Scott Hawaii: The Original Hawaiian Slippah | Hawaii Business Feature
The Scott name has long been associated with footwear.
“I went online and found out my ancestor, Pembroke Scott, worked in a shoe factory in the 1800s in Massachusetts,” says Steve Scott, CEO and owner of Scott Hawaii. “My grandfather, Randall Scott, owned a footwear company in the 1920s in Philadelphia, and then in Glendale, California.”
Scott’s parents, Elmer and Jean, came to Hawaii in 1932 for a vacation and stayed. They founded Scott Shoe Co., which later became Scott Hawaii. The company lays claim to manufacturing the “original Hawaiian slippah.”
“We were probably – if not the first – one of the first to actually make a ‘flip-flop’ or ‘thong’ or ‘slipper’ in the U.S.,” explains Steve Scott, a 73-year-old Mānoa resident, “because most people back in the ’30s weren’t really wearing anything between their toes.
“We were never a traditional rubber slipper. We were always more expensive, a little higher-scale.”
Scott’s parents began by making steel-toed canvas work boots for the plantation workers, using old tires for the outer soles. They later supplied boots to the military. Zoris, or slippers, at that time were imported from Japan.
“But around 1940, during World War II,” Scott recounts, “the priority for shipping was given to military goods.” Imports were hard to come by.
“That’s when my parents decided to switch over exclusively to making slippers. A lot of the plantation labor was being cut back. And following World War II, more tourists started to come here.”
The company’s first warehouse was in Kakaako, on Cooke Street. After World War II, the business moved to the airport area, according to