Managers of a new student startup are anxiously preparing for their big kickoff.
Campus Kings, an independent footwear company founded by Timothy Kau ’09 and Christopher Chau ’10, plans to launch a Web site that will allow students to order signature Yale sneakers. The footwear will initially feature two models, the “Bulldog” and the “Eli,” which will be available for delivery to any student. Though the managers of the company said they have been working since July to prepare for the product launch later this month, marketing the sneakers remains their primary obstacle, managers said.
“Everyone on the team has put in long hours in and out of the office to bring our dream to life,” Chief Marketing Officer Henry Finkelstein ’09 said.
Kau said the idea for the first Yale sneaker emerged in July 2008, when he visited Chau in Shanghai. Kau was in search of a pair of shoes and met a man named Tiger Zie who customized sneakers by adding Chinese calligraphy and his personal artwork.
The “Eli” is designed similar to Converse’s low top Chuck Taylor shoe, while the “Bulldog” sneaker has a more urban style and is based on the model of Nike’s Air Force 1. Though prices have not been finalized, Finkelstein said the sneakers will cost between $40 and $70, depending on the style.
Finkelstein mentioned that Kau and Chau were visionaries in creating the shoe, which required the approval of the University licensing office in order to replicate the Yale name and logo in accordance with legal regulations. He said no other university in the nation has an officially licensed shoe.
“Yale sneakers are uniquely designed, collegiate footwear,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Cammock ’09 said. “The shoes offer an additional way for individuals affiliated with Yale to express their pride.”
The initial funding for the pilot project was raised from private donations from family and friends, and an angel investor in China has promised contributions if the shoes sell well during initial months. Cammock declined to comment on the exact costs needed to initiate Campus Kings, explaining that the costs depend on a number of variable factors.
Campus Kings rents office space from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which provides access to necessary tools and personnel at its headquarters on York Street. With these resources, Finkelstein asserted, Campus Kings is afforded some financial security.
“If anything, the economic downturn will help Campus Kings,” Finkelstein said. “Because we are a small company, we will be able to maneuver around difficulties that larger potential competitors will not be able to avoid.”
Location, however, remains a major issue when it comes to marketing their product, Director of Media Relations Tess Dearing ’09 said. Because many alumni and faculty members do not live on campus, advertising can be difficult.
To resolve this issue, Finkelstein said the company will seek to utilize University events, such as class reunions, graduations and Bulldog Days, to connect with past, present and prospective Yalies.
With a team spearheaded by seniors, some Campus Kings employees said they have found it difficult to manage the logistics of inventory and delivery while balancing an intensive academic course load, writing senior theses and attending various meetings.
“We have a dedicated team with a stick-to-it attitude,” Cammock said. “But when you are working with several other people, coordinating takes time and effort.”
The founders said they plan to continue their venture into the summer, with the possibility of hiring the four seniors currently involved as full-time employees.
Currently, the Campus Kings Web site is finishing beta testing. Sneakers will be available for order when the company launches its pilot program March 30.