Rafi Balouzian, founder of shoe company Cydwoq, has some modern, artsy styles, but as a manufacturer, he’s as old-school as they get.
All of the company’s shoes are made by hand in its 15,000-square-foot, two-story factory in Burbank, which employs about 35.
Balouzian, 55, is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who made shoes in Armenia in the early 1900s and later established a factory in Lebanon to supply military boots. Balouzian’s father kept up the tradition.
Balouzian, who came to the United States from Lebanon and started Cydwoq – pronounced like “sidewalk” – in 1996, said his designs combine elements of the distant past and the modern world.
“In ancient times, this is the way people made shoes, and with the designs, a lot of them are very futuristic and architectural,” he said. “It’s a very unusual combination of the old with the new.”
And now his 24-year-old son, Ari, is part of the family tradition, too. He has designed a line called Cliff Dweller at a lower price to appeal to more cost-sensitive customers. The company simplified the construction of 15 styles to get prices in the $200-$300 range.
The company’s other shoes include vintage-style women’s boots that sell for $568; sandals are in the $250-$320 range.
Balouzian said he wanted to produce a more affordable shoe without sacrificing quality. His son, who has designed for the company for five years, has developed a clean aesthetic that helps him appeal to younger customers.
“We complement each other,” Balouzian said. “He’s younger and he knows his age group.”
Balouzian moved the company to its current location in 2008. The factory makes 70 to 150 pairs of made-to-order boots, sandals and lace-ups a day.
Manufacturing everything in Los Angeles is more expensive than outsourcing, of course. One of the biggest challenges of the business is that the company has not been able to afford the publicity campaigns to get recognition in big fashion magazines.
Nevertheless, he said he has increased sales by 15 percent to 20 percent over each of the last two years. The factory makes more than 20,000 pairs a year. Plus, having all the components on hand lets him restock retailers’ shelves more quickly.
“It’s a very flexible operation,” he said.
– Ryan Faughnder
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