Small Business Spotlight: Brooklyn-Born Sneaker Brand Offers Best Value In Luxury

June 24, 2019 - 2:58 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Greats is the first sneaker company to be born in Brooklyn. 

Ryan Babenzien returned to New York City after spending most of his adult life in Santa Monica, California to launch the luxury sneaker brand in Brooklyn.

"I thought this is a great time to come here, be the first sneaker brand from Brooklyn and in 20 years that's going to mean something. When people think of Nike, they think of Portland, Oregon and when you think of Greats you're going to think of Brooklyn," Babenzien aid.

He founded the company in 2014 as workplace trends shifted towards casual, creating the need for a luxury sneaker brand.

"The sneaker market has really evolved even since the five years that Greats has been in the market," Babenzien tells Joe Connolly in this week's Small Business Spotlight, sponsored by BNB Bank -- "Community Banking from Montauk to Manhattan." "You have the casualization of the workplace. People are no longer wearing suits and ties as frequently as they used to, they no longer wear leather soled shoes. They wear a clean luxury sneaker."

Babenzien describes Greats as a lifestyle brand that makes shoes for off the court, which is where even professional basketball players spend most of their time. Legacy brands such a Balenciaga, Gucci and Lanvin power the luxury sneaker market, selling premium quality sneakers made in Italy for prices that can go north of $1,000.

Greats' popular Royale sneaker is also handcrafted in Italy, but is priced at $179.

"The price $179 in the category of luxury sneakers is the most accesibly priced sneaker in that category in the world," Babenzien said. "We have billionaires that are customers of Greats and these guys can afford anything they want in the world, but they like a good value and I think value proposition translates on the economic spectrum and we try to offer the best value in luxury."

While Greats has a brick and mortar store downtown, it is a digitally native brand.

"I think being digital native is not a trend or a competitive advantage at this point anymore, I think it's a necessity," Babenzien said. "I just don't believe you can start a business in footwear or apparel as a wholesale first business you can go into wholesale second after but you have to be digital minded."

They supplement their digital brand with key partners such as Nordstrom, who came knocking early.

Babenzien said when the luxury department store first approached them, they said no.

"We just weren't ready," Babenzie said. "We said look you know we are flattered, but we're not ready. Learn how to say no is something I give as a piece of advice. Like sometimes opportunity comes your way and the timing may be misaligned so you just have to not do it if it's too distracting. Ultimately we got there and now they're our biggest and really only wholesale partner."