The Interview: Fred and Meghan Mossler, Ross & Snow
Ross & Snow is the new luxury footwear brand from former high-ranking executive at online retailer, Zappos, Fred Mossler, along with his wife and former Zappos senior women’s buyer, Meghan.
In London to meet with potential buyers recently, at the start of a Europe-wide trip with the aim of building a network of suitable wholesale accounts for AW19 outside of the US for the first time, the couple believe they have seen a gap in the market, and now have the footwear answer to Canada Goose and Moncler outerwear.
Ross & Snow, a name that is derived from two different kinds of Canadian geese, is bringing a fresh approach to waterproof winter footwear, blending a fashion aesthetic with performance technology and fine craftsmanship, all hand-made in Italy, with a focus on shearling-lined footwear, which also features Vibram ‘Arctic Grip’ soles. The first full collection was for AW18.
Only launched in 2017, the response from retailers and customers alike in the US so far has been strong. In addition to selling direct to consumer through the Ross & Snow website, as well as selling on Zappos and Nordstrom.com, the brand is now sold in some 20 independent boutiques in the US, in mountain resort towns like Aspen in Colorado and Park City in Utah. And business is growing.
After initially crowdsourcing designs through Betabrand for their first boot samples, they have since handed over much of the line-building responsibilities to two Ugg veterans, creative director Leah Larson, and Peter Young who oversees men’s.
Meghan Mossler says: “For our first project in 2017, we tested a style on a site called Betabrand. Actually, we put up a few designs, and narrowed it down in a customers’ vote. We tested the shearling boot idea, and thought that if we got orders for 60 pairs or something, then we’ll make it as we may be on to something. But, over the course of the campaign, which was less than 30 days, we sold over 800 pairs and had to cut it off because the factories couldn’t make that many in such short notice. So, it was an overwhelming success.”
Some of the most popular women’s styles in the collection include the ‘Elena’ over-the-knee boot and the ‘Stefana’ studded biker boot, which retails at $425. For men, the ‘Stefano’ hiker boot with d-ring lace system has been a top seller. Leathers are sourced from local tanneries around the Florence area, and the footwear offer retails between $195 - $595. The Vibram ‘Arctic Grip’ soles are usually found on more technical products or work boots, but Ross & Snow is putting them on fashion silhouettes, including a shearling-lined winter sneaker. A new men’s duck boot for AW19 is not only likely to go down a storm, but be very beneficial in one.
This is the start of another chapter in Fred Mossler’s story, which is certainly an intriguing one to date. After graduating with a business degree from Southern Oregon University (SOU) in 1990, he moved to Seattle and started working as a shoe salesman in the footwear department of Nordstrom in 1991. “At the time everybody at Nordstrom started on the shop floor, even members of the Nordstrom family. It was old school – you had to work your way up.”
He spent the next eight years at Nordstrom ending up as a buyer for the northern California region. where he looked after the San Francisco store. “It was in 1999 that I was contacted directly with a cold call by Zappos founder, Nick Swinmurn, to join his new company, then known as ShoeSite.com.”
Swinmurn had pitched it to Tony Hsieh, who had a venture fund. He showed him figures for what catalogue sales of shoes were reaching, and told him the internet was going to be much bigger than that one day. “Hsieh was willing to invest, but told him he needed to find a real shoe person first, and that’s when I got the call,” says Mossler. “Nick called the switchboard at Nordstrom and it came through to me. He originally posed as a recruiter.”
Swinmurn actually left Zappos in 2006, and Amazon ended up buying Zappos for £1.2bn in 2009. Though Mossler, with a healthy amount of shares, departed from Zappos in 2016, after 17 years with the company - to pursue full-time entrepreneurship - Hsieh is still the CEO of Zappos to this day.
“We originally changed the name from ShoeSite because we may have wanted to expand our product offer outside of shoes, so that name was limiting,” offers Mossler, who initially joined as senior vice president of merchandising. “So we took zapatos, the Spanish name for shoes, and kind of bastardised it to create Zappos.”
It was early days of online retailing but, being in it early meant a head start on something that everyone now knows to be huge. “We started out with just a few of us in a two-bedroom apartment in downtown San Francisco, and built Zappos up from that. At first, I walked around a shoe show in 1999 and, over four days, I talked to some 80 brands about selling their shoes on Zappos. All but three brands said ‘no’!”
It was some four years before people had really started to hear of Zappos, though year-on-year growth was quick and impressive. Says Mossler: “I think our first-year revenues were $1.6m, our second year was about $8m, our third year was $32m, the fourth year was $70m and then our fifth year was $170m, so it just started to hockey stick.”
After 17 years at Zappos, Mossler was no longer involved in the merchandising side of the business. He was working on some other organisation initiatives through Zappos, one being an investment in the Las Vegas community, starting a company called Downtown Project to create a community, where people could “live, work and play,” with new businesses downtown. They had also moved Zappos to downtown Las Vegas.
As part of the Downtown Project, a new three-day music and arts festival at the end of each September was created, called ‘Life is Beautiful’. “It’s the first really urban festival, and we had a record attendance last year of over 50,000 people a day,” explains Mossler. “It’s just become the most amazing thing for the city, and the most beautiful thing about it is the art component, because we bring in graffiti artists and they put their artwork on all the buildings downtown. So, after the festival is gone, you’ve still got all this amazing artwork that’s there for the rest of the year, with people taking photos. It creates a lot of positive energy.” Acts that have played at the festival, which is now in its sixth year, include the likes of Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons,The Killers, The Foo Fighters, Snoop Dog, Kanye West and Lionel Richie.
In 2010, Mossler and his wife had also started up a Mexican restaurant concept called Nacho Daddy, with gourmet nachos. Meghan Mossler left Zappos in 2011 to concentrate on building that up, alongside other projects. By 2016, Nacho Daddy was really starting to grow and roll-out, with a reputation for top-end nachos using premium high-quality ingredients, award-winning margaritas and its unique ‘Scorpion Shot’. “Zappos was in great shape, and I had other things that needed attention and I was passionate to pursue,” says Fred Mossler about his Zappos departure.
Ultimately though, footwear is now firmly back on the cards with Ross & Snow, and Meghan Mossler is the CEO. Fred says he just “takes the orders!” The shoe business was clearly something both of them missed. “We loved the shoe business and the people in it,” says Meghan Mossler. “So, we wanted to get back to that and do it the right way, the way we remembered it.
“We also wanted to do something in Italy, using the shearling material that we love. The timing was right and the stars aligned with our team. We hired the former creative director and head of product at Ugg, Leah Larson, as well as Peter Young – also formerly at Ugg.” A third former Zappos executive, Steve Hill, is another co-founder of Ross & Snow, so it really is like putting the old team together and adding in some top designer talent.
Fred Mossler says they were following the success of Canada Goose and Moncler, with their elevated price points on outerwear and cold weather products. “We looked at the market and asked ourselves, ‘where’s some white space where there is some opportunity?’ We walked the stores and went to the footwear departments to ask what the complement in footwear was to Moncler and Canada Goose. We couldn’t find it, yet all the high-end outerwear was flying out. Customers were there shopping and wanting quality and premium value, but when we saw there was nothing on the footwear side, that’s when we decided to create it.”
It seems Fred Mossler is the man with the golden touch, and with wife Meghan firmly by his side and driving the new Ross & Snow brand, you can’t help feeling it will be another winning formula.