The following article and interview with SVI 2013 True Confession speaker, John Fluevog, first appeared on JunxionStrategy.com by company Principal and SVI Executive Producer Mike Rowlands.
Our shoes are satan proof. You’re wearing them now, right? Look around. Do you see him?
What do you get when you cross a couple of creative hipsters and a warehouse full of turn-of-the-century footwear? If it’s 1970 in Vancouver and the hipsters in question are Peter Fox and John Fluevog, you get the beginnings of what has grown to be an international footwear brand renowned for its creativity, longevity and a bold, cool attitude that continues to stand the test of time.
In the lead up to the 19th annual Social Venture Institute September 18-22 at Hollyhock, I had the pleasure to connect with the man behind the world’s most dizzyingly distinctive range of footwear—Vancouver fashion icon, John Fluevog. John will deliver a keynote ‘True Confessions’ talk at SVI, sharing with 150 social entrepreneurs the lessons he’s learned from his nearly 50 years of design, entrepreneurship and international business.
“A Long Story”
We’ve long hoped that John would be able to join us at SVI. In fact, SVI’s intrepid Executive Producer Joel Solomon has been coaxing John to attend for years. Some things take time to come together, and after a too-busy schedule, 2013 is finally the right year for John. As it turns out, there’s a lesson in this for all entrepreneurs. True influence takes time.
Although he’ll play a role as teacher and mentor at SVI, John’s also eager to learn. “I’d like to learn more about our current culture,” he explained, including how he can “connect to it, and influence it for the better.” In a setting that will be infused with progressive agendas, and ambitions for social change, John’s innate understanding that culture influences his work, and that his work can have a mutual influence on culture, is sure to spark some important insights.
Certainly, Fluevog has become a legendary cultural reference in Vancouver, along with the iconic products that he’s designed. This is not a ‘snap your fingers’ sort of influence; it takes perseverance and time to position a brand to influence culture. But taking this long view can be powerful. “I take care to ensure my vision and personality are infused into our products and our marketing,” he said. And clearly for Fluevog, it has worked: cultural icons like Robert Altman, Madonna and Perry Farrell are all ‘Voggers.’
“I focus less on the running of the business, and more on the products, the messages and the stories,” said John. Entrepreneurs should “always think about how what they’re doing is going to help them stand out in the marketplace.”
The personal connection individual entrepreneurs have to their businesses and their customers, and their commitment to leading their brands with their own style and panache is surely fundamental to their early success. And many of the world’s most admired brands maintain that close connection as they grow: think Virgin and Richard Branson, or the eponymous hippies behind Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Fluevog has followed a similar path: “Do whatever you do with good taste and style, and put something of yourself into it.” It’s hard to read Fluevog.com and miss John’s tongue-in-cheek style. Says one FAQ, ‘Are John Fluevog Angels really Satan resistant?’ Answer: ‘You’re wearing Angels right now, right? Look around. Do you see him?!’
John hopes to demonstrate this by example at SVI. “I’m putting myself up to tell my story more than I have before. One of my goals is to move culture forward, and I believe this form is one way to do it.”
Sustainability in the Rapid Cycle Fashion Business
In an industry renowned for its rapid cycle between in vogue and out of style, Fluevog’s very aware of the challenges he and other designers face to develop sustainable products. The reality of the industry necessitates lots of shipping, international sourcing of parts, and so on. Fluevog tries to use relatively sustainable components in the shoes, like non-chrome leathers, and soles and heels that can be replaced. But his best opportunity touches on one of the recurring themes in sustainability circles — effective design.
“The designs are moving more towards ‘Fluevog’ styles that have a longer fashion life.” Less “throwaway fashion” means more use. And with replaceable soles and heels, there are many ‘Voggers’ walking the streets of Vancouver in Angels they first wore over 20 years ago.
The attendees of this year’s SVI will be lucky to hear the stories and ideas of this celebrated designer. John hopes there’s a simple learning for everyone: “I hope that by telling my story, I can encourage others to be themselves… to share their human spirit. It’s worked for me. It will work for them.”
Mike Rowlands is an Executive Producer of Social Venture Institute, and a Principal at Junxion Strategy. He spends much of his time connecting with and supporting the strategic planning work of entrepreneurs like Ian Walker—and also appreciates the learning that comes from each and every exchange. See more at JunxionStrategy.com.