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Behind Rothy’s signature flats and totes is a sophisticated—and profitable—direct-to-consumer manufacturing business

While other digitally native brands overspent and flamed out, Rothy’s has been profitable from the start.

Behind Rothy’s signature flats and totes is a sophisticated—and profitable—direct-to-consumer manufacturing business
[Photo: Akira Kawahata]
THE WORLD’S 50 MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
33 Rothy's
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If you’ve passed through an airport recently, there’s a strong chance you’ve spotted at least one woman sporting a pair of distinctive-looking ballet flats or handbags in a stretchy woven fabric. In 2016, San Francisco–based Rothy’s debuted its signature flats, which are made from recycled water bottles and manufactured using an efficient, 3D-knitting technique. By 2018, the brand had gone viral, selling a million pairs and generating $140 million in revenue. In 2019, it surpassed 1.4 million customers—a 105% increase from the year prior. And in March 2020, the brand had launched a new category–handbags–transforming it in a full fledged lifestyle brand.

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What’s more, Rothy’s has been profitable from the start. The company’s 250,000-square-foot production facility in China allows it to make products in direct response to customer demand: San Francisco–based designers can create a shoe, have it prototyped within a day, and bring it to market within two weeks. “Our intellectual property includes everything from manufacturing efficiencies to developing new machinery to materials,” says cofounder, chief creative officer, and CEO Roth Martin, citing the company’s 85 active or filed patents.

That level of control enabled it to diversify last year, producing loafers, sneakers, a Chelsea boot, and several styles made with merino wool (blended with recycled plastic fibers) for cooler weather. (Prices start at $55 for kids and $125 for adults.) Collaborations with Italian designer Marta Ferri and children’s illustrator Pete Oswald also allowed Rothy’s to introduce more whimsical limited-­edition designs and silhouettes. When the brand decided to launch handbags, it developed 3D knitting software in-house and manufactured the totes, clutches, and pouches within a wing of its factory. “We have this incredible muscle of innovation in our [production] facilities,” says Martin. “And now we’re flexing it.”

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies:

A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.

About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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