OB/VS is a direct-to-consumer footwear brand that specializes in creating the world’s most versatile shoes. We sat down with the founder, Kelly Dachtler, to understand more about climate-adaptable footwear, including what exactly it is, what it does, and how the idea came about.
The Manual: With today’s footwear landscape littered with Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for “new and exciting” footwear that have been created by novice designers new to the industry, we have to ask, what’s your background in the footwear and design world?
Kelly Dachtler: You will never hear me knocking the hustle or other designers and entrepreneurs, but I will say this about footwear: It’s a tough design and development process. The foot itself is so complex and there are a million ways to go wrong. Our team has a collective 45 years of experience with the biggest and most innovative companies in the world — Nike, Adidas, Puma, plus smaller, more technical companies like Salomon and Merrell. We’ve spent our careers doing this and have seen it all.
But at the same time, we’re throwing out the rulebook, which says you need to make a more disposable product with cheaper materials and make and charge a higher and higher price so you can pay rappers and athletes to hype them. It’s fucked up. The consumer loses every time. We’re changing all that. Which is why we source top grain leather, merino wool, and Vibram rubber to make something that is better performing and longer lasting.
TM: Tell us more about OB/VS ADPT shoe and its climate adaptability.
KD: So we have multiple models developed, the first of which is the Explora One, which is the first-ever Merino wool-based trail shoe and has just been restocked after selling out its first run. Next will be the ADPT, which is a complete ground-up rethinking of what shoes can do for the person wearing them. It’s a three-in-one sneaker that converts into the ideal shoe for whatever environment you may find yourself in, save maybe the top of Everest or the depths of the ocean floor. It’s a fully breathable, water-repelling, summer shoe that can be worn sockless, replacing sandals, sneakers, running shoes, etc. It’s also a rugged, waterproof, wool-lined trail boot to keep you warm and dry in the winter. And it’s the perfect after sport, recovery slipper to chill and decompress in. All-in-one pair of shoes. There has never been anything like it.
TM: Where did the idea for ADPT come from? Did you see the other town-to-trail footwear on the market and think, “I can do better than this?” or did the ADPT shoe come from somewhere else?
KD: I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot in my life and have been on some pretty hectic itineraries. One trip a couple years back took me from my home in Portland to Iceland, where we scaled glaciers in the dead of winter, to Berlin, where I found myself in the city, pounding pavement, then to Southern California, where it was blazing hot and all life centered around the water, before coming back to Portland, where it was pouring rain. I think I packed up, like, four or five pairs of shoes for that trip. If not for the shoes, I could have done the whole thing with a carry-on bag. It was a total epiphany moment and I started thinking how could one pair of shoes get me through this entire trip? That was the inspiration for the ADPT.
“It’s a three-in-one sneaker that converts into the ideal shoe for whatever environment you may find yourself in … All-in-one pair of shoes. There has never been anything like it.”
TM: What are the features of the shoe that make it so functional and versatile? Specifically the three-in-one system.
KD: Yeah, allow me to geek out for a minute. The innovation starts in the midsole which, from the outside, has the profile of a sleek athletic trainer, but inside has an intricate network of drainage channels which carry water away from the foot. In summertime wet/dry situations, this feature allows water to move freely through the mesh upper and drain dry without taking on any water at all. In cold weather, when you’ve converted the shoe to its waterproof insulated state, the channels are sealed to keep rain, mud, and snow out. And in between states, the insulated liner, which uses a waterproof breathable membrane and merino wool to keep the wearer warm and dry, is a fully functioning shoe in its own right and can be worn alone or with the system.
[This three-in-one system has] never been done before. Making all of this work, and making each piece look great on their own or combined, has been a labor of love and acute problem-solving for more than two and a half years.
TM: What sets ADPT apart from other shoes that advertise themselves as all-terrain, backwoods-to-bar type shoes?
KD: Well, it’s the only shoe its kind. Versatility is something that most people want from the products they buy, and lots of brands have tried to get after that. But the ADPT is the only one ever built that doesn’t force the wearer to compromise in some of those environments. It’s the first shoe to truly optimize for each environment someone might find themselves in, and for a product designer to really take the concept of versatility to the next level, they must embrace the notion of transformation. One form cannot do all of these things unless it can become more than just one form.
TM: What would you call the ADPT? A sneaker? Or something more?
KD: It’s the world’s first climate-adaptable sneaker system.
TM: You’re bringing the ADPT to consumers via crowdfunding. Why did you choose to go that route? What are the pros and cons of crowdfunding?
KD: The funding part is great, of course, but we have a fully funded business already with products in the market. For us, it really comes down to the people who make up the crowdfunding community. More than their dollars, these are the people who have proven to be the earliest adopters and, I think, the most forward-thinking consumers on the planet. They’re curious enough to care about real innovation and willing to take the time to understand what innovator are trying to do, beyond what can be summed up in a 30-second sound byte.
“More than their dollars, [crowdfunders] are the people who have proven to be the earliest adopters and, I think, the most forward-thinking consumers on the planet.”
TM: When can we expect to see ADPT on store shelves? Or are you sticking to a direct-to-consumer model?
KD: Our core business today is direct-to-consumer, but certainly innovative, forward-thinking retailers exist and are embracing our current shoes. I think the ADPT will do well in a brick-and-mortar environment too, so long as the retailer provides good service and can help explain to the unfamiliar what the ADPT can do for them. It’s easy to communicate that, “So-and-so’s shoe is quite bouncy,” or, “This one is 2 ounces lighter than last years model.” The ADPT is another beast, which has not previously been seen by the world.
TM: Finally, what can we look forward to from OB/VS? What’s next on the horizon assuming all goes well with ADPTs launch?
KD: We’re gonna continue to make well-designed and long-lasting shoes that do a better job of helping people explore this wonderful planet than what had existed before — like the Explora One, our current flagship model. No one else in footwear is using the kinds of materials we use, which means no one else is giving the consumer the level of comfort, stability, and performance that we are. And when you’re out in world, in places where the ground beneath your feet is unpredictable, that matters.
TM: Thanks, Kelly! We wish you all the best.
KD: Thank you.
Transparency note: Ian Bell, co-founder and CEO of The Manual, is an investor of OB/VS and sits on the advisory board.