Meet Laiik, your new Greek sandal crush
Interview and words by Maria Repouskou
Founded by three siblings, Niko, Helene and Marika, and Helene’s husband Andrew., Laiik is ready to shake things up in the footwear market and reinstate the image we have for Greek sandals. Establishing the Greek sandal outside the narrow resort-wear framework, Laiik is determined to portray this iconic Greek piece in a refreshing way. As someone who refuses to wear anything but sandals during the summer months, I dream of sporting my Laiiks in the city, and not just keeping them boxed up till I embark on a trip to a Greek island and use them to punctuate my tan. Laiik is a forward-thinking brand in a sense that it not trapped in celebrating the past by forgetting the present. It manages to channel Greek chic but in a cool, contemporary manner.
With sleek and minimal aesthetics, Laiik sandals are not your average sandal in a quality of leather meets craftsmanship, comfort and clean-cut lines way. You won’t find bold Grecian elements here, except that Made in Greece line, nor a boho-chic statement piece you end up barely wearing. You’ll find a pair of shoes you need to elevate your look and that can be worn around the clock, everywhere.
How did you decide to enter the sandal-making business?
We’re not sure who had the idea first, but it had been brewing for some time. As any Greek or person visiting Greece can tell you, the Greek sandal is a national mainstay — fun, inexpensive, stylish and durable. They were synonymous with our summers and kind of perfectly embody the Greek lifestyle; beautiful, breezy and light and adaptable to any situation or occasion. You’d throw them on, or in your bag, and trot off to the islands. The best part is that by the end of summer, they would wear with you, and become this time-capsule, a memory of all your summer adventures.
Our friends back home in the States started noticing them and asking us to bring back pairs for them. They were the perfect gifts. It got to the point that we were taking orders, and we were becoming sandal curators and for our friends. There was something about them that you couldn’t find from other summer sandals sold in the US. The quality perhaps, but probably even more so the ethos and stylings. You just couldn’t compare the satisfaction that our friends would have from having the real thing. You could almost smell Greece in the leather. That’s how it started. We just got to thinking why should something so simple, beautiful and resilient be unavailable in the States. We just knew that Americans and others would fall in love with them, the way we had.
So we set out to do something about it. We wanted to define the Greek sandal for a new generation of Americans, reintroducing them to Greek craftsmanship, to the classic minimalism of Hellenic tradition, while also marrying it with the expressiveness and aesthetic of Modern Greece. In the US, we Greeks are known for our quality, particularly with regards to diet and food… but less known for our craftsmanship and elegance in footwear. You may not believe it but prior to the advent of Chinese manufacturing in the 1980s, Greece was a hub of quality, luxury leather footwear for the US market. We want to bring that back. And Laiik is our testament to that craftsmanship and tradition.
What’s the journey so far?
Incredible. Its only been 12 months since we began this journey and we are ready to launch with what we think is an amazing debut collection. It was a steep learning curve, working with the factories; we went through numerous rounds of prototyping and refining until we felt our collection was ready for production. Along the way, we learned so much. But I believe the most important lesson was: work with great people. We cannot express strongly enough how lucky we were to have a friend and agent here to guide us through the maze of vendors and suppliers, through sampling and everything else you can think of. And our factory… they feel like our family now. They’re a second generation, family-run factory, that was recognized by the European Stabilization Fund for its practices. We have been through something special with them, because we had to trust each through the countless design changes and product innovations. We share a lot of love and commitment to what we’re embarking on.
How about your brand name. How did you come up with Laiik?
Lol. That took a lottttt of time. Maybe the hardest thing for us was coming up with the name. And most people look a little confused by it at the beginning. But here’s the thing: Greece suffers from an ancient and glorious language that has exported so many words to English. We had several earlier candidate names, but every time we went to get it trademarked by the US patent office, we’d find that someone else had something too similar.
