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Rommel Vega didn’t follow the traditional path when he launched his footwear brand, Holo. Vega, whose background includes 18 years designing shoes for Puma, Columbia, Merrell and Keene, was frustrated by the corporate world and decided to follow his dream, creating a line of sustainable shoes targeted to the outdoors that were affordable enough for everyone.

Most of the sustainable footwear offerings available today are expensive, keeping many people from being able to enjoy the outdoors, Vega said. But he set out to change that by developing a line that was trend-right, used recycled materials and sold for around $100.

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He decided to name the brand after the Holocene epoch, the current geological period of 11,700 years since the last ice age, which includes the rise of manufacturing. It references what he believes to be the period in which humans started to negatively impact the planet.

Over the course of a year, Vega designed pieces that could withstand the rigors of being outdoors — whether that’s a hiking trail or a city street — but also look good. He credits his fiancée, Yuri Rodriguez, another footwear veteran with experience at Merrell, Saucony and Hush Puppies, with pushing the line to be sustainable. He also brought Erin Sander, a one-time global product director for Sorel, on board as vice president of merchandising.

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Rommel Vega © Provided by Women's Wear Daily (WWD) Rommel Vega

Then he hit the streets to raise the cash he needed to launch the brand, hoping for $1.5 million. What he found that was the interest was so high that the first round was oversubscribed, and he wound up raising $1.7 million from venture and angel capital funds. Last week, he closed on a $5 million Series A investment from an undisclosed private equity firm.

Unlike other start-up brands, Holo purposely decided against launching his brand through direct-to-consumer channels and opted to wholesale instead. “We have a reputation of being disruptive,” he said. “We zig when everybody else zags. We looked at Allbirds and Rothy’s and we didn’t want that. And I had all these connections at retail.”

In addition, he didn’t want to be what he described as “an Instagram brand,” or one that sought to establish itself through social media channels. Instead, he wanted to be “a real brand” and sell in real stores.

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Holo was launched initially at Nordstrom and has since added Macy’s, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Public Lands and other large retailers, with coming on board for spring.

Tacey Powers, executive vice president and general manager of shoes for Nordstrom, said Holo “makes great looking, environmentally conscious footwear at an accessible price point. We love their mission in designing a shoe to inspire people to get outside, whether it’s a walk to the subway station, or a hike in the mountains. Holo’s use of color and outdoor-inspired designs in their footwear is really resonating with our customers. Holo brings a new perspective to our outdoor/lifestyle assortment, and allows our customer to vote for sustainability in their footwear choices.”

Now that the brand is established, Vega is taking the plunge and starting a direct-to-consumer site that will launch on Nov. 15.

In addition, he will launch his first running shoe, the Nephelae, that will be sold both on the brand’s new e-commerce site as well as at Nordstrom. He said that although the shoe can be used to run a marathon, it is more positioned for running to the grocery store. “You hear ‘running shoe’ and you automatically think the running wall at REI. But this will be on the lifestyle wall. Run for us is not a six-minute mile, but running your everyday life,” he said.

The shoe will be created from sustainable materials and will retail for $100.

What sets Holo apart, Vega said, is that the brand has “aggressive” styling and is awash in color.

So far, top sellers include the Maverick, an everyday sneaker that retails for $64 and is popular with both women and men, as well as the Credimus, a slip-on model that Vega said is “like a camp shoe.”

And with the new investment, Vega will continue to expand Holo’s reach with new models and channels. “We’re not timid and we believe we can leverage our strength on product.”

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