Menswear Brand Whiskers Hopes to Woo Dressy Dudes Into Accessorizing With Luxury Shoelaces

It's knot your average fashion statement

Whiskers is offering men the option to show their fashionable sides by accessorizing their shoelaces.

Entrepreneurs like to talk about “white space,” those spots in the market where there’s a need for a product and yet, somehow, incredibly, nobody has thought to make it yet. There’s no single good way to identify white space, of course, but Kyle Groth is happy to tell you how he found his. It was an event we’ve all experienced, a frustrating moment we will all experience many times in the future.

It was the day he broke a shoelace.

Naturally, Groth went looking for a replacement pair, and then the realization dawned: Replacement shoelaces weren’t just surprisingly hard to find, they were pretty boring once he did find them.

“Most [companies] didn’t sell just the laces,” he said. “And if they did, it was the cheapest cotton shoelaces.”

Which was OK if plain-old brown or black laces were all a guy wanted. But Groth—something of a trend watcher when it comes to menswear—knew that lots of guys like to dress with a bit of personal flair. And if the guy in question was a professional still confined to a relatively conservative dress code (bankers, lawyers, doctors and so on), his options were limited: ties, pocket squares, socks and that’s about it.

Fast forward 18 months or so and Groth has filled this particular white space with a brand called Whiskers, which sells one thing: “premium” shoelaces. For $13, men get their pick of a technicolor array of laces in 12 colors and multiple patterns: ticked, striped, braided and other combinations you probably didn’t think would fit on a shoelace. There are 54 styles in all, including seasonal limited editions. And to interest customers in paying a bit extra to add some style to their dullsville Oxfords, Whiskers lobs a simple sales pitch: “Fill your boring shoe holes.”

“We get a lot of guys in finance and banking,” Groth, Whiskers’ CEO, said. “It’s the easiest way for them to show some subtle expression without getting fired.”

Indeed, for the individualistic guy trapped in the standard corporate uniform, the options for showing a bit of flair have always been pretty limited. The most obvious is the necktie, but the vast majority of men no longer wear them. According to a 2007 Gallup poll, over two in three men head to work tieless. Even Great Britain’s hidebound Parliament got rid of the necktie requirement in the House of Commons two years ago.

CEO Kyle Groth

What about socks? Hipster socks came into vogue in recent years, too, but as Groth points out, “nobody sees [them] unless you sit down.” Then there’s the pocket square, a sartorial essential that’s also returned to prominence lately. But so many guys glommed onto that trend—and took things a bit far—that the fashion blog Upsider recently pondered if the pocket square was “dead.”

And this is where Whiskers believes it has an edge. Shoelaces will never be dead because you need them to keep your shoes on. What’s more, the brand’s colorful laces are a pretty easy addition for guys who might be a bit less confident when it comes dressing up. “This is a subtle upgrade that shows personality without being over the top,” Groth said.

It’s worth pointing out that Whiskers isn’t the only brand to recognize a need in upmarket shoelaces. Shoelaces Express sells a variety of laces for men’s dress shoes. Even the stalwart Johnston & Murphy (founded in 1850) now sells dress laces in 15 colors. And some pretty over-the-top options can be found at Cute Laces (albeit mainly for Converse wearers.)

Groth doesn’t claim to be selling a product that’s wholly unique, of course. Shoelaces have been around since the late Neolithic period, and there’s not a lot to be done to improve on the basic design.

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