Tupelo man, friend put foot forward with sandal company

By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Just over a year ago, near his home in Fairhope, Alabama, Rob Hudson noticed friend and artist Jim Tripp’s unique sandals.
As it turns out, the sandals he wore were a piece of his art in their own right.
Tripp showed Hudson how he painstakingly made his sandals by hand and created a pair for him. Hudson said whenever he wore the shoes, people would stop him to ask, “Where’d you find those cool sandals.”
Hudson contacted his friend, Tupelo resident Sean Johnson who immediately loved the simple, earthy design. Johnson soon had a pair, and the more he and Hudson wore them, the more they were convinced the design had market appeal.
The two began developing a plan to make and market the design for a larger audience. Just over a year later, with Tripp’s blessing, Johnson and Hudson launched IAM Sandals.
Hudson said, “When something is right and you put your effort into it, everything seems to fall into place.”
The sandals Johnson and Hudson now produce are not an exact replica of the original design Tripp made but a more user-friendly version they have tested over the past year.
The two men created a number of prototypes and then tested different versions while traveling in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. They found a 6 millimeter rubber made by Vibram, covered in calfskin to be the most durable when dry and in the water.
They came up with a business model to manufacture and market the line of handmade, minimalist sandals online. Johnson handles most of the marketing and sales while Hudson is in charge of production, crafting each pair in a spare room of his home.
The soles are made of non-marking, durable rubber and suede and the upper straps from three feet of hand tied parachute cord. Hudson wanted to make tying the sandals easier for customers so he searched out the right equipment and settled on a small silver button that he attached to act as a fastener.
The small silver button is an interesting piece. According to Hudson, it is a reproduction of a medieval coin and was chosen both for its practicality and its interesting look.
IAM Sandals are currently only available in khaki, but they hope to offer different colors of cord and buttons in the near future. Despite their simple design, the pair contend the sandals are both durable and practical for everyday wear.
“They’ve lasted longer than my Birkenstocks,” Johnson said of the sandals he has been wearing for more than a year.
The made-to-order sandals retail for $69 and are sold online at www.iam-sandals.com. The design is the same for both men and women.
Since their website went live in late January, they have sold more than 40 pairs. Johnson said, “The cool thing is that people are buying more than one pair.”
Hudson was initially worried that the knots used to fasten the sandal might be intimidating to customers. So, they created an online video demonstrating how to tie them and are asking patrons to come up with and post their own ideas. The video is posted on YouTube and on the company’s website.
Hudson said when they reach steady sales of about 25 pairs a week, they will have to consider a different manufacturing plan. The ambitious co-founders hope to eventually branch out into the retail market.
Johnson said he would like to make the company “a genuine viable, business” but wants to keep production as close to home as possible.

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