The nomads of East Africa are often described as the ultimate, purposeful minimalists. Everything they have must be mobile, tough, comfortable and light. Using natural and found materials to make functional tools and clothing is endemic in their culture.
When it comes to the shoes of a nomad, comfort and rugged design is even more important. But what really blew away Alexandre Benaim, the French founder of MOBS, during his travels through Tanzania was how the nomads blended art and beauty with function and comfort. Their technology was simple and highly sophisticated.
Growing up in Ohio in a working-class family, Bryon Schroeder never dreamed he would work on a brand inspired by nomadic people in Africa. But his dad was a DIY guy to a fault, so it made some sense looking back. If anything broke or stopped working, Bryon would figure out how to fix it himself. “My dad’s ‘fix-it’ attitude fueled a desire in me to always learn how to do things on my own.”
“We consider all points from a sustainability and performance point of view.”
After high school Bryon started as an architecture engineering student before switching to product design at the University of Cincinnati. He worked in retail, furniture design and designed trade show exhibits. He learned what sold and what didn’t and how to work with people.
Out of the blue, a friend recruited him to design footwear for a shoe company named Deckers in Santa Barbara. Although he had never thought of shoe design before, he was intrigued by the idea. So he sold his car, packed all of his belongings in one bag and moved west.
To his surprise, Bryon found footwear exciting—if a huge learning curve. It was multidisciplinary and constantly changing. He had to quickly gain a great understanding of consumer behavior, the form and function of the foot, technical processes, how to work with vendors, how to interpret trends and how to work with leather and textiles.
He traveled to places like China and Korea, honing his craft. At Deckers he worked alongside brands such as Teva, UGG and Simple. It was while working for Diesel years later that he met his wife, Deb, and together they relocated to NYC where Bryon took a job with Kenneth Cole. From there it was back west to Oregon where he would become design director for Nike, adding motivating and managing a team to his already impressive list of technical design skills.
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Years later DC Shoes came calling in search of a global design director. Back in Southern California, Bryon learned a lot about designing for numerous sporting categories in surf, snow, skate and even motocross. But it was later, during a consulting gig, that he met Alexandre Benaim and knew he was to become part of something special.
Alexandre brought Bryon on to design the brand from the ground up with the goal of creating a beautifully crafted, fashionable, sneaker-style shoe that was also technically advanced and comfortable to wear. This is where Bryon’s wealth of experience in designing all types of shoes came together in the creation of something truly beautiful and functional.
Alexandre’s Tanzanian inspiration fueled the young brand. The tribes he met there combined found materials—including rubber tire treads, leather and artisan beading—to craft footwear both practical and artful.
Bryon was given the concept, but he had the clear vision to also see the bigger picture. He was able to take all that he had learned along the way and put it into practice. He knew how to start from square one and get to the end goal. He knew how to manage people in a way that helps and empowers them.
It started as a kernel of an idea, and they built it from scratch. He spent six months just doing the research to create the brand philosophy and identity. MOBS (Mobility. Optimism. Beauty. Soul.) officially launched in October 2017.
MOBS’ product and packaging features a signature eight-point star—a reference to the brightest North Star. Through the ages it has been the guiding light and principal means of navigation for travelers on land, ships at sea and aviators.
“We consider all points from a sustainability and performance point of view,” says Bryon as he prepares to take the MOBS brand to the next level. “We’re building a customer base that will keep coming back again and again.”