“There’s a lot of good talent out there,” says CEO who moved shoe company from Oregon to Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Rommel Vega still remembers the reaction when he announced he was moving the headquarters of his shoe company, HOLO, from Portland, Oregon to Grand Rapids.

“It was like ‘why’,” he recalls asking friends and colleagues.

Portland is home to Nike, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Under Armor and more, and some of Vega’s counterparts couldn’t understand why he wanted to leave the bustling West Coast city and move his sustainability-focused shoe business to the Midwest.

The answer: financial support, access to skilled workers and an opportunity to create your own path. He didn’t want to be just another shoe company in Portland, he said.

“We had to go somewhere where we got more community support, more investor support,” said Vega, 39, who moved HOLO to Grand Rapids this year after launching the business in 2020.

Several months after moving here, he says the transition to Michigan is going well.

On a recent morning, Vega showed off his company’s new headquarters on the fifth floor of the CWD building in downtown Grand Rapids. With panoramic views of the city skyline and the Van Andel Arena, he and his seven area employees use the open office-style space to meet with retailers and discuss sales, product design and more. topics.

Dozens of shoes line a wall near the entrance to the office.

Vega uses the shoes — available in styles for casual wear, hiking, running and more — to speak with sellers about her company and its commitment to sustainability.

“We always say these shoes are made of trash, because they are,” he said, describing HOLO’s use of recycled materials such as water bottles to create its shoes.

HOLO takes pride in its production methods.

Holding a shoe, Vega points to the sole and says a series of tiny, bumpy multicolored dots are the result of a manufacturing process that uses less energy and water than conventional methods. Rather than being smoothed, which would require a more intensive production process, the shredded recycled material used to create the sole is left in its original shape, he said.

“We think it gives it a lot of character,” he said. “You see a lot of bumps and imperfections, and you see a lot of the recycled content that’s been regrinded into the material.”

Vega, who grew up in Miami and attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, worked in the shoe industry for nearly two decades before launching HOLO. His resume includes stops at Puma, Keen, Columbia Sportswear, DC Shoes and Fossil, a watch manufacturer.

He is, however, no stranger to western Michigan.

Earlier in his career, about four or five years ago, he spent a few years at Wolverine World Wide in Rockford. During that time, he lived near Knapp’s Corner in Grand Rapids Township and spent a lot of time downtown, he said.

“There are a lot of young people here, there are a lot of people here who have a lot of energy,” he said.

Today, HOLO shoes can be found at retailers such as Macy’s, REI, Nordstrom, Backcountry.com, and more.

But, going forward, Vega says he plans to expand the company’s reach, both nationally and locally. Sales are expected to exceed $5 million by the end of the year.

“We will be in 50 Meijer stores by January or February,” he said.

Price is important to Vega.

He says HOLO’s priority is to make sustainably created and affordable footwear for a range of consumers. HOLO’s shoes range from around $50 to $100.

“There’s a group of consumers who are being left behind and they’re being left out of the sustainability conversation,” he said. “We wanted to create a brand that really speaks to everyone, no matter where you live or what you do.”

In Michigan, Vega says he found the support he needed to grow his business.

While the venture capital and investment community on the West Coast is heavily tech-focused, HOLO was able to tap into investment networks and raise “a lot of money” in Michigan, he said. declared.

This includes investments from Grand Rapids-based BIC Capital Partners, Invest Detroit Ventures, and Michigan Rise, which supports entrepreneurs and tech startups and is administered by the Michigan State University Foundation.

HOLO also received a performance-based grant of $250,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The grant provided a $100,000 reward to HOLO for signing a three-year lease at its headquarters, 50 Louis St. NW, as well as disbursements of $2,459 for each new job created by the company in Grand Rapids. These disbursements would be made for up to 61 new jobs.

“The community here, from an investment perspective, has been extremely supportive,” said Vega, who has also tapped into venture capital networks in Chicago. “The overall Midwest ecosystem is really, really good.”

Moving forward, finding skilled workers is another goal for HOLO.

In addition to seven employees in the Grand Rapids area, many of whom spend time working remotely but come into the office for meetings and other events, HOLO has four remote employees in Portland.

As the company settles in Grand Rapids, Vega says he will work to build relationships with art and design schools in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest in an effort to attract employees needed to help his business grow.

“We are a product-driven brand,” he said. “So to be able to tell the story of your product, you have to have really good salespeople, and so our approach is to make sure we have really good salespeople – and I think this city has that.”

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