But, it wasn’t always that way… Del Toro was once a struggling start up scrambling to turn their ideas into reality. The company’s salvation began with a restructuring that took the business from a group of friends with an idea to a monarchy with a vision.
This is Matthew Chevallard’s story in his own words.
I have always been really adamant about doing my own thing. I had two friends that were throwing around this idea for a shoe company and I wanted to be involved. I really loved shoes and the idea of having my own company. The original concept was to do customized velvet slippers and generate business through colligate licensing. No one was doing velvet slippers at that time. It was considered a very elitist shoe with a snooty following. In the beginning I was only a 15% owner and I was going to an-out-of state college. My focus at the time was on finishing school not the business. My partners thought they had a plan to get started but it wasn’t thoroughly looked into at all.
Our initial $100,000 investment was spent on an initial run of shoes and an embroidering machine that was supposed to create an affordable, customizable, velvet slipper. In reality the machine could not embroider a shoe that had already been made. That was problem number 1.
One of the founding partners was very well off and it was a mistake he could afford to make. He loaned the business $100,000 and took another stab at it. He put $75,000 into machinery and moved all the manufacturing to Palm Beach. Unfortunately he quickly realized there was no skilled labor to operate the elaborate machinery. That was roadblock number 2.
My partners were not very passionate about the concept. They didn’t really care about fashion… for them this was a dissipating product. Eventually I transferred to the University of Miami and I was motivated to get involved. At first they tried telling me I was a silent partner but eventually their interest fizzled and they wanted to close it. That’s when we restructured our partnership and I took control.
Since an early age I have always been selling one thing or another. I was always a salesperson so to speak… Always hustling. Business was always in my blood but a shoe company was not necessarily what I planned on doing. My dad had just purchased a 4-bedroom house on Sunset Island in Miami Beach and he couldn’t afford to have it renovated. I hired a small team and we moved everything there and started referring to it as “Casa Del Toro.” We knew that if we could get the manufacturing right we would have a product that would speak for itself.
Early on we had a lot of issues finding the right factory. We went from China to Spain from Spain to China and then eventually back to Spain. It wasn’t until after Spain that we really found our calling…. what really solidified us and put us on our true path to what we were meant to be. It was an “ah ha” moment when everything just clicked. “Why didn’t we ever just make everything in Italy?”
I am Italian… I was born there. My father is from there. It makes complete sense. We eventually found an Italian manufacturer with a long tradition of quality. It made the whole argument and the whole concept cohesive.
We had the advantage of building ourselves around a style of shoe that was under saturated in the market. If someone wanted to start a shoe company and go right into sneakers… well, good luck. Every sneaker has been done to the point that there’s almost no room for it… no one is going to give you the time of day. We were able to use the velvet slipper to get attention but at the same time we were never pigeonholed by it. We unilaterally expanded into different silhouettes and lifestyle offerings as soon as we had the public’s attention. I am very grateful that to this day that the perception is not that we only make slippers.
The void that I saw on top of the velvet slipper was that there wasn’t much character identity in the shoe world in general… It was kind of bland and vanilla. Your Pradas and Guccis would have the same silhouettes and style across every single season across every single store across the world. The just wasn’t much uniqueness to it.
I always loved shoes and I was always drawn to the culture around shoes, hip-hop and basketball. I noticed that the DNA of collecting sneakers was wrapped around the exclusivity and uniqueness of limited editions. People wanted a nice shoe but they didn’t want to give up that DNA.
I wanted to marry that sneaker culture with the traditions of having an Italian father with a classic style of wearing Tod’s and using tailors. Unfortunately my father passed away recently from cancer. He was still young… 59. It was an abrupt ending for me. My relationship with him and his passing has always been an incentive. He was hard working and a very self-read, self-educated guy. He had this edge and open-mindedness to commerce and business that was always in play. He was always building and preserving relationships. Report is a huge part of how Italians do business… that is probably what I learned most from him.
This all happened because of relationships. I’ve never worked in the shoe industry… I’ve never worked in fashion… My family has never been in fashion. We started by working a lot with bloggers and just giving the shoes out to anybody and everybody. We didn’t do it because we were geniuses or we could predict the future… we did it because it was the only thing that was free at the time. Eventually some of these bloggers became editors or journalists or buyers and it opened up into all kinds of opportunities. Retaining all those relationships opened up a lot of doors.
We are now positioned in this sweet spot of entry-level luxury: selling at a $325 average and made in Italy. It is still expensive but it’s all relative. Our shoes are comparable to anything on a SAKs or Barneys floor and those shoes can be priced in the thousands. Next to a $650 sneaker we offer an amazing value.
The Del Toros you will find at Barneys are not the same shoes you would find at SAKs. A pair of Giuseppe Zanottis will be the same everywhere you go. For all intents and purposes a Gucci shoe lacks a lot of originality and substance. More than anything Del Toro adds Substance and Value to the high-end market. We want people to feel good about the purchase and get complimented on the uniqueness. We don’t ever want anyone to think, “They got me” or have any kind of buyer’s remorse.
Initially we were focused on footwear and accessories but now we are getting involved with a lot of different collaborations. We are doing a shirt line with United Rivers, sunglasses with Lapo Elkann, watches with Bamford, and many more coming soon.
At the end of the day Del Toro is modern renderings of very classic silhouettes. I want people see the value in Del Toro and become dedicated to the brand.