If you've ever bought white-on-white American Eagle sneakers, lace-up Michael Kors booties, or Lilly Pulitzer tasseled espadrilles, you've likely worn kicks designed and manufactured by the Chelsea Shoe Co.
But that's not what this West Norriton footwear brand really wants to be known for.
The three-man shoe crew is hoping you will soon come to recognize them as the entrepreneurial force behind Cobble & Hyde, a swank collection of shiny penny loafers, burnished double monks, and sturdy bankers-toe shoes fashioned from smooth calfskin leather and velvety suede.
"We saw a void in the market that we just knew we were qualified to fill," said Barton Nydish, 69, one of the co-owners and founders of the Chelsea Shoe Co. Nydish's son, Sandy, 46, joined with his father in the early 2000s, and third owner Bob Khan, 53, came on about three years ago.
Yet, even though Nydish has decades of experience in the women's shoe industry, Cobble & Hyde sales in the 15 months since its launch have been far from ideal. As a wholesaler, Nydish never had to worry about marketing his shoes, as the company's roster included clients like Gap and J.Crew and Lilly Pulitzer, brands that have made fortunes marketing to cool people.
Enter Sabir Peele, a 31-year-old blogger, brand ambassador, creative consultant, and well-dressed man about town. In August, he began working with Cobble & Hyde to secure a certain kind of well-curated notoriety — a well-shared Instagram post can sell almost as many shoes as a glossy ad in Esquire.
Among his efforts: Peele connected Cobble & Hyde with Damari Savile owners Malcolm Jenkins and Jay Amin. Local tastemakers wore the shoes (each named after a station on the London Underground) to Damari Savile's soft opening during the recent NFL draft.
"I saw potential as soon as I held the shoe in my hand," Peele said. "I knew it was a brand that I wanted to be associated with. These guys aren't a flash in the pan. Once their flame catches, they won't be able to keep the shoes in stock."
These days, it's not uncommon for brands to start out with a strong marketing flourish. But after hundreds of thousands of clicks, new brands actually have a hard time delivering the goods they so cleverly sold us.
If Cobble & Hyde gains traction, these businessmen will be able to deliver.
Nydish grew up in West Philadelphia, the son of a butcher, and attended Philadelphia University — then Philadelphia Textile School. He graduated with a degree in business and worked for a year in the home-building industry before realizing it wasn't for him.
In the early 1970s, Nydish took a job working for a local wholesale shoemaker, and he traveled to facilities in Taiwan, Brazil, and China to learn the ropes of manufacturing. In the 1980s, Nydish, along with two other partners, started a shoe company called Bellini. During the 1980s, Nydish said, there wasn't a department store that didn't carry a pump, slip-on, or sneaker by Bellini.
Nydish and his partners sold Bellini to a group of Englishmen and in the early '90s started the Titan Group, which began working with companies like the Gap. (Remember that wooden clog Gap sold back in the day for $49? That was Titan Group, which sold more than 500,000 units of that particular shoe. )
For the next 25 years, Nydish's company designed and worked with designers on shoes sold by Kenneth Cole, J. Crew, and Madewell. Titan Group became the exclusive shoemakers for Lilly Pulitzer. With factories in India, Brazil, and China, Titan Group makes more than 3 million pairs of shoes a year.
But even with that success, Nydish knew there was more that could be done. Always a stitch ahead of the retail curve, Nydish noticed about three years ago that malls were losing their cachet as internet shopping became more popular.
Around the same time, Nydish met Khan, a businessman from southern India with connections to shoe factories, an interest in bespoke style, and a passion for menswear shoes. A new business, the Chelsea Shoe Co., was born.
Nydish already has prototypes of CH by Cobble & Hyde, a lower-priced collection of men's shoes. And he hasn't ruled out producing women's shoes.
"When we launched, we wanted to be very cautious," Nydish said. "But we figured if we knew shoes, the rest would just happen."