Park City shoe company Zhenzee slips into comfort, one foot at a time
Shannon Baker and Sharon Backurz were in China when they saw something they’d never seen before. It was a slipper-like shoe with a knit top, hard sole and funky design.
Baker and Backurz both have marketing and branding experience in the footwear industry, and they immediately shared one thought: How do we bring this to people back home?
"It was just one of those things that makes you smile," Baker said. "We said, ‘We’ve got to figure out how to bring this to the States.’ So after about two years of development, we were able to finally create a product that we were happy with and felt confident in bringing it to market."
The result of all the hard work is Zhenzee, the company Baker and Backurz built to make their vision of what their shoes could be come to life. Zhenzee recently launched its first six shoe designs for women, and Baker and Backurz said the response has been encouraging.
"We keep saying ‘No counting chickens,’ but proof of concept has been great," Backurz said, adding that the shoes can be bought online or at the Redstone boutique JOLI. "Whenever we show the shoe to someone or wear it around, people say, "I love that shoe!’ with a big smile on their face."
Added Baker: "Whether they look at it and love or look at it and think it’s really weird, they smile. Whether they’re laughing like, ‘Who would bring this crazy thing to market?’ or they can’t wait to get their foot in it, it makes people happy. That’s a fun thing."
Before starting Zhenzee, Baker and Backurz had already worked together for years. They knew each other’s strengths, and mixed and matched them in pursuit of creating the best shoe they could. Backurz, who has a background in graphic design, came up with the patterns. Baker, who has worked with several footwear brands, designed the actual shoe, which features a cushioned platform sole.
"We have a really nice combination of skills," Backurz said. "It actually works kind of perfectly."
The shoes, which feature colorful, eye-catching patterns, have the comfort of a slipper but are not designed to be worn only in the house. Backurz admits, "There is nothing better than putting your feet into these shoes after a day of skiing," but they can also be worn as normal, everyday shoes.
"It operates kind of as a slipper and a shoe," Baker said. "You can wear it with jeans, you can wear it with sweats to the gym and after the gym to yoga or to walk the dog. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the broad appeal through a lot of different channels. We think anyone can wear these, from the 9- or 10-year-old girls to, I think one of our customers is in her 70s."
And even those who at first don’t think any of the styles are quite for them quickly come around.
"People will sometimes think the shoe is for younger people, but then they’ll see one of us in an outfit and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I could rock that,’" Backurz said.
But there are more to the shoes than style. Baker and Backurz recently showed them off at a running event in Texas, where specialty running stores expressed interest in the shoes as an after-run recovery shoe.
"It has been fun taking the concept (of the knit shoe) and adding little pieces of athletic shoes into a lifestyle shoe," Baker said.
Backurz said people typically gravitate to one or two of the designs. But soon, people will have more to choose from. Zhenzee plans to unveil more styles and designs sometime next summer, along with an expansion into men’s shoes.
For Baker and Backurz, that means one thing: They get to make more people happy.
"When you watch people step in this shoe, there’s this, like, aha moment because it’s so comfortable," Baker said. "That is so fun for us."
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