Vessi tries on a new approach with AR

The DTC shoe brand, best known for its functional benefits, aims to help customers visualize wearing its first casual sneaker.

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Augmented reality is quickly becoming table-stakes for fashion brands looking to deliver try-before-you-buy experiences, meaning its not just mega-brands that are getting into the action, especially as the technology becomes more accessible for brands and consumers alike.

This includes Vancouver-based DTC shoe brand Vessi, best-known for its unique value proposition and functional benefits that include being 100% waterproof and made from breathable knits. The brand has released a filter on Snapchat that allows users to imagine themselves in its new court-style Weekend Sneakers.

Prior to this, Vessi’s shoes – which has always aimed to take a more stylish approach to functional footwear – have marketed themselves, to an extent. The brand launched in 2018, and Tony Yu, co-founder of Vessi Footwear, says it’s gotten a lot of social shares and unboxing videos, with buyers taking to social to document themselves running the shoes under a faucet or walking across a stream to show Vessi’s waterproof bona fides.

In such a competitive space with so much convoluted messaging, Yu says consumers in today’s market are more drawn to purpose-driven companies that can signify or embody one specific thought. “For us, it happens to be rain,” he says, and instead of clunky rain-boots or heavy hiking boots for inclement weather, there is a sneaker alternative like Vessi.

But while the Weekend Sneaker is still waterproof, it is styled more like casual fashion than athleisure, and meant to be worn indoors. Yu says being a DTC brand gives it few in-person retail opportunities, especially when consumer time in retail is less abundant. When Snapchat reached out to the brand it was the right choice, helping customers visualize the product before they buy it, which was even more important for the brand extending its value proposition into slightly different occassions.

For now, Vessi is seeing how its Weekend Sneakers fare, before it decides to roll out the filter to other SKUs. It’ll be promoted through paid social ads, and through direct email marketing.

The brand has also become popular by word-of-mouth within specific communities, such as hikers and frontline workers. The company donated more than 2,000 pairs of waterproof shoes to frontline workers near the beginning of the pandemic, offered promotions so they could more easily get new pairs and shifted its marketing budget to allow customers to adjust what level of discount they took on a purchase in order to allow the company to donate PPE to frontline workers.

When it comes to getting the word out, Yu says its messaging has gotten more refined. While it is still hyper-focused on wet weather seasonality, it has also seen interest from beach-goers and even those who work in car washes and aquariums. “The dog walking community is big for us too,” he adds. “The functionality lends itself to a lot of different lifestyles. Our messaging shifts slightly with seasonality, but the focus is still on the comfort aspect and usability in all types of weather.” Vessi has also done iterative changes on its website to improve the customer experience and overall journey.

While it is focused on digital for now, Yu says there is opportunity for the DTC brand to start looking at the retail space, especially once more of them reopen and consumers feel more comfortable entering them. It has previously done some pop ups, which have worked well, he says, and it has used experiential activations where a consumer can walk through water up to one’s ankles.

Front and Centre handles the brand’s PR.