Andrew Roberts has made his love of chukka sneakers his life’s work.
The owner and CEO of Del Toro shoes was first exposed to the brand while living in Miami in 2016, working for a baby products company. Although he was drawn to the brand’s signature velor slippers, he thought to himself, “I’m not cool enough for velor slippers.”
He opted for chukkas instead and soon received a slew of compliments on his shoes from friends and colleagues. “It’s become my favorite shoe brand,” he said.
Del Toro was founded in 2005 by Matthew Chevallard as an alternative to classic loafers and slippers. It was sold to a group of investors in 2018 and had everyone from Carmelo Anthony, Joel and John Madden and LeBron James manager Maverick Carter as part of its ownership team. They reinvented the brand with a streetwear bent, adding garments such as hoodies and sweatpants, as they sought to create the next lifestyle brand.
But their grandiose plans fail and the brand is put up for sale. Roberts, who said he “lost a bit of interest” in Del Toro under its former owners because they “strayed from its focus on Italian-made shoes with a Miami aesthetic and edge. “, lined up a few friends and bought the company. in 2020.
His plan was to “take him back to his roots.” I really felt like Del Toro had a reason to exist.
Then the pandemic hit and he began to question the wisdom of buying a brand whose flagship product is a velvet tuxedo slipper when all the weddings and events came to a screeching halt. He persevered, moving headquarters to his hometown of New York and closing Del Toro stores in Miami and Manhattan.
He also worked to liquidate clothing in the bankruptcy sale of Lord & Taylor and put a renewed emphasis on quality shoes made in Milan and Naples. Once that was accomplished, Roberts took the opportunity to take the brand off the market and prepare for a relaunch. “No one was buying velvet tuxedo slippers, so that took a lot of the pressure off,” he said. “We closed the site and rebuilt it in a way that we are proud of. We communicated the change of ownership and reverted to the old logo. So the pandemic was actually a blessing in disguise. »
He is relaunching Del Toro in 2021 focusing on five masculine silhouettes including the black velvet slipper. Other styles include a Milano loafer, a suede Napoli slipper, a house slipper, and a suede chukka sneaker. Prices range from $195 for the Napoli slipper to $425 for the black velvet slipper. There are also some female models.
The brand has a handful of specialty store accounts, but is primarily sold online through the Del Toro e-commerce site. “We saw a lot of multiple shoe orders,” he said, “because people were afraid we were closing again.”
Going forward, Roberts said he hopes to expand the colors offered in existing styles and also expand the women’s assortment. A women’s mule will be offered for this summer and he has turned to formal accessories including bow ties, pocket squares, dress socks, suspenders and belts.
“We will continue to expand our silhouettes, but with more caution,” he said. “We much prefer to do a few styles.”
Roberts began partnering with other ‘like-minded businesses’ such as the Andy Roddick Foundation, with whom he worked on a special tennis shoe, with part of the proceeds going to the nonprofit lucrative. He has also worked with Los Angeles artist Alli Conrad on a collaboration to benefit the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation as well as Litquidity, a financial meme company, some of whose proceeds go to Razom to provide aid to Ukraine. . And this summer, a collection of dog accessories will be launched in partnership with rescue organization Love of All Dogs.
“At the end of the day, we’re selling shoes, so it’s important to elevate other brands that share our ethos,” he said.
Although he admits that at 31, with a team of just five people working on the brand, he still has a lot to learn about running a business, he is optimistic Del Toro can eventually leave his mark.
“I never thought I would run a shoe brand,” he said. “I’m a first-time CEO and I started as a customer, so I look at everything through a customer-centric lens. But I also have the drive to make sure it succeeds.