At the suggestion of his team in Europe, Jeff expanded the Sidewalk Surfer line for fall with better-gripping soles, fleece lining and other weather features that will work in colder climates.


Climbers have also embraced the Sidewalk Surfers, so Sanuk has now crossed over into the outdoor market.


Sanuk outdoorsSidewalk Surfers are constructed by hand - an expensive process that makes it hard to knock off at cheap price points.


Speaking of knock offs, Jeff is hot under the collar about other companies copying his creation. The technical design is patented, but the look is not. He worries that consumers who don't know the difference will buy an inferior product.


The real Sidewalk Surfers continue to get great media exposure. Brad Pitt has been photographed several times in the shoes and Johnny Rotten was wearing a pair in Details Magazine in December.


Here's a story Footwear Plus wrote about Jeff and Sanuk before the award was announced.


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