Sun Sailor: "Plymouth brothers put a foot down in the sandal industry"

The story:

Bokos have been selling since April, and the McManus' get ready to grow.

Anybody who has shopped for a pair of sandals may be familiar with the staggering range of options – style, color, material, price, the list goes on. Plymouth-based Bokos sandals, however, rolled out its first pair in April in an effort to provide the consumer with a solution to the search for the perfect sandal. Matt McManus is working on growing Bokos, a sandal company he began with his older brother James. Based out of the McManus’ Plymouth home, Matt said he’s sold more than 1,000 pairs of sandals since they were made available in April.

Armstrong High School graduates and brothers Matt and James McManus took their first steps into the clothing industry with Check Your Six – a line of men’s t-shirts that the two pushed together for a few years. After James graduated from the University of Wisconsin, he traveled to China, where he lived in Beijing for two years. James came back to Plymouth with a number of stories, a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and a pair of cheap sandals.

Matt, who currently lives in St. Louis Park, said the Chinese sandals were drawing a lot of compliments and curiosity among friends and family. “We had a lot of people say they were comfortable and convenient and they’d ask where they could get them,” Matt said. “We disregarded it for several months and said to ourselves ‘people really do like these, and we haven’t seen anything similar in the American market.’”

Matt and his brother spent the next few months researching the footwear market, and found no traces of a sandal similar to the Chinese pair. The brothers decided to fill the void and began searching for a supplier. The two designed the concept for what would become the first Bokos sandal and a shipment of 2,000 pairs arrived in Plymouth in February. With sandals in tow, Matt began marketing the simple, yet structurally sound footwear.

Bokos consist of a one-piece, non-porous rubber construction with a cross-strap that doesn’t go in between the wearer’s toes. They come in a range of men’s and women’s sizes and feature four colors per gender including military green, navy blue, pink and melon. Bokos sandals feature a durable one-piece construction. The inspiration for the design came from a pair of sandals James McManus bought in Beijing. Since the boxes of Bokos arrived to the McManus’ Plymouth home, Matt said consumer response has been encouraging.

Crocs, Matt McManus said, are “not really touting the durability.” And athletic brands are usually either “unfathomably uncomfortable” or don’t stand up to dirt, water and odor the way that Bokos do. “I think, generally, the styles I’ve seen, many of them have a Velcro strap,” he said. “You’re not going to want to get Velcro wet, which is kind of funny because they’re supposed to be locker-room shoes.”

Matt continued to say that he’s heard feedback from active males in their 20s to elderly women who think they’re cute and comfortable. He also said as high as 30 percent of all website orders have been for multiple pairs of sandals – people are buying a pair for around the house, for their gym bag and in the car. Matt said the hook for Bokos is the simple design, the versatility and the low price.

“Fundamentally, it’s also durability,” he said. “Sure, you’re going to find a lot of sandals that are durable. In that durability space, there are some sandals that you can beat up and down. But, you’re going to pay for it; you’re looking at the $40-$50 range. These coming in at $16, that’s the hook.” The brothers have since sold half of their original order of Bokos sandals and are gearing up to place a second, larger order and expand their business further into the retail market.

As of now, the best way to buy a pair is to go directly to However, Matt has been in contact with some big box retailers who are preparing to buy for the 2014 season. “Basically, when we started, we had no potential customers, no potential retailers waiting for the sandals, no media outlets and nothing lined up,” Matt said. “It was just, let’s bring in a bunch of sandals and hope we can sell them, and if we can’t, maybe we’ll give them to charity. But things are looking good.” Matt will travel to Orlando in September for the Surf Expo – a trade show that attracts around 22,000 buyers – and hopes to bring Bokos to the footwear industry on a larger scale.

As Bokos grows, Matt continues to work a second full-time marketing job with a medium-sized company. At 22, Matt said he’s excited for what the future holds for his business. “The underlying goal, as I assume with any small business, is to get it to a point where it can support you,” he said. “You can go to an office you call your own and work for yourself. That’s the dream; selling enough sandals where I can take an income off it and run this company.”

Matt’s parents help out with fulfilling shipping orders and James, who lives in China, works as a contact point for the Bokos manufacturer. Matt said learning how to run a small family business was challenging. “Part of you says ‘it’s going to be impossible,’” he said. “But it’s doable. It is possible. Just making the right moves and doing it consistently, you can get there.”

To see the story online: Bokos Sandals in the Sun Sailor