It’s hard to stand out in an oversaturated industry nowadays, especially when it comes to fashion. The search for the newest trend is never-ending, and often results in little more than rehashing trends that came before. Insert New Republic, the casual, contemporary brand changing the game by priding itself on providing consumers comfort without sacrificing style or breaking the bank.
New Republic is a Los Angeles-based startup that represents and appeals to the modern Millennial. Launched in partnership with Five Four Group, CEO Josh Kaplan is building a brand founded on progressive principles. Their emphasis on quality style at an accessible price is what consumers can’t get enough of. Be it their classic everyday sneakers or head-turning suede boots, each product is made with the utmost care and excellence.
As one of the youngest CEOs working in the fashion realm, Kaplan launched the footwear brand with one goal: disrupting the casual shoe market by creating his own version of sneaker culture with innovative materials and classic silhouettes. The New York native currently splits his time between Los Angeles and New York, using his prominent digital background to get his brand off the ground.
The brand has been supported and worn by celebrities and athletes such as Mark Wahlberg and Baker Mayfield. Flaunt caught up with Kaplan via Zoom, who was posted in his office in Los Angeles. Read below as we discuss his love for fashion, his first clothing line in high school, what inspired the brand, the reality of starting a business, his favorite styles, goals, and more!
For those who don’t know, who is Josh Kaplan?
I’m the CEO of New Republic, and I also have a clothing brand called Melrose Place. I was a corporate venture capitalist for most of my career before committing to entrepreneurship. I invested in early-stage technology companies and consumer brands, then took the opportunity to move over to the operating side with a company called Buck Mason. It was an incredible experience helping the founders build that company from humble beginnings in a shack in Venice Beach to one of the leading menswear businesses in the U.S. today. I left two years ago when I was approached by Dee and Andres, co-founders of the Five Four Group, to launch a footwear concept they were experimenting with, called New Republic.
I actually used to work at a Young & Reckless, they were next door.
Get out of here! You used to work at Young & Reckless?! That’s so funny. It seems like everyone in LA knows these guys. They’re my business partners. They incubated the New Republic brand in the Menlo Club subscription box, then we launched it publicly about two years ago. It’s been an incredible experience.
Do you remember when you first fell in love with fashion?
Honestly, my whole life. I started my first clothing line when I was in high school. I was screen printing skate shop logos onto t-shirts and walking into skate shops, then selling them tees with their own logos on them. [laughs] It was awesome. It was a crash course in unit economics, and an understanding of how fashion works. After that, I focused my education and career on business and technology. Now what I’ve done is really fuse those experiences together. Everything that we do on the data and technology side is very sophiscated, and that allows us to make really great products.
When did you first come up with the concept for New Republic?
This was an idea that the Five Four Group was experimenting with, exclusive for their subscription box as a collaboration with menswear designer, Mark McNairy. I’d known of Dee and Andres as leaders in the LA fashion scene, so it was easy to see the path towards success. We came together and mutually decided I was the right person to take this idea and turn it into a standalone brand, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.
How’d you come up with the name?
It was a former store in New York City known a long time ago as one of the leading iconic fashion destinations. When the trademark expired, Five Four Group bought it up and we decided to roll with it. It’s very nostalgic.
What was the reality of starting a business?
With any startup, there’s a lot of challenges. We’re very fortunate where we were able to stand on the shoulders of the Menlo Club. We had tens of thousands of guys already wearing New Republic products before we even launched. We were able to truly understand customer feedback, understand what they liked about it, and what they didn’t. We launched with core silhouettes that showed some early demand and got our foot in the door. Since then, we’ve doubled down on creating unique products with which we’re absolutely obsessed. Our new Sonoma Suede Chelsea Boot is our best-seller by far. It’s truly an incredible product; from quality to value, there’s nothing like it on the market. Our Kurt Sneaker silhouette is also incredibly popular, and we continue to improve upon the comfort and fit. It’s an effortless sneaker that can be dressed up and down so it is truly versatile. You would be surprised how difficult it is to get these products up to the quality standard we keep.
