Bernie Mev Designer on Offering Retailers the Total Package

The name Bernie Mev stretches back to the late ’70s when Mev founded his Bronx-based footwear factory, producing shoes for major department stores. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s, when components became difficult to source and when Mev retired, that the moniker become synonymous with the comfort styles it makes today.

In 2004, Mev sold his shares to business partner Itamar Carmi, who with his experience selling imported Italian labels in his New York stores, Medici Shoe Stores, and his desire to create an alternative to leather, transformed Bernie Mev into a comfort footwear brand with a distinct twist: shoes with handwoven elastic textile uppers.

“The brand took off full force in the last three or four years,” said Bernie Mev designer, co-owner and Itamar’s wife, Rachel Carmi.

In a fashion market currently ruled by comfort and stretch materials, Bernie Mev is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance with a broad range of consumers—young and old—being drawn to the brand’s unique sport-inspired aesthetic. “Comfort can make people feel old, but we want to bring them to a place where they can feel and look great,” Carmi explained.

Plus, its comfort features are clearly visible, which makes it an easy sell online and a tempting look for other brands to try to recreate. A crop of household brands, from Steve Madden to Skechers, have recently implemented woven elastic footwear into their collections, merchandising the stretchy shoes with comfortable slip-on sneakers and outdoor-inspired sandals. It is an understandable product mix that keys into the demand for athleisure silhouettes and fabrications, and is a trend that Bernie Mev is benefiting from as well.

The brand has taken cues from the athletic space by introducing an entire category of casual, sport styles that fill a niche for footwear fit for easy all-day wear. Carmi said the elastic woven styles are a good alternative for women who “don’t always want to stick with their Nikes.” The brand is also adding reflective properties to some of its woven product, which flashes like a light bulb when it hits light.

“We are the creators, the original woven elastic brand. Copycat designs are just the name of the game,” Carmi said. However, with Bernie Mev’s retail prices in the $50-$80 range, she said most other brands can’t compete. “When you have success, there are copiers out there, but we keep creating and we don’t look around to see what other people are doing. It isn’t the greatest feeling, but in some ways it is a compliment,” Carmi added. “We just have to move forward. We don’t get distracted.”

For Fall ’15 Bernie Mev is expanding its 4-inch heel program—which was introduced this spring with a pump and peep-toe—with the open toe Luxury bootie, the Leilani Mary Jane, the cap toe Lujo bootie and two loafer styles, the Laika and Lassie. The brand continues to play with metallic materials in the heel collection, with bronze, pewter and gunmetal being the standouts. Pops of leopard, light denim, Pantone color of the year Marsala and Bernie Mev’s own colorful custom prints are peppered throughout the line.

LUJO marsala

On the casual end, Fall ’15 highlights include the Verona Bow slip-on sneaker, which is also available bowless on an oversized outsole for a trendy flatform look, retro runners and a new boot called the Astoria, with a zip front and ankle band for added support and style. Here, colors become more vibrant with combinations of multi-color elastic wovens, cobalt blue suede and speckled fluorescent green outsoles.

Bernie Mev has a strong in-store and online partnership with Nordstrom and is sold in about 1,500 boutiques and online store nationwide, spanning comfort to high-end, but Carmi described the heel collection as being “revolutionary” for the brand because it appeals to both traditional comfort retailers and the fashion accounts. “We have it all now,” Carmi said. “There’s a beautiful variety.”

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