In the end we love Laiík because it captures us perfectly. As you may guess, it comes from “laiko” and “laos” in Greek which refers to the “people”, the “populi” as our Latin cousins would say. And it has an even deeper etymology. The word itself derives from the “las”, the mythical stones in the Great Flood myth that Pyrrha and Deucalion threw behind them as they walked; the Las sprouting into humans as they threw. This is where the word Hellas comes from… we’re the “stone people.” But more importantly, the word has a global, inclusive meaning for us. Two of us were born in Syria, for example, in an American diplomatic family of Greek ancestry. These Syrian families were so welcoming to us, and now they’ve come to us for help. What has happened there and the migration of so many people to Greek shores due to the civil war is a modern great flood. These people are proud, as we are, and so the word has a deeper, inclusive meaning for us; that of rebirth and resolve. To us that not only defines the Greek people, who have been fighting to bounce back from the economic crisis of 2008, but also the tough, awesome immigrants who came to its shores following so much conflict. It represents our ethos, to be ethical and eco-friendly, and most importantly to give back. We are committing our company to making social impact that helps both Greeks and our immigrant brothers and sisters get back on their feet. So that’s why Laiik.
Tell me about your collection?
We decided to start with a classic, well-curated collection that both symbolizes and modernizes the timeless Greek style. Geometric, clean lines, but also warm and personable. Our colors are amazing! We were lucky to have, among our founding group, our amazing friend and designer Jemima Janney. She was a senior footwear designer at Rag & Bone and Billy Reid… where she made some amazing sandals and other footwear. Working together, we explored the history of the Hellenic style and infused it with a modern, global elegance. Our aesthetic is really an intersection: of minimalism and geometry; a classically informed modernism that also blends functionality with design.
What’s also really cool, for us, is what’s under the collection. Our leathers are all sourced from an Italian consortium that specializes only in high-quality vegetable-dyed, chromium-free leathers from food source cowhides. We wanted to find Greek tanneries for our leathers, but the best ones closed down during the crisis, so we’re really lucky that our Italian cousins helped us out in a pinch. Another innovation was to reconsider the traditional sole construction. We wanted the beauty and silhouette of a modern luxury sandal, but with comfort and durability you simply won’t find in other brands. To do that we decided, very consciously, not to put a full leather outsole that is usually slippery and wears easily. We explored and sourced multiple materials until settling on a great high-density thermorubber that provides stability and durability while blending seamlessly with our luxury quality vachetta and cueio leathers. The result is a premium sandal that you can wear daily. A lot of other luxury sandals, they look great, but you wear them for an occasion and then throw them in the closet because your feet are blistered. That’s why we wanted to make a shoe that will stick with you for all your occasions and adventures.
I feel like there’s a story behind the names of each sandal. Can you tell me more?
Definitely. We named them after the strong, insane, and awesome women in our family that raised us. We were a diplomatic family, traveling all the time. So it became a team effort for our parents, and luckily for us, there were these incredible great aunts and grandparents that stepped into the breach every time duty called. Our grandmother Maria (the Ria), and our four great aunts Sophia, Verginia, Despina and Kitsa (respectively, the Sophia, Vergi, Desi, and Kiki). These women were amazing. And we wanted to honor them with our first collection.
What are your aspirations? Any thoughts on scaling?
To sell some sandals! Actually, we have big dreams. We want people to fall in love with our sandals, to feel deeply, as we do, about the ethos and values surrounding every aspect of the product and our company. We want people to fall in love with our sandals, and to feel that every purchase was worthwhile. If and as we achieve that, we want to grow the company into a sustainable enterprise that has meaningful social impact, be a standard-bearer for ethical manufacturing, transparency and fair labor, and continue to create unique footwear and accessories that is simultaneously Hellenic in provenance, but also global. We definitely want to be a global brand, but we don’t want to compromise along the way, so we’re going to stay focused on quality, value and growing organically.
Regarding scaling, our business plan is a hybrid, part digital/direct to consumer, particularly in the United States, Canada and Europe, and more traditional retail in other markets. We want to focus on the US in the beginning, but we have plans to expand into key markets as we get our footing.