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July 27, 2015
From the Editor

To add jobs, you have to build companies — often from the ground up

Peter DelGreco of Maine & Co. gave me a call early this year about a pair of fashion designers who were intent on starting a shoe brand in Maine.

In March, the brand SOAK, led by Michelle Vale and Elena Corsano, raised $26,500 on Kickstarter. Some 400 people participated in the crowd-funding effort. Also in March, SOAK was featured in the Portland Press Herald.

Michelle and Elena came into the Mainebiz office recently to talk about SOAK, the shoe brand they launched in the past year. SOAK is a women's slide-style shoe made by injection molding. It's recyclable, they say, and "vegan friendly and water-happy."

"SOAK is for fashionable women who are sophisticated, but also playful," says Vale.

Vale is namesake for Michelle Vale, a line of handbags. Corsano was fashion editor at Town & Country magazine; co-founded a branding-and-marketing agency, Arsenic 9; and co-founded BFF-Best Fashion Friend, an app that gives you access to other fashion-minded friends.

In an early morning meeting, they talked about the authenticity of Mainers and the sense of place you get from the Pine Tree State. They launched the brand at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club.

"We wanted something that was made in America. That it's made in Maine was a bonus," says Corsano.

"We want to reinvigorate the shoe industry in Maine," Vale adds.

They spoke highly of Gary Gagnon, owner of G&G Products in Kennebunk, where the shoes are being manufactured. The first production run was 2,000 pairs, which will retail for around $70 a pair.

After their visit with Mainebiz, they were on their way to see an early version of the SOAK shoe.

"We want to get it right. We have little tweaks we're making. We want to make it perfect. It's made of recyclable materials," says Vale.

On Aug. 3, they plan to show the shoes to wholesalers. They say they've gotten interest from some department stores. A former CEO of Havianas, a Brazilian footwear brand, has provided guidance.

Vale and Corsano are based in New York City, for now, but vow that the SOAK headquarters will be in Maine. Their expectation is that manufacturing jobs will be created. How many remains to be seen. They project sales of $5 million to $10 million within five years.

Not long after my meeting with the SOAK crew, I ran into DelGreco at the Yarmouth Clam Festival. He was still singing their praises and believes they will hold true to the goal of adding manufacturing jobs in Maine.

"SOAK is a great story for a number of reasons," he writes in a follow-up email. "They can impact the Maine economy in a positive way that will also help them grow here in Maine.

The partners, he says, are following a "well-traveled path." They have a design team and a concept. They have identified their market. They were wise, he adds, to find a manufacturing partner that has the most cost-effective methods of production.

"Their sales strategy is intertwined with the idea of Made in Maine," DelGreco says. "As their company grows, they will need to grow their Maine presence in order to grow the company. Whether they increase the depth of their partnership with their Kennebunk manufacturer or someday build their own production line, the synergy their product has with the Maine brand should lead to increased activity within the Maine economy."

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