I moved back to Buffalo in 2006, and over the past 5 years, I’ve enjoyed the many new discoveries I’ve made about my hometown that I didn’t know about it while growing up, or even during my time away from the area. Over those 5 years, Buffalo has delighted me over and over again with those new discoveries, and every now and then, it even surprises me …in a good way. Discovering U-Lace was one of those great surprises.
U-Lace began in 2007 when Buffalo native Tim Talley (photo) was in Japan and stumbled upon the inspiration that would lead to U-Lace. While in Harajuku, Tokyo, Tim saw a window display of sneakers that were laced in six different colors, but upon closer inspection, discovered the laces were simply stuffed inside the shoe, beneath the tongue. Tim realized the complexity of multi-colored laces in different crisscross designs was a rather fashion-forward notion, but wanted to explore a way to engineer a customized lacing system that would not only eliminate the excess bulk of laces, but would be an easy-to-use, pop-in / pop-out system for interchanging colors and styles.
Some of you may be reading this thinking, “Shoelaces are fashion-forward?” Yes, they can be, and because of U-Lace, they are. Here’s why:
Fashion is about expression and creativity. It’s about creating the next big trend that consumers will love, and fashion industry experts will say “I’ve never seen that before” or “That’s a new twist on something old.” And, moreover, fashion is about people taking a garment or a concept and making it their own.
That’s what U-Lace products are. It is taking something old (shoelaces) and giving them a fresh twist, something that no one has seen before or done. It’s letting the consumer take the product and run with it, however they want to express their own individual style or personality. And, this product–engineered by a Buffalonian and headquartered in Buffalo–has taken the world by storm.
How so, you say?
In Japan, Begin magazine named U-Lace its #1 Top
New Fashion Product in 2010. In France, U-Lace is carried in the most exclusive
boutiques, including Collete, Citadium and Galeries Lafayette. The world’s top
sneaker magazine, Australia’s Sneaker
Freaker, covered U-Lace and declared, “The lace revolution is about to
It’s Buffalo that can
lay claim to the company behind all of those accolades, and who is a leader in
fashion-forward, global trends.
Further, U-Lace has
nine distributors across the globe, and the product itself is distributed in 33
countries covering 6 continents, including Japan, Australia,16 countries in Europe,
Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2012, the company will begin
distributing to South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan. Since officially launching
the product at the end of 2009 (after almost two years of concentrated product
research and development), U-Lace has sold over 300,000 packs of laces
So, what are these
laces, exactly? The U-Lace concept is simple: instead of one long lace that you
thread throughout the entire sneaker, U-Laces are short, elastic segments that
stretch between any two eyelets (see pictures). The benefit of this approach is
that it allows anyone–including kids–to very easily change laces, be it
different color or pattern combinations. Currently, U-Lace offers customers 42
colors, and boasts over 110 billion possible combinations. That number is
staggering. But it’s exactly what appeals to consumers – the possibilities for
originality and creativity are seemingly endless. Still not wrapping your head
around this product? Take a look at their YouTube channel, which offers a few
how-to videos for styling.
You will note from
the pictures that these laces do not tie, and therefore, using them turns your
shoes into slip-ons. The ease of getting in and out of these shoes has resulted
in some unintended benefits for U-Lace, including fans who have boasted faster
and easier times getting through airport security, parents who are happy
with the additional time saved in the morning getting
ready for school, as well as from a number of people who have difficulty bending down to
tie their shoes or simply with tying traditional laces. It may surprise you to
know just how many fall into this latter category.
are two U-Lace products on the market: Classic, the company’s core product, and
Fatties, which are essentially wider laces with a bolder, beat boy look. The
width of U-Lace Classic matches the width of standard sneaker laces, and
Fatties are slightly less than a half an inch wide and are traditionally used
in sneakers like Shell-Toe Adidas and Puma Clydes. A third product that is
still in development is U-Lace Skate, a special coated lace made to withstand the
shredding and punishment put on shoes by skateboarders.
