Most businesses that reinvent themselves decades after their founding do so out of necessity — not for the sake of creativity.
But much like Keds once did with the sneaker, Itamar and Rachel Carmi have used the Bernie Mev brand to introduce a new player into the shoe industry:
Hand-woven, flexible footwear.
It’s a transformation that officially began in 2008, when the couple acquired the business from its founder and namesake, who made his name designing European leather shoes. Today, the Teaneck-based company’s reinvented products are in more than 1,400 high-end boutiques across the U.S., in national department stores such as Nordstrom, and in Canada, Europe and the Middle East.
“This is what we live and do and think and invest all our energy in,” Rachel said. “We really feel like we created a new concept, and it’s working well and the response is amazing. If we manage to keep it this way, we’re very happy.”
Itamar, who grew up in Israel and moved to the U.S. in 1985, found himself in shoe retailing when he became the owner of Medici shoe stores in Englewood and New York.
After selling Bernie Mev shoes in his stores, Itamar partnered with Mev when the designer and manufacturer closed his Bronx factory in 2000.
For eight years, they would successfully import shoes together while the Carmis worked on new designs.
When Mev retired in 2008, the couple seized the opportunity to purchase and transform the brand using their new woven concept.
And sales have increased 150 to 200 percent a year ever since.
Utilizing Rachel’s background in fashion and jewelry design, Bernie Mev’s new look for men, women and children is extremely colorful and multipatterned, while maintaining the signature slip-on design with responsive memory foam insoles.
But the days of purpose-oriented leather shoes are long gone, its owners said, as these stylish kicks can comfortably take you from the office to yoga to dinner all in the same day for the competitive price of $40 to $80 — a desirable fashion purchase for today’s multitasking and budget-conscious population.
The industry has certainly taken notice — despite the company having a dress patent on its shoe designs, they said woven footwear is now being widely imitated by other companies.
But the Carmis aren’t worried.
“It’s the name of the game in our business,” Rachel said. “They copy here, they copy there — it’s no concern.”
“We are living in a free market,” Itamar said. “At the end of the day, the brand speaks for itself — whoever copies cannot provide a better price or quality.”
Because Bernie Mev’s products are now all handmade, their technicians need to be very skilled — but sometimes imperfections happen.
“We differ in that when our customers contact us with a problem, we address it immediately,” Itamar said. “They know they’re buying a good product.”
Despite its global reach, Bernie Mev now conducts all its business from Teaneck after relocating from New York City in 1994.
“We save the commute this way, we’re more productive and relaxed at work and we can control the pace of our business,” Rachel said.
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THE BIZ IN BRIEF
Brand: Bernie Mev
Owners: Itamar and Rachel Carmi
Employees: 10 at Teaneck headquarters; 2,000 at manufacturing facility in China.
One More Thing: Itamar and Rachel may enjoy the pace of the business now, but its about to get much bigger: between signing a deal with footwear outlet DSW to design an exclusive line called BM New York, and launching a new men’s line this fall, it’s a wonder Rachel Carmi is even considering expanding the brand into accessories such as handbags. “It’s an easy concept for us to turn into a lifestyle,” she said.