Handmade in Naples and Milan, Del Toro shoes invoke the skills of artisans and their time-tested techniques. The cult luxury brand, which has changed hands several times since it was founded in 2005, is now under the care of CEO Andrew Roberts. Though outspoken in his reverence for the shoemakers in Italy and the undeniable value they contribute to the footwear, Roberts envisions a future for the brand where they’re more than just the makers of a beloved velvet tuxedo shoe (which happens to be the hero product of the company). In fact, Del Toro was founded as a classic slipper brand with an infusion of youth—and Roberts is bringing that back in unexpected and, arguably, exhilarating ways.
Roberts’ role is a fortuitous one—and he was a fan of the luxury brand long before he became a part of it. “I never thought I’d be the CEO of a shoe company,” he tells us. “I never had that goal. I spent my career working at consumer companies, including Everlane in 2014-15 when direct-to-consumer was becoming a big thing. That was my first experience in the fashion world.” When Roberts accepted a role at a baby products company in Miami, Del Toro’s Wynwood flagship was only a few blocks away from his office. One day, he stepped in and bought a pair of shoes. As they slowly took on a greater role in his footwear repertoire, Roberts fell in love with the brand.
Four years later, after a move to New York, Roberts learned that a co-worker was thinking of buying Del Toro and looking for someone to run it. “I told him about my history with the brand and we ended up partnering together,” Roberts explains. Their first move was to undo changes implemented by the last owner, an investment group, that had veered from Del Toro’s earlier identity.
“A lot of customers had moved away from it,” Roberts says. “The brand that I had loved was this classic Italian shoe, that was really well-made, but with a point of view and a Miami edge to it. It was not a grandfather’s shoe. It was youthful.” Roberts and his partners wanted to bring that reputation back into focus.
They acquired Del Toro in 2020. “The pandemic allowed us to take our time,” he continues. “The website was shut down when we bought the company. Everyone was at home so no one needed velvet tuxedo slippers. There was no rush. We got to do things right and think hard about product development, branding and what we wanted to stand for.”
Roberts and his partners were aware that Del Toro had two types of clients. “You have the wedding customer,” he says. “A lot of people know us as the company with the velvet slipper that has a red stripe. We do weddings and we do them well.” But there are also the customers who are aware of their other premium leather footwear, like loafers and house slippers. Roberts wants to build up the latter, and even bridge these clients together.
“I feel really strongly that this brand deserves to exist,” he says. “I’m happy that we got it to a place where customers love it again. I’m trying to get the word out and continue to do unexpected things. There are a lot of shoe companies out there so I feel a lot of pressure to make sure Del Toro is saying something different.”
Following this mission to be something different has led Del Toro into strange—and strangely successfully—places. This includes their recent partnership with the Internet personality Litquidity, who shares memes regarding the world of finance. Their joint product, the Litquidity Suede Milano, has a classic look but there’s a joke in there if you can catch it. “It’s a bit of a wink,” Roberts says, “but that wink wouldn’t hold up if the quality wasn’t there.”
“We asked ourselves, ‘What if we made a pair of shoes using the color palette of a $100 bill?’ We didn’t expect them to be beautiful, so we were shocked when the final product came back and they were something people could actually wear,” Roberts says. “You can wear them to a gala or wedding and people won’t assume they’re a meme shoe, or that they’re poking fun at the absurdity of the financial markets.”
“If we partner with a pants company or a sock company, that’s going to be expected,” Roberts continues. “The stranger the collaboration the better, in some ways. We did a tennis ball shoe collection with The Andy Roddick Foundation. It’s very near and dear to my heart. It’s also ridiculous.” There are even more unexpected partnerships coming up, often infused with humor like this.
Not everyone believes they can pull off loafers and slippers. Further, Del Toro is pushing the boundaries of the style—a move that might isolate them from potential consumers. “Wearing Del Toros requires some level of confidence,” Roberts says. “They’re not for everyone. This will never be a mass market brand and it’s OK. There’s something special about discovering a smaller brand, and recognizing that you’re not wearing the same brand as everyone else. The people that love it and get it, they appreciate it so much more.”
Hero image courtesy of Del Toro