Juliette Bench finds success with a Cape Cod-inspired flip-flop
The story sounds like the plot of a romantic comedy starring Emma Stone.
A harried New York shoe designer works her way up the ladder at Kate Spade, designs for Tommy Hilfiger, and then tosses it all aside for a quiet life on Cape Cod. She moves into her parents’ summer house and starts her own business designing flip-flops. Romance enters the story when she meets the man who becomes her husband.
Replace Stone with West Roxbury native Juliette Bench, and the plot is currently playing out in real life. While Bench thrived in her frenetic life in New York, she daydreamed of a romantic existence on Cape Cod. She started planning her escape from the city by creating a flip-flop design around a symbol of summer: the white braided sailor’s bracelet, a staple found on wrists all over New England and beyond this time of year.
“I think the bracelet is something that a lot of people who grew up near the beach identify with,” Bench said. “For me, I just think of summer. It’s a happy time.”
Bench’s Cape Cod Shoe Supply Co. uses the sailor’s bracelet for the upper strap of the shoe. The result is a flip-flop that looks more substantial and more beach-appropriate than its rubber cousin. After two years of design and planning, she officially launched in May 2012. In just a year, her shoes have been picked up by several specialty shops, and are now being carried at a dozen Nordstrom stores. She’s opened an office in Boston, and yes, she’s also moved out of her parents’ summer house in Harwich Port.
Q. Why do you think your design is catching on when flip-flops are already omnipresent?
A. I think there’s a few reasons. Locally and in resort towns they’re doing well because people have that nostalgia about the braided sailor’s bracelet from when they were a kid. I also think because they are so comfortable.
Q. How did you get the idea to use a sailor’s bracelet for the top of the shoe?
A. It was one of those things that was a natural progression for me. The whole reason why I started this line was because I started coming to the Cape more frequently on the weekends when I was in New York. I really started to miss living up here and being around family. I kept these bracelets and would still wear them once in a while, so I thought “Why hasn’t anyone made a flip-flop out of this?” I researched a little bit online and saw that nobody had done it. It was one of those things that was an obvious choice.
Q. Does it feel odd designing flip-flops after working on dressier, high-end shoes?
A. I never thought I’d be designing flip-flops, but it’s a good starting point for my company. I respect avant-garde designers, but that’s not really me. I’m not into super complicated designs but I appreciate that and other designers. I felt like I should stick to what I’m really good at.
Q. But I’m guessing you’ll move beyond flip-flops in the near future.
A. I want to expand on the flip-flop and expand on the braid. Next summer we’re introducing more colors in women’s and then leather versions. It’s a little bit of hybrid. We’ll have the braid with leather, and some will be all over leather. Then we’ll also be coming out with bags and bracelets. For better or for worse, I think people are just really gravitating toward casual items. I hear this from other people in the shoe industry. You look around and people are wearing Sperry, Uggs, Toms, flip-flops, or Hunter. People are really loyal to them. I think there is something to be said if you come out with a product that’s very comfortable. You will develop a little bit of the following.