September 18, 2008
By Lilium Pierson
In 2004, Cause Haun made a phone call from a cab in China. She was visiting her husbands family and had come across a pair of toddler shoes made of supple leather with super-flexible rubber solesjust right for new walkers like her one-year-old, Kai.
Haun called the shoe factory about manufacturing under a private label and placed her first order for 2,000 pairs of shoes. What might seem like a gamble to others was obvious to Haun. We are very risk-averse people, she explains, with a shrug. Intuitively, I knew there needed to be a transitional shoe that isnt rock hard.
Today, Haun and her husband, Gang Chen, release about 60 new designs a year under See Kai Run (seekairun.com), named after their son.
Although Haun had a degree in international business, she and Chen had not been planning to revolutionize childrens footwear. In fact, when her first shipment arrived in late 2004, Haun was still learning about product reps and trade shows. Luckily, her stylish shoes were an immediate hit. The Woodinville-based business grew by 400 percent that first year and 200 percent the next and has continued steady growth.
Annual visits to the factory have helped to secure an exclusive relationship and to maintain quality control. I think in China the idea of personal relationships is often overlooked, so our going there in person was really instrumental to our success, says Haun. Even with their high-volume ordering, Haun says they have a defect rate of less than one-half of one percent.
Haun and Chen didnt advertise for their first two years, choosing instead to cultivate a reputation for quality and style. Rather than glutting the market with online sales and losing control over pricing, they sold to high-end retailers. In a short time, several Hollywood celebrities, such as Angelina Jolie and Katie Holmes, became customers.
Meanwhile, See Kai Run has added a line called Smaller with shoes for crawlers. The firm also collaborated with a Portland-based company to create a line called Eleven for bigger kids.