Skye Footwear

The Richmond entrepreneur, who aims to build a sustainable brand, hopes his shoes connect with BCers on a personal level

Leading a small, burgeoning company that sells luxury products is hardly economic high ground during a pandemic. But Gary Chang still considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Because manufacturing was considered an essential service throughout COVID-19, Chang’s shoe business, Skye Footwear, was still able to make product, even if it hasn’t exactly been business as usual.

“It’s been hard to plan ahead and meet up for photo shoots or really campaign,” he explains. Part of that is thanks to Skye’s model: the company takes its time in crafting new kicks, which are thoughtfully made with recyclable material. Chang and his team of four have since pursued Kickstarter to fund some of their makes and models. “But because of that, it definitely opened up new avenues in the digital world.”

Though the company is based in Richmond, both it and Chang have Vancouver in their blood—he was raised on the west side, and every Skye shoe is named after the city and its surrounding areas.

9 a.m.

Chang drinks a black coffee before heading to Skye’s Richmond office/warehouse, where he has a team meeting with staff to go over the tasks for the day as well as updates on how orders went the night before.

With his background in manufacturing and product development as well as being a self-proclaimed “huge sneakerhead,” it was probably inevitable that Chang would find himself in this line of work. “I’d often need to travel to a lot of business meetings, conventions and things like that,” he says. “And there wasn’t anything on the market that was both stylish and comfortable enough.”

Lunch

Chang admits that lunch is often “something simple, maybe a sandwich” while he uses his break to go through current events and “check out some other brands and technologies that we may be able to use.”

In fact, adapting new technologies and reducing his company’s carbon footprint is always top of mind for Chang. An example is the recently created Mobrly, a waterproof shoe developed by Skye that shattered its Kickstarter goal of $10,000 by raising more than $70,000. The company supports the removal of harmful algae from freshwater and marine ecosystems and incorporates it into carbon-neutral foam for the shoe. 

Skye Footwear
Credit: Skye Footwear via Twitter

The Rbutus and Skye’s four other shoes are named for B.C. locales

2 p.m.

Chang typically has a production team meeting to go through any inquiries, feedback from customers or tweaks and improvements. He also meets with his designer to talk about trend research and how they can improve their product.

Skye currently has five types of shoe on offer, all of them named for B.C. locales. There’s the sneaker-boot collection of heavy-duty, weatherproof kicks aptly called the Stnley and the Pembrtn; the lighter elemental set, dubbed the Rbutus and the Powll; and the loafer, named the Lons. All of the shoes are laceless, and machine-washable for convenience.

“We’re trying to push that envelope—being comfortable while at the same time being one step ahead and more futuristic,” Chang says. “A lot of the shoe brands these days, it’s either one or the other. Skye has that mix of personality and representation with being Vancouver-specific. That’s one market or area no one has really tapped into.”

4 p.m.

The rest of the day calls for some customer service and responding to emails. “It’s such a young brand that everyone is doing a lot of things at all times,” Chang says. “And customer service is part of our core values—we want people to feel comfort at every level. It also lets me learn who our customers are.”

Chang maintains that much of Skye’s business has come from word of mouth. And while a major portion of the company’s sales are from its own website, it’s taken to partnering with retailers like U.S. giant Zappos and has shoes in a few retailers across the Lower Mainland.

“A lot of the brands these days, many people don’t know if they’re actually Canadian,” Chang says. “Even with Lululemon, for example, a lot of people don’t know that’s a Canadian brand. So that’s one thing we are really proud of. We want to be known as a Canadian, sustainable brand.”