by Phoebe Bain
Taylor Swift, Jill Biden, Lizzo and many more celebrities have worn the brand since it rolled out about two years ago.
When scrolling through Instagram photos of celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Naomi Biden sporting Larroudé heels, one might assume the brand is an established name catering to the gliterrati. The truth is, it's a relative newcomer whose founders, armed with years of retail and finance knowledge, call the shots from a showroom tucked above a bodega in Manhattan.
"The idea came about when we had both lost our jobs in the beginning of the pandemic," Marina Larroudé said, noting the couple began researching the shoe market from home post-layoffs. She leveraged two decades of experience as fashion director at Barneys and multiple Condé Nast publications, while Ricardo's called on his career in the finance and banking sector.
What they found through that research was, as Ricardo put it, a major gap in the footwear market. "Ninety percent of shoes are sold below $115," he said. But 50% of the shoe industry's profits happen within that top 10%, which is dominated by the Louis Vuittons and Chanels of the world, according to Ricardo. Those shoes are often sold for closer to $800 a pair.
Enter the Larroudé business plan: Selling shoes closer to $200 or $300 made in the founders' home country of Brazil, where Larroudé opened its first factory in April 2023.
"It's expensive, but it's not hugely expensive," Marina said. "I didn't think that there was anything like that in the market-high quality that is serving a woman's wardrobe."
By August 2020, the brand had its first samples. And by December of the same year, it had rolled out DTC, with two online shops—Shopbop and Revolve—picking up the brand as well.
Much of the funding for the brand came out of the couple's retirement savings. But Ricardo noted that the brand also had a small friends and family round that was "less than $1 million."
Swift wearing the shoes for some of her Eras Tour visuals in April was obviously a huge moment for the brand—but she wasn't the first celebrity to don a pair of Larroudé heels. Biden, for instance, wore a custom pair during her White House wedding, and Jill Biden also wore Larroudé to meet the Queen of England. They have also been worn by Lizzo, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Coolidge, Salma Hayek and many other celebs.
Perhaps Larroudé's most unique marketing strategy is its collaborations. In a short time, the company has rolled out co-branded collections with brands such as Oscar de la Renta, Loveshackfancy and Jennifer Fisher. What's more, it claims to have seen 100% sell-through rates on many of these collaborations, and has experienced significant social media growth after the collabs.
"I wanted to have the closest that we can get to an Apple experience when you open the product," Ricardo said, specifying that they wanted people to feel as though they got more than what they paid for in every box.
Sky Canaves, senior analyst, retail and ecommerce at Insider Intelligence, pointed out that Larroudé is a very early-stage company. "It's still a niche, trendy brand and has yet to reach mainstream scale," she said.
It's tough to pin down what the DTC footwear sector is worth alone, but Canaves said designer footwear (shoes priced over $300, where much of Larroudé's inventory falls) is worth $31 billion globally this year, with the U.S. share accounting for 40% (or around $12.4 billion).
"This designer shoe segment has seen a lot of growth over the past year or so as demand for dressy wear and office wear has been rising," Canaves said.
Larroudé's relative success, Canaves said, can be attributed to a few key parts of its origin story. "It has a very experienced and well-connected founder who knows the ins and outs of the industry, consumer tastes, and what it takes to be successful, and it's generated a critical mass of social media buzz," she said.
Secondly, the brand is self-funded, meaning "it hasn't faced external pressure to grow quickly and rely on digital marketing to get there," Canaves added. "It's also recently opened its first factory in Brazil, and moving towards becoming more vertically integrated will improve its control over costs and product quality."
Canaves also pointed to a few other cult footwear labels that focus on "dressier shoes at a similar price point," such as Staud, By Far and Stine Goya, but added that she doesn't have insights into their valuations or sales.
The brand's pre-fall "Wonderland" collection dropped this week. Next up, priorities include international expansion and tapping into wider varieties of footwear, such as unisex sneakers.