Proto Collective: Disrupting the Sneaker Market with Sustainable and Empowering US-Made Products

Dear Shaded Viewers,

I had the opportunity to speak with Katie Longmyer, the CEO of Proto Collective about her new project launched by a collective including WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey, Melody Ehsani and designers Jeff Henderson and Jeff Staple. .

The Proto Collective aims to disrupt the sneaker market with US-made sustainable products that empower people of color in the US, and CEO Katie Longmyer believes they will be having a different conversation by the end of 2025-2026. It’s a big task as Nike dominates the category, with Adidas coming in second place in terms of revenue. Brands such as New Balance, Solomon, and Hoka are winning market share with outdoorsy styles or a focus on quality. Meanwhile, brands such as Allbirds and Veja have been successful in producing sustainable sneakers, with Allbirds recently launching the first net-zero sneaker and Veja ethically producing sneakers in South America.

However, Proto Collective believes it has something new to offer with its locally made products. The brand has a better hold on its factories and working conditions, and the turnaround for new products can be three months, which is significantly faster than the six to 12 months that big players can take to produce new products abroad. The Proto Collective will launch its e-commerce store this week, and to start the rollout, the brand made digital assets that combine real-life and animation. The assets will be shared across YouTube and Instagram and also from the leadership team’s personal social networks, with CEO Katie Longmyer alone having over 300,000 Instagram followers.

For now, the plan is to remain direct-to-consumer, with the possibility of partnering with non-traditional retailers in the future. The company also plans to implement authentication into the footwear on the blockchain using RFIDs in later drops. The brand is looking at rapid profitability and scale, and Longmyer has projected that the brand will grow quickly. Proto Collective plans to work with innovative companies to scale together, and starting small and experimenting is part of its business model.

Longmyer acknowledges that there are still some question marks on sourcing, but the company’s motto is “practice is perfect,” and there’s still room for improvement. While most of the suppliers are US-based, some components of the shoe have had to come from abroad. Longmyer says that this is because the suppliers had no local infrastructure. For instance, the Blumaka insole, which is made from waste materials, comes from factories in China. However, Proto Collective plans to manufacture this component in a new El Salvador factory, which will source waste products.

Overall, Longmyer believes that if Proto Collective does things right and talks to people the right way, there’s market share for the brand, and it will be successful.

The much-anticipated launch of The Proto Collective is happening this week, featuring their inaugural sneaker called The Iris. This shoe is adorned with a repeating letter P pattern and comes in three distinctive color ways. Although priced at a premium point of $320, Katie Longmyer, CEO of The Proto Collective, believes that the cost will be justified through education on the brand’s commitment to quality and sustainability. The Iris will be the first of four upcoming models, each with a unique silhouette tailored for different activities, including performance and basketball shoes, scheduled for release over the next few months.

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Diane Pernet

A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN FASHION and a pioneer of blogging, Diane is a respected journalist, critic, curator and talent-hunter based in Paris. During her prolific career, she designed her own successful brand in New York, costume designer, photographer, and filmmaker.