I have to say that what really amazes me almost daily, even after returning from Sao Paulo two years ago, is Brazil’s remarkable spirit of innovation. While living there, I was once bewildered when my forty year old friend Érica posted a picture of her “Melissa” on facebook, brought by her husband as a birthday present. No, I am not referring to a girl. I am referring to a billion dollar global business of Melissa Shoes, headquartered in Sao Paulo. I went online to learn more and was even more bamboozled – what could be so thrilling about the stupid jelly shoes that Joana, at 43 was so excited to possess?
Turns out – it was the genius in Alexandre and Pedro Grendene Bartelle. Alex and Pedro produced plastic cases for wine bottles in Faroupilha, Brazil. Then they started making plastic heels of shoes. In the 80s, they made a trip to france and saw fishermen using plastic shoes that helped them pave their way through sandy beaches. Bartelles realized that their country had plenty of beaches and they were expertise in PVC. Why not make these shoes back home and see if a new market can be created?
However, this insight was not the turning point in the success story of Melissa Shoes. The pivotal moment came through much recently when they carefully strategized on how they were going to INTERNATIONALIZE “BRAND” Melissa and create a market outside the competing Chinese plastic shoes that flooded the Brazilian market. Melissa started with a very innovative product strategy – putting bubblegum fragrance and glitter in the jelly shoes! Who would have ever thought?
Step 2 was to create a sustainability story because Brazilians love nature. A new question rose, while having these cute shoes on an innovative platform was very likely to generate intent of purchase and celebrating “brazil” among local consumers, was t it enough to make the brand truly international? No, not really. Melissa needed to stand for something more evolved. Something beyond glorious Brazilian beaches, bubblegum smell and glittery plastic.
Melissa collaborated with International designer such as Judy Blame, Edson Matsuo Alexandre Herchcovitch, Fernando, Humberto Campana and Karl Lagerfield to create snazzy and upscale collections that featured in uber-chic shopping districts in Sao Paulo, New York and Paris. They were named Melissa Galleries. Stunning PR activities made Melissa shoes very fashionable, chic and aspirational for millions of Brazilians and customers abroad.
Melissa is a spectacular story of innovation, value creation and most importantly – instilling a sense of fashion and pride to millions of middle class Brazilians since for them – both came at an unaffordable cost previously. It is a rare story where a brand strikes a cord with middle class customers and yet creates an aspirational and impressive line of products for its more affluent customers – while unanimously standing for art and fashion.