THE Gold Coast thong-trepreneur behind flip-flop brand Willi Footwear is gearing up to take his revolutionary adaptation of an Aussie icon international, after partnering with a US distributor.
Founder Brad Munro (pictured) says he first coined the idea of "blow-out proof" thongs six years ago, after a broken plug rendered him barefoot and denied entry to a German beer hall.
"I was back in Australia talking to my soon-to-be business partner about how many pairs of thongs we'd destroyed while travelling," he says.
"He had a story where both his left and right thong broke within the space of two steps and he was left shoeless.
We've all had a blow-out or seen it happen to friends, so we went searching for the solution."
Munro's modern take on the classic Aussie design boasts patented boomerang-shaped plugs that won't pull through the sole and interchangeable bases and straps, allowing the wearer to customise their look.
Flip-flop fanatics were quick to jump behind the movement, and after launching the idea on crowd funding website IndieGogo in September 2014, the company had raised $10,000 within the first hour.
"The campaign was our way to see if our idea had any legs the best way to judge if a product is going to be successful is to see whether people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash for it," Munro says.
"We put a video up on Facebook and Indie Gogo and it went a bit viral. We had no control over it.
"We had people tagging their friends saying, "remember when this happened to you?"."
The company has since sold more than 50,000 pairs and are taking steps into the American market, in a move that will see their product sold year-round.
"We identified a major business flaw in that thongs are a very seasonal product," Munro says.
"Summer is really busy for us in Australia, but our income needs to be year-round.
"We're trialling the product with a distributor in the US at the moment. Their market is so big and there are parts of the country that are always hot, like Miami and California."
He says the design aims to appeal to America's love of Aussie beach culture.
"We're trying to push the Australian angle.
"The thong is such an Aussie icon, so throw that in with the boomerang shape of the plugs and the Aussie summer sun, surf and beaches and it becomes an exotic purchase."
International interest in Willi doesn't stop at the US, with distributors from Asia and Europe scrambling to get in on the action.
"We've had interest from a distributor in Japan and have been contacted by people from South Africa, Greece, Spain and Portugal," Munro says.
"It takes a lot of work and a lot of money, so at this point we just need to hold it back and take one market at a time."
Celebrity beach lovers such as Home and Away star Dan Ewing, Trent "Maxi" Marxwell from Bondi Rescue and football players Johnathan Thurston, Scott Prince and Dan Mortimer have all been spotted sporting their own pair of Willi thongs.
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