Image: Getty

This is how you launch a shoe line nowadays: You design a highly distinctive item and then sell every possible small deviation on that distinctive item.

Business of Fashion explained why Allbirds, Rothy’s, and Birdies are emblematic of a dominant trend in the footwear market, and why venture capital firms all seem to be so keen to make investments in Instagram shoes:

But unlike in other accessory categories where one direct-to-consumer brand dominates — Warby Parker in eyewear or Away in luggage, for example — footwear start-ups have split up the market into signature styles that they stake out with aggressive online marketing. Once they conquer their niche, these brands release new iterations on their hero product, but rarely chase the silhouette of the moment. The goal is to be easy to identify, online and off.

“The luck that we have is that [Rothy’s] a very visually distinctive looking shoe,” said the brand’s COO and president, Kerry Cooper. “In a world of social where you maybe have ten seconds of someone’s attention, we have a shoe that [becomes], ‘Oh, I’ve seen those before.’”

Here again we see what Instagram hath wrought; this time, it’s shoes specifically engineered to worm their way into your consciousness through the cumulative effect of a thousand mindless scrolls through your feed. It’s frankly unnerving to contemplate about how thoroughly Instagram is coming to shape consumer culture and therefore our material environment, like we’re trapped after-hours in the Museum of Ice Cream.

Of course, the problem then becomes scaling—how do you keep people coming back for more, and not opting for knockoffs?

Gates said further refining the brand identity is key to scaling. For Birdies, the story is about the home and family, attracting fashion-minded customers with new fabrications while winning over consumers looking to wear a shoe that feels like a slipper outside the home.

“The product itself is not defensible, what is defensible is the brand,” she said.

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Now if you excuse me, I’m going to monetize my entire schtick by launching a line of hot pink faux-vintage marabou slippers in the aesthetic spirit of Miss Piggy on Instagram.