Not too long ago, Volley shoes were more likely to be seen on the feet of suburban dads than international superstars.
But these days, the once-daggy but much-loved Aussie shoe brand is suddenly cool again.
And it owes much of it’s new-found success to a woman known as the “Beyonce of Asia”.
Back in 2016, Chinese singer-songwriter and actress Faye Wong was spotted at a Hong Kong airport while in the middle of a very high-profile divorce.
At the time, she was snapped wearing a white T-shirt, jeans — and a pair of $85 Volley shoes.
Almost immediately, sales skyrocketed. Volley’s servers crashed. Suddenly, the quintessential brand was hot property.
The company started selling shoes in China at more than three times the Australian price, and to meet the intense demand, Volley plans to open a chain of at least 50 bricks-and-mortar stores across China by late 2020.
Brand manager John Szwede told news.com.au the picture had been a “big deal” for the company, and that the “insane” traffic it sparked was a catalyst for its comeback.
“We built an entire business in China from that one picture,” he said.
“It was worth millions of dollars for the brand.”
Later that year, Volley also launched a new campaign titled “Grassroots” with the slogan “Play On”.
According to the company, the campaign included “a strong digital strategy and the creation of striking and provocative marketing collateral” — in other words, it was an attention-grabbing advertising blitz featuring young, attractive, scantily-clad people which, in photographer Marisa Taschke’s words, was aimed at promoting “the celebration of sexual expression, freedom and rooting for change”.
Predictably, the Australian Christian Lobby wasn’t a fan, with Queensland director Wendy Francis tweeting her disgust at the brand’s “R-rated images”
The controversy ended up going global, and sales “pretty much doubled overnight,” Mr Szwede said.
“We have a lot to thank the Australian Christian Lobby for.”
Volley sandshoes ads are defended as fine for our kids. I’m ridiculed for concern. I’ll cop the ridicule & keep fighting for kid’s innocence pic.twitter.com/7EfPY0ZuLR
— Wendy Francis (@wendyjoyfrancis) January 17, 2017
The Grassroots campaign paid off, with profits doubling in just 12 months and Australian online sales increasing by 164 per cent, with wholesale channels also growing by over 20 per cent.
Mr Szwede said a lot had changed since 2016, when Volley was “legitimately dying”.
“It has been a huge turnaround — it was not in a good place, but the team has worked incredibly hard,” he said.
In addition to the boost from Faye Wong’s star power and the success of the Grassroots campaign, he said the brand’s longevity also came down to it’s accessibility.
“It’s not elitist or exclusive, it’s available for everyone and any demographic and income level,” he said.
Volley shoes can still be purchased at discount department stores across the country, and last December several designs began to be sold through premium sneaker retailer Playtpus.
Mr Szwede said another reason for the brand’s appeal was it’s long history and the fact it was so versatile.
“You can lay carpet or garden in Volleys and also walk down the street wearing them and feel cool,” he said.
“It’s also the ultimate festival shoe.”
These days, the brand’s major demographic is the 25-34 age group, with the average age of its customer halving over the past three years.
AN AUSSIE ICON
The brand was founded in 1939 by Australia tennis champ Adrian Quist, who wanted to create a lightweight shoe with a sports grip.
He succeeded, and the original shoe, Volley OC, was worn by legends including Rod Laver, Yvonne Gooloogong and Margaret Court.
In fact, it became a staple among the tennis crowd, with 90 per cent of players at Wimbledon in 1965 sporting Heritage International Volleys on court.
In 1976, Aussie player Mark Edmondson even won the Australian Open title while donning a pair, with the 2012 Australian Olympic team in London also opting for Volleys as its casual shoe of choice.
Over the years, the brand has also become a celebrity favourite, with the likes of Miranda Kerr, Hugh Jackman, Sam Worthington, Liam Hemsworth, AC/DC and Sarah Jessica Parker being spotted in the label.
Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | email@example.com