Many people have shied away from launching a new business during this tumultuous past year—but James Rowley wasn’t one of them. In June 2020, he and his Australiabased co-founder, Paul Robins, launched Woolloomooloo Shoe, a line of sustainable athleisure footwear.
“Most people say, ‘Great timing, hey’?”, says the Old Greenwich resident, who was born and raised in Australia. “Actually, it has become our competitive advantage. While established shoe companies are dealing with inventory issues, furloughed sales teams and increased expense structures created by pivoting their business models to deal with Covid, we have been able to quietly build a unique product offering and get our marketing channels, website, and logistics plans in place without carrying any burdens from the past.”
Rowley is no stranger to the shoe business, though. He’s been in the industry since 2000, and in that time has revived the 70s-era brand Kork-Ease, which he eventually sold to Greenwich-based shoe company H.H. Brown, worked for Geox and served as CEO of the French-based shoe company Mephisto. But he calls himself an “entrepreneur at heart” and says, “Now was the right time for me to do my own thing again—and I’m having a ball!”
And the brand’s launch date isn’t the only thing that sets it apart. It’s also how they create their shoes. “Merino wool is one of the premier wools in the world,” says Rowley, explaining that it’s great not only because it’s extremely durable for its weight, but the wool is also much more absorbent than synthetic materials. “It’s a very, very good product to have against your skin because it absorbs the moisture and wicks away the moisture from your skin,” he says. “And that combined with its durability just makes it a perfect product for footwear.” And while he says most wool-based footwear lines are using boiled wool, Woolloomooloo Shoes uses a different method: They spin the wool into a superfine thread, then run it through a 3D knitting machine that knits the upper part of the shoe.
Sustainability is at the core of the brand, which currently features unisex sneakers and slip-ons in a variety of colors. “Wool is a sustainable product,” says Rowley, who sources the wool from local wool farmers in Australia.
What’s next for the company? Eventually they hope to extend beyond shoes, but at the moment are focused on footwear, with plans in the works for brighter and bolder colors—a trend Rowley says is on the horizon, as we begin to emerge from our pandemic quarantine—as well as collaborations.