Serendipitous: That’s what Del Toro superfan-turned-CEO Andrew Roberts calls the opportunity to purchase his favorite shoe company.
The New York-based entrepreneur first fell in love with Del Toro, known for its velvet slippers and classic loafers for men and women, at the brand’s Miami flagship in 2017 when he discovered a pair of well-made chukkas. It soon became his most beloved shoe brand, and he amassed quite the collection. So in 2019 when he heard through a friend that the company, founded in 2005 by Matthew Chevallard, was being put up for sale, he joined a group of investors (former co-workers and friends) and purchased it.
It’s not every day that a customer takes the helm, but Roberts says it’s the customer-centric perspective that made him uniquely qualified for the job, as well as his roles at other direct-to-consumer companies in the apparel, baby product, and pharmaceuticals sector.
Photo Credit: Nomi Ellenson
“I had a lot of confidence that the brand deserved to exist in the marketplace, which motivated me,” he says. “And ultimately, I felt sad if the brand were to go away. Consumer brands preach that the customer is always first, and no one is closer to the customer than I am.”
In 2018 and 2019, Del Toro began moving into streetwear with sweatshirts and sweatpants, biker shorts, and other apparel, something Roberts didn’t agree with. His goal was to bring the focus back to Del Toro’s hero product: the velvet slipper. When he took charge, Roberts liquidated the apparel inventory and began the rebrand. However, his plans came to a halt when the pandemic hit in early 2020.
“It forced us to get creative and think hard about product extensions that made sense and were consistent with the Italian branding of the company,” he says.
Coincidentally, the pandemic sparked many new and successful ideas, including the House Slipper. As many weren’t going to weddings or events, Roberts used the brand’s credibility with the velvet tuxedo slipper and transformed it into a shoe for the home, with an ultrasoft and comfortable sole.
“The House Slipper was a product born out of the pandemic and has exceeded all expectations,” he says. “Here’s a product that we thought would get us through the year, but now it’s become a core product, especially as work from home, for many, is here to stay. In addition to our classic black leather, we have several new colors and a shearling version. Customers even want to wear the house slippers outside.”
The helm at Del Toro, which is known for its luxe velvet slippers and classic loafers
Photo Credit: Del Toro
Del Toro has velvet slippers, loafers, dress shoes, wedding shoes, sneakers, and house slippers for men and velvet slippers, loafers, sneakers, and house slippers for women, ranging from $225 to $595. It also offers customization options, from initials to logos. Weddings are also a huge market for Del Toro, and the brand has select accessories, such as silk ties, velvet bow ties, and pocket squares to match.
Del Toro’s shoes always were and continue to be made in Italy, specifically Naples and Milan, using Italian leather and materials (from the soles to the leather to the suede) and designed in collaboration with Italian artisans. Italian craftsmanship is the most important aspect of the shoes and every detail is perfected by Italian artisans and shoemakers who are continuing generations of traditions and techniques. It is also important to Roberts that each collection’s campaigns are photographed in Italy to drive home a sense of place for its customers.
The brand’s shoes are understated, but are identified through red stitching at the heel or the “X” on the Milano loafer.
“We’ve done a good job at incorporating brand details without having a logo in your face, which is not core to the Del Toro DNA,” Roberts says. “Our shoes have a subtle edginess, which I think our customers have come to expect.”
Roberts is continuing founder Chevallard’s tradition of partnering with emerging artists in collaborations that have a philanthropic angle. For example, the brand released a limited-edition chukka in collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist Alli Conrad and 25% of the profits will benefit the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. He is also experimenting with new materials, as seen in the Tennis Ball Felt Chukka made with Italian felt. (Proceeds for those go toward the Andy Roddick Foundation, which helps expand opportunities for young people in underserved communities.)
“We’ll continue to experiment with new materials,” Roberts says. “We have a lot of credibility, of course, with velvet, leather, and suede, but I love the idea of working with materials like corduroy.”
Del Toro’s Milano loafer is made with Italian leather.
Photo Credit: Del Toro