Since 1976, MIA Shoes has been providing its customers with footwear that combines style and comfort to create the ultimate accessory for women of all ages and for any occasion. MIA Shoes, which offers flats, heels, boots, sneakers and white-bottomed sandals for women and kids, is based in Miami with a showroom located in New York City. The brand also produces authentic Swedish clogs, which are handmade in Sweden from Italian leather and Swedish wood. Additionally, a large percentage of the brand’s shoes are made with vegan materials in environmentally friendly facilities. As well as on the brand’s website, MIA Shoes are available for purchase at retailers including Nordstrom, DSW, Roolee, Lulus, Free People, Zappos and more.
Founded by Richard Strauss and now with his son, Michael, in the vice president role, MIA Shoes is a company that keeps family at the center of its mission and operations. In the same vein, the brand prioritizes fostering and maintaining relationships with its customers, both long-time fans of the brand and new shoppers.
Below, Michael Strauss shares how the brand’s family-oriented roots translate into its corporate inner-workings, what he hopes to accomplish as the brand continues to grow and why generations of customers have loved MIA Shoes.
Tell me about your career background that led you to MIA Shoes.
I was a football player my entire life. Growing up, I played football collegiately at University of Virginia and University of Richmond, and had a full scholarship to play at both schools. I also organically grew up in the shoe business, being around it my entire life. MIA Shoes is a family business, and it felt like every month, all of the sales people and the designers from MIA would be coming over and staying at our home. For my whole life, I was engulfed in the shoe world — as a kid, I would go to shows with my sister and my parents. It was always in my head that once I finished my athletic career, working at MIA Shoes was what I wanted to do. I love shoes, but I value the family business more so than anything.
What is it like to work so closely with your family?
I very much enjoy working with my dad. His role has very much changed over the years now that he’s 76 years old. He’s still very involved, with his focus now shifted more toward the operations. He’s given the reins to myself and the president to run the business, sales team and marketing, put together the strategies of what we want to do and work with the designers. Working with my dad has been great, but we also butt heads a lot. I don’t know if I’d say it’s been the best thing for our relationship, but I think it’s something that had to happen. Anyone who works with their parents probably has some similar stories. My sister works with my mother — they have a successful clothing line called Just Bee Queen — and I think that they get along a bit better than [my dad and I] do. At the end of the day, we’re very much a small family, the four of us, and everything we do is together. That idea of family, carrying a legacy, not failing and making [MIA Shoes] into something much bigger than it was is my goal — to take something that was given to me in a good position and take it to the next level.
What is the philosophy behind MIA Shoes?
The number one thing a woman will come up to me and say about our shoes is, “These are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.” That’s the biggest compliment anyone can give us. We try to incorporate all of these comfort features into our shoes and offer value to our customers. I would refer to us as a “value-based” brand — what you pay for is what you’re going to get. We operate in a way where we don’t need to charge double what we charge for our shoes to cover certain things. We’re a family-owned business, so we don’t have other outstanding, outside factors that we need to worry about. I think we have found our niche in the market as a value brand. We’re not cheap and we’re not expensive, but you’re getting what you pay for — and you like it, so you’re coming back.
What sets MIA Shoes apart from other footwear brands?
Fashion with comfort. We also have the best technicians in the world. The beauty of the products is in our construction and in our bottoms. We have ways of making shoes to make them more comfortable that no one even thinks about. A lot of [companies] don’t take this kind of approach, and it’s because they don’t know how to [do so].
The other main thing that sets us apart is the family business aspect of MIA Shoes. When I go to meetings with the biggest retailers in the country, they’re working with me. The owner is coming [to these meetings], and I’m working with them. I have a big team that works with me, including sales teams that work with some of these accounts, but odds are, I’m almost always going to be present. Whereas with these public companies, you may not even know who owns them. I like to think of us as a “small big guy,” because we do a lot of business, but we’re not public. The personable side of our relationships really sets us apart.
Can you share more on MIA Shoes’ commitment to producing vegan products?
From a vegan standpoint, we make about 99% of our production in vegan materials. Not only that, but for the men’s line, Strauss + Ram, our footbeds, which are our main comfort feature, are made with coconut shavings — being from Miami, we took that idea and incorporated it into our story. There is only one classification for which [we don’t use vegan materials]: we just started making Swedish clogs. Swedish clogs are how my father started the company, and those are leather and made in Sweden with certified wood. Aside from that, our entire production is 99% vegan.
Who is the MIA Shoes customer?
That’s the best question, because the MIA Shoes customer has been with us since the ‘70s and we get new customers every day. I can explain it best through the stores that we deal with, from stores [for younger customers] like Francesca’s and Journeys to stores for much more mature customers like Von Maur. We make a product for everybody — that’s the beauty of our brand. We’ve evolved. We’ve added a new category called “Mia Amour,” which is more tailored to our older customers, but the core of our business is that teenager to that 40 year old.
The best story I can tell you is at a trade show, you’ll see a daughter, mother and grandmother all wearing the white-bottomed sandals from MIA Shoes. It’s such a cool thing to see because it’s a universal, all-age type thing. We have very young shoes and we have more mature shoes — why limit yourself when you can take care of everyone? That’s our motto.
As MIA Shoes celebrates its 46th anniversary, what would you say is the greatest quality that has stuck with the brand since 1976?
Our values have stayed the same. We’re very loyal to our people and our people are loyal to us. As you can imagine, turnover hasn’t been very high in our company. After 45 years, a lot of people are retiring and moving on, and we are now adding new people to the team; it’s been exciting to see that whole cycle. I think that’s probably the best thing about us — our familial, close-knit culture. It’s not a corporate setting, so people like that. There’s no micromanaging — you come to work here, and if you don’t do the job, it’ll be apparent. And if you do, we don’t ask what you’re doing; if you do the job, you do the job. We run much differently than big corporations are [managed].
Are we seeing influences from 1970s fashion on the footwear industry today?
The ‘70s were all about bell bottoms, clogs, the wood-bottom shoe trend and platforms — and all of that is stronger than ever, it seems. Every year, it seems like shoes want to get thicker and thicker and thicker. It’s very prevalent now, as our Swedish clog business and overall clog business has been outstanding over the past few years. It’s really cyclical, and when they say that everything comes back around, it really does — people say something is out of fashion, and then two years later it is the hottest thing ever. The ‘70s trend is cool because we can go back into our catalogs from the 1970s and 1980s and see what was successful then, and how we can incorporate that into what we are doing now. It’s been fun to go back to our roots.
What’s next for MIA Shoes?
We’re growing at a very nice rate, and with growth comes opportunities. We’ve gotten a lot more serious with the white label and the private label side of the business. A lot of companies are investing very much in their own brands. You see articles about brands like DSW who want to put a lot of money into their house brands, and someone has to make those house brands. These stores don’t really make them themselves — they either buy companies to do it for them or they outsource them. I think that’s a big initiative for a lot of these stores, because they get more markup with these types of shoes. So we’re really looking to improve and grow that side of our business.
We’re also really looking to grow our boutique presence. It’s doubled and tripled over the last few years. I feel like our mentality has always been that we don’t pump millions of dollars into marketing like some direct-to-consumer-focused brands. Our goal is to put the shoes in as many boutiques as possible so that we can be seen, to have that organic marketing. Design-wise, we want to keep evolving. We had a very big white-bottom sandal for years — it’s still very good, but what’s the next one? We’re always trying to find that next big item. We do well with our collections, but at the end of the day, if you talk to anyone in the shoe business, they’ll always say, “it’s an item.” We’re always trying to find the next thing before the next person does, which, in today’s world, is very tough because everything’s online. I would say we want to keep evolutionizing, not revolutionizing, to keep up our brand identity.