While the company
has experienced worldwide success that most start-up businesses dream about,
they are only now exploring the U.S. market. Why is that? As CEO Tim Talley
said to me, fashion-forward trends will first begin in places like Japan and
Europe, and then eventually–4 and 5 years later–make their way to the U.S. Tim
acknowledges it was a smart move on their part to launch the company overseas
first, as they were able to establish a niche overseas. Additionally, diversifying
U-Lace throughout many different countries across continents has helped the
company withstand arduous circumstances, such as the global recession.
“That’s the good
thing about being global: when sales in Japan go down, Europe’s go up; then
Europe’s sales go down, and we enter the market in Malaysia,” Talley explains. “Being
global has helped us survive the ups and downs during this recession.”
Talley himself is
quite an interesting guy. He has an undergraduate degree in engineering and an
MBA from Duke University, and for 13 years, worked for big brands, such as
Nestlé and Revlon in New York, doing marketing and product development. In 2003,
he was recruited to do product development and business management for New Era
in his hometown of Buffalo. Talley has several patents from his New Era years.
He created the brand’s EK line and was the sole designer for the official
headwear of Major League Baseball. When I asked him if there was anything about
being in Buffalo that may have helped make U-Lace successful, he responded that
the lower cost structure makes it easier to get a global brand off the ground
“We probably would
have gotten buried by fixed costs by now if we were based in New York City,”
To that end, Tim’s
business partner, Peter Cumbo, added “Buffalo is conveniently located to New
York City, Toronto and other metropolitan areas. The world is convenient to get
from here. We’re not wasting time, energy and money on a lot of things that
would otherwise steal focus away from our business.”
These two traits are
nothing new to those living in Buffalo, and, in fact, are often used as selling
points to attract outside business to our area. But the other side of that
sales pitch is learning about how these attributes actually work for our businesses.
U-Lace is one of those businesses that capitalize on these assets daily,
succeeding on a global level and happily operating in the Queen City.
In addition to their
independent global distributors, U-Lace employs 2.5 people and utilize
independent consultants–many based locally in Buffalo, with a warehouse located
in Rochester–ranging in services, from graphic design to media production and web
Aside from the
international accolades received on the fashion, functionality and creativity
of their product, U-Lace has also been asked to participate in national,
celebrity-backed events, including the “We Care” event, put on by the HollyRod Foundation, a charitable
organization created by actress Holly Robinson Peete that is dedicated to
raising awareness about autism.
Yet even though
U-Lace has achieved success that would be the envy of any young business, they
still have their daily struggles to ensure their business stays viable. What
they want most right now is for their own city to know what they do, and be
supportive of their efforts.
As Peter Cumbo
explains, “We work hard every day to make our business succeed and bring
this product to life. As a small, independent company – especially in today’s
economy – every day is a struggle to survive. We know how proud Buffalonians
are of good things that come out of our city. So we want to let people at home
know what we are doing and ask for their support.”
I can tell you that,
upon first glance at their website, I would not have considered myself part of U-Lace’s
target audience. However, Tim and Peter gave me some to try out, and I immediately
loved the added pop and fun style these laces offered. My style isn’t street
wear, and maybe yours isn’t either. But that’s the point–U-Lace offers a product
that may be considered for a specific genre, but it also has mass appeal. I
didn’t think they would work with my own style, but they did, much to my own
surprise. And they were cool. I was wearing something no one else around me had
on, and I mean that in a good way. Anyone who is into fashion and personal
style will tell you that is one of the top selling points to any product:
So Buffalo, if you
like what you see, consider supporting a local business that is going far, but
wants some hometown love. U-Laces are sold in multipacks, either with single or
multi colors, and they retail between $7.99-8.99, and fit shoes with up to 16 eyelets.
They’re a great way to change up your look without spending a lot of money, and
they make an easy and different gift for birthdays or for the holidays. Or, you
may even want to buy some for yourself or your kids the next time you head to a
Bills, Sabres, or Bandits game as a different way to show your team’s colors.
This product is one
of those great, surprising things that lie beneath the surface here in Buffalo.
And what I’ve learned over the years is this city is full of great surprises.
U-Lace wants to
offer Buffalo Rising readers a special 15% off discount code (excluding
shipping) as a thank you for checking out their product. Enter promo code ULACELOVESBUFFALORISING, which is good through the end of February