Huston Conti and Lexi Cross have grown an impressive fan base with their platform, Shoes of NYC. Now, the footwear experts have landed at Sole Commerce with a wealth of branding knowledge.
Tell us about your platform! How did it start?
Huston Conti: We started the @shoesof Instagram account about four years ago. Lexi had this idea to go out in the streets of New York and stopping people with cool shoes and asking them to tell their stories. We started to get a lot more interest from brands and wanted to figure how to do this full-time. We realized there was a need for content for these brands that couldn’t afford larger agencies. [The platform consists of] an Instagram account, our website, and a YouTube channel as well. SO/Media, our agency on the back end, consults with a variety of fashion-forward brands that create content across the different platforms.
What made you want to highlight shoes in particular?=
Lexi Cross: We are more interested in people. More than any other item of clothing, footwear is the one category that we believe people are extremely passionate about and really put a lot of thought into.
We found that this is a way of opening up people. Shoes are a window into a lot more about a person. People care so much about their shoes, so we started talking to people about them and found it to be true.
What kinds of shoes make you stop?
Cross: Anything that looks different catches our eye. Of course, anything that is colorful or has high heels, or has different types of hardware. We’re just looking for things that look out of the ordinary, but also for shoes that look like they have a story. For instance, a pair of Converse splattered with paint might indicate that the person is an artist and might have something interesting to say about his shoes.
What kinds of shoes do you personally love?
Cross: There are differences in what I wear and what I really love. I have to be practical with my shoes, because I’m running all over the place, so I tend to wear a lot of sneakers. I’m particularly a fan of Nike and everything they’ve been doing lately. But I love a dramatic, romantic heel. Attico is a brand that I’m just obsessed with.
Conti: I love a good low-profile, low-top sneaker that ages well. I’m never one to clean my shoes. So if they get dirty, they’re going to stay dirty. A sneaker that can age well only looks better over time.
How do you approach content creation?
Cross: We’re asking, “What story do you want to tell? What do you stand for? What’s your unique angle?” Then we sit down and create content buckets—a whole strategy—then we produce, do photo shoots, and do video. I do a lot of the photography. Huston can do video and video editing. We outsource when we need to, depending on the angle.
What’s something that brands should know when it comes to selling themselves?
Cross: When it comes to content creation, the thing that brands don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be a huge, overwhelming production. We don’t need to have a big budget to do content really well. Find an aesthetic that works for you that’s also within your means. The content-creation process can be intimidating. Bringing in somebody that’s more like a third party, like Huston and me, to help, who has a different perspective and sees a lot of what’s going on out there…that can be really valuable.
What mistakes do brands make when trying to communicate their stories?
Cross: I think sometimes brands will go for likes and engagement and whatever it takes to get that and stray from what they really love about what they’re making and what really rings true for their brand. You need to strike a balance of making content that people like that stays true to the message that you want to send.
Conti: Another mistake that brands can make is perceiving themselves differently than their customers perceive them. It’s important to reach new customers, but sometimes brands can create content for the customer base they want, instead of the customer base and the product they have.
What are you looking for at Sole Commerce and Footwear @ Coterie?
Cross: I look to see how brands merchandise their products during the show, because there is not a lot of space and they have to be resourceful. The way they merchandise their shoes adds a lot of interest and tells us their story. I’m also really excited to discover some new brands we haven’t seen before.
Conti: I’m always curious about new brands—founders’ stories, how they started, where they came from, and how they’ve evolved. The same thing we do with people and their personal stories—we also love to hear brand stories as well.