• Greats Co-Founder Ryan Babenzien, photograph courtesy of Greats
  • The interior of the Greats Field House shop in Brooklyn, photograph courtesy of Greats

Greats is out to change the footwear business, one sneaker at a time. Built on a premise of a better sneaker for less, the Brooklyn-based men’s label — co-founded by Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi — has already caught the editorial eyes of Forbes, GQ, Esquire and Fast Company, among numerous others. This spring, it’s also taking the leap into the women’s market, with a collaboration with the no-less-editorially-beloved Alex, Matthew and Samantha Orley of Orley. Here, we talk to Babenzien about the entrepreneurial climb… and its challenges.

The backstory to Greats….
We were inspired to start this company after spending years in the sneaker business and realizing it was completely broken. The old way of brands working with retailers had become very inefficient and those inefficiencies are ultimately paid for by the customer. Innovating the supply chain allows us to produce high-quality footwear and sell it at a disruptive price. So we can build a beautiful sneaker in Italy, using premium Italian leather and suedes, lined in vachetta calf and sell it for $159, almost a quarter of the price of our closest competitor. That has gotten the consumer’s attention.

The inspiration behind the name…
Greats is derived from the idea that we will start with the Great(est) silhouettes in footwear and design our DNA into them. Every major sneaker company has an iteration of each other. It’s the brand that makes them different and Greats has quickly become the footwear brand for millennials.

And the backstory to our women’s collaboration with Orley
We met Orley about two years ago and immediately felt they were going to do something amazing in fashion. We reached out to them and quickly got to a place where collaborating made all the sense in the world. They’ve been nominated for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award, the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers and, most recently, the CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear so we’re thrilled to be working with them. Once they decided to start doing a woman’s collection, it was a no-brainer to offer smaller sizes for the collaboration.

Most exciting part about owning your own business…
We are changing the footwear business and pleasing customers by doing it. That’s exciting to me. Customer satisfaction is at the top of the list because if you don’t have happy customers, you don’t have business. We have a brand affinity that rivals the best brands in the world. Our NPS score is a 77, which is higher than Nike (24), Amazon (69) and Apple (70). As a young brand to have a best-in-class brand affinity, it’s personally very exciting.

And the most challenging…
Challenges, there are just too many to list. Every day there is a series of challenges and there really is no finish line in what we do. Building Greats is both the most challenging and satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life and I wouldn’t have it any other way right now. Challenges are what allow you to grow.

And how to overcome the above…
As a team we attack our challenges. They are there to get through, not be defeated by. Our team is small — nine people — who are all incredibly smart and passionate about a Great company.

When starting a company, you must…
Build a plan and then realize that plan will change the second you begin to execute on it. Things move very fast at a startup and it may be cliché at this point, but we try to break things fast and fix and move forward. Learn how to say no, that’s absolutely something you must do. That doesn’t mean to be inflexible, but you must make sure you are directionally moving the same way without going in circles, which happens when saying YES to every single opportunity presented to you. Even good opportunities can be wrongly timed for a start-up. Focus on what you’re really good on first and foremost.

And never be afraid to…
Fail — because there will be failures. Learn from them and move on.

Best business advice received…
Hire the best possible talent you can. I was told that by basically everyone who’s built a great company.

My favorite pair of Greats sneakers..
That’s like picking a favorite child! Personally I wear the Bab and the Royale with the most frequency, but I really do love them all!

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