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Check Out Kevin O’Neill’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kevin O’Neill.

Hi Kevin, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Thank you. Well, I am the founder and creator of Malibu Sandals and I’ve been a Malibu local for 9 years, founding the brand in 2014.

Getting started in the footwear industry seemed like a long shot for me, a guy with a Psychology degree and having been a former professional baseball player. In hindsight, my sports background is probably what gave me my first industry job as I was fortunate to have landed a tech rep gig with Reebok in 1994, when they launched Insta-Pump technology. I honestly had no clue what I was getting myself into, but because of my love and passion for sneakers, immersed myself into the world of Reebok. I learned everything about footwear construction, the technical components and benefits for every product category…it was fascinating to me. I conducted tech clinics with all of the mall retailers who sold Reebok in San Diego county. I recall how it was always a tough crowd doing retail clinics with Footlocker, LadyFootlocker and Footaction stores, considering at the time Nike dominated sales in just about every footwear category. Nike AIR technology was now visible in the heel and people we’re really sold on actually seeing the cushioning technology. It was and still is truly the best cushioning technology in the market. Back then, cushioning benefits helped sell branded products but Nike always had the best looking designs in my opinion, across all footwear categories. I have always been fascinated by sneaker brands, especially the product, marketing and branding strategies, but, I never dreamed one day 21 years later I would have created my own footwear brand. I trusted my gut and made the plunge seven years ago to launch Malibu Sandals, and we’ve been marketing modern woven footwear inspired by the Mexican huarache design. They were first popularized in Southern California during the 1960’s surf culture craze.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I mean sure of course you are bound to make mistakes but that’s life, you live, learn and push forward. I remember going to my first trade show in 2015 for Malibu Sandals at Pitti Uomo in Florence Italy and had the bright idea to print these huge and heavy catalogs and fly them in a suitcase from LA to Florence. Not only expensive tto make but airfare for a 100 pound suitcase cost me a small fortune. Needless to say, lugging this giant suitcase full of catalogs along the old cobblestone streets of Firenze in 100 degree heat is not something I care to repeat ever again. I was literally a hot mess. Why I didn’t just use the digital catalog format instead is still a mystery to me and was a costly mistake.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am constantly pushing and pulling all the levers to get things done. While everything starts with me, I rely on outsourcing jobs to people who are willing and interested to help move us forward. I work with a lot of really talented individuals who share in the love of the brand and believe in what we’re doing here. I love working on products, especially creating and developing new designs.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking.
The old adage ‘no risk-no reward’ definitely rings true. For me, when I’m working on a new season the design process is both exhilarating and stressful. Some ideas stick, others don’t. You can hem and haw for months deciding on a range of products and then you finally learn to just put it out there, trust your gut and hopefully it resonates with the consumer. Our Thunderbird design, this mule style with a unique woven bird shaped pattern is one that I drew on a piece of paper and simply sent it to my factory who then made the pattern and the samples turned out amazing. It’s been a fan favorite for 2 years and we’ve been fortunate to experience great selling success. I hope it’ll be around for generations of Malibu consumers. So you learn to get comfortable taking risks and sometimes if you’re lucky, it pays off.

Contact Info:

  • Email:
  • Website:
  • Instagram: Malibusandals

Image Credits:

Chris Gonzales

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