Back in 2003, two gentlemen with a passion for footwear shared a light bulb moment. Rather than produce another clone of the same old retail formula, they initiated the first and only sneaker store catering exclusively for the ladies – Kendo. Based on Melrose in Los Angeles, Kendo is still with us five years later and gives its female clientele the home and proddy they so richly deserve. We tracked down the one and only Vladimir Borges to find out a bit more about Kendo and grill him on the obvious – why did two men start a business selling sneakers to women?
Do you find it ironic that Kendo is actually owned and run by two males?
Even though we’re both males, we are really sensitive to our customer's taste, and our product reflects not just what we like, but what we see our female customers are drawn to as well. There’s also the aspect of female sneaker heads wanting the same kind of products that the guys are wearing, and so it’s somewhat important that we can bring that to the table as well.
How have you seen women’s footwear progress over the five years that Kendo has been in operation, because it seems that nowadays, women are speaking loudly to the companies and finally getting product that they would want to wear?
Not only are we seeing better colorways, but we’re seeing products that were once only made in men’s sizes now made in women’s sizes, too. Nike shoe boxes now even show both men’s and women’s sizes on the box. There’s this movement towards the shoes being sort of unisex in the sense that cool sneakers are now more and more available to both sexes in a broader range of sizes. These companies are now also creating product that is fresh and exciting for women specifically and not as an afterthought.
Do you feel somewhat responsible for the rise in the market for women’s footwear?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we are entirely responsible, but I know we have influenced the market to some degree. Still, we have a long way to go before the women’s footwear market is where it needs to be. I think these brands respect what we have to say in regard to the female market because we are thinking outside the box when it comes to footwear. In many ways, we act as a voice for females who love sneakers because we are the first all-women’s sneaker boutique and the most dominant at this point. We had a very clear vision of what we wanted to do.
How has the store shaped since it has opened and have you had any major obstacles that you have had to overcome?
The store has come a long way from the day our doors opened in 2003. We now carry over six major brands. Product wise, the shop is stocked with the latest and hottest kicks. In terms of overcoming obstacles, I would say that letting people know we were here has been the biggest thing. Time has helped with that though. Going on our 5th year now, more females are aware that Kendo is here for them.
What was the inspiration for the fitout of the store? The lush antique furnishings give the shop a sense of opulence and grace...
I think the location dictated the design aspect of the store. We wanted the store to say class and comfort, from an old-world, old-money type of feeling. We wanted the shop to have a classic masculine aesthetic with the product being the feminine touch. We felt that would be the right balance.
What has been your favourite or best selling shoe of 2008?
I get super excited when we introduce a new style and girls are into them. We always try and push the envelope. This year my favorites were two totally different styles – the Air Structure Triax 91 and the All Court by Nike.
Where do you see women’s footwear going in the next five years?
I think now the major brands are paying more attention to the women’s market because they see that there is a demand. Hopefully they keep pushing forward and the product will speak for itself. Five years from now the women’s market should be bigger and stronger than ever. I say that because it can only keep growing as more female specific products and collaborations come to fruition.
Do you think we will see more women collaborating with sneaker brands? What do you think the impact of adidas hooking up with Missy Elliott or Nike teaming up with Claw Money has had on the female streetwear scene?
Yes, I think they are just scratching the surface. Adidas and Missy has been a great campaign for them both. Missy has a huge following, which only brings more exposure to the market. The same for Claw and Nike. These types of collaborations can only further the female presence in the sneaker world. In this case, more is better.
You’ve just recently got your website up and running. What do you hope to achieve by having the online store as well as the physical store?
Well, it was sort of a drawn-out process getting the website up because we were really focused on building the in-store business and relationships with our customers here. But as our business grew and we got more and more phone calls and emails from girls in New York, Texas, London, Japan etc, we realized it was really time to expand our business to the internet and reach our customers worldwide.
How do you compete with the sheer amount of sneaker stores opening up in the US alone?
The web presence is huge for us this year so we will keep pushing that. We also have a project due out late 2008 and three others scheduled for 2009. I hope these projects are supported and well received. As far as competing with new shops opening, that’s just part of the game. We don’t really worry about that too much. We will continue to stay true to what we set out to do from the jump.