How does that make you feel?
It’s challenging in a good way, right? We want to keep pushing ourselves. We want to be bigger, we want to grow. At the end of the day, comfort is the big throughline for us, especially now where work-from-home is becoming so much more prevalent in people’s lives. Our thesis has also evolved with athleisure and the preference towards more comfortable clothing. Our shoes are incredibly comfortable. Every single one of them. We don’t believe that you need to sacrifice style for comfort.
How has COVID affected your business, whether positively or negatively?
We’re very small and we move very fast. When things started to shut down, we were one of the earliest companies to start manufacturing cotton face masks here in downtown Los Angeles. We became the best-seller on Amazon in April of last year. It helped us subsidize the ambiguity around our footwear business. We created a facemask true to our brand; stylish, effortless, comfortable, and affordable. In addition, we have definitely seen an increase in e-commerce demand from customers that were traditionally buying shoes in brick and mortar. We’re trying to ride that wave. We have also been really investing in the comfort elements of our shoes. We have an incredible price point, so that’s helped a lot. People are finding our product to be the best value in the marketplace. The Sonoma Chelsea Boot, for example, you could buy a comparable boot for $400+. Ours is $128.
What are your favorite styles?
I wear our suede Kurt sneaker pretty much every day. Some new colors just came out, and it really goes with anything. I love the tonal trend happening right now. Casual sneakers are a hot item in fashion today, but it’s something I’ve been passionate about for a very long time.
Talk about being independent and having a progressive state of mind, the core value of the brand.
As an entrepreneur, I traveled a lot (pre-COVID, of course). I’ve been traveling to Asia, Europe, and all over the U.S. I always think about at its core, I wanted to solve the problem for what I put in my suitcase and how I get there. For someone that’s always on the road, I’m not afforded the opportunity to bring 6 pairs of shoes, 10 pairs of pants, and multiple jackets with me. Everything we do, we consider to be essential. For me, I define ‘essential’ as stylish and comfortable. With our footwear, every pair is incredibly versatile. You could wear the Kurt sneaker in the airport, you could get off a plane and go straight to dinner. You can wear our boots to business meetings and to a date. Versatility is a word that keeps coming up with how our customers wear our shoes.
Although we consider ourselves a start-up, we’re competing with storied incumbents like Cole Haan and Kenneth Cole. We’re competing with some of the largest footwear manufacturers in the world. The way we differentiate from other footwear startups is that we really care about our product first and solving problems for our customers. We believe if we can do that, we’ll continue to build better relationships with loyal customers. We’re not spending a ton of money on marketing, putting up billboards, signing endorsement deals, like the old way of life. We’re focused on creating an incredible product and retaining incredible customers.
What is it you want people to get from your story?
For me, I took an atypical path towards fashion. I’ve always been told that you either have a left brain or a right brain. I like to think that I’ve been disproving that theory my entire life. I’m the CEO of this business, I have an MBA, I run our P&L and build spreadsheets. I also paint, write music, and help design almost all of our products. I have a team now that designs with me, like our incredible design director, Pierce Lopatic, but I find myself continuing to gravitate towards the creative. I don’t believe we need to define ourselves by those same patterns anymore, choosing to be either quantitative or qualitative. We should stop asking “Are you creative or mathematical?” I want to usher in a new generation of entrepreneurs that can be both. That is something that I’ve been so passionate about for so long.
What goals do you have for the brand?
I have very lofty goals for New Republic. I believe that we can be the largest, and most innovative, contemporary footwear brand in the world. We’re incredibly interested in exploring more commitment to sustainability. We’re already doing a ton of things in that space, by investing into sustainable materials, better packaging, and better manufacturing processes. I believe that five years from now, we’ll be a global brand that creates stylish, sustainable, comfortable shoes for everyone. That’s the dream, to think big; we’re not in this to solve small problems.