Corinne Lissoos has a shoe obsession. Not for any shoes, mind you: for Naot Footwear, the line she introduced to Canada and has been overseeing here for over 20 years.
“We breathe, live and eat the brand,” she says. A family-owned business, it is the kind of company where you talk directly to a person when you call.
Naot Canada began in 1989 when, after living in South Africa and Israel, Lissoos immigrated to Canada from Israel with her husband Max.
Once settled, she decided to sell her husband’s beloved Israeli sandals to the Canadian public. Using a base of $2000, she started what would become Naot Canada. But without an official home, she had to be creative. Thus, she and her partner started selling the shoes in health food stores.
“We sat there and sold directly to people walking past,” she says.
These first shoes resembled Birkenstocks, but with insoles that were made with a layer of latex. They were, as she puts it, “comfortable from the word go.”
Luckily for her, people really liked her sandals. By 1991, they had enough of a following to open a store for the summer in Ontario.
One day, a boy came into the store. He left, came back with all his friends, then brought in his father: David Markowitz, the CEO of Capezio. Markowitz would buy 100 pairs of the shoes, and it was this connection that allowed Lissoos to get her first reps and get into shoe stores. From that point, the company grew exponentially.
That’s not to say there were no problems. The shoes are hand made in Israel, and bringing them over to Canada was costly because of a high exchange rate and a duty that, at 20%, was extremely high.
Yet despite the cost hurdle, Lissoos persevered, choosing to continue having her shoes made in the same kibbutz in Israel. Her designers too still come from the kibbutz. Although they may travel, they remain “a little bit different, not middle of the road,” which is the way Lissoos likes it. Plus, by maintaining this consistency, Lissoos has created an environment where, “Everybody’s heart and soul is in this brand.”
The line is still growing and evolving. Naot Canada now supplies retailers across Canada and has eight stores.
Next season will see the launch of “beautiful and stylish” platform sandals for women, featuring an original imprint. As well, there is the KORU collection. Based on the Maori culture and formed with the image of a New Zealand fern, “they literally weigh nothing,” Lissoos promises.
These shoes will likely create more fans, not that she needs them. According to the website, Naot is “famous for its testimonials and devotees.” Customers are constantly reaching out on Facebook to tell Lissoos where they’ve gone with her shoes.
Lissoos even tells of one customer who e-mailed a picture of her closet, which was completely filled with Naot shoes. Rather than seeing this as her most extreme fan, Lissoos considers it an example of how great the shoes are.
“The worst thing about Naot is they’re addictive,” she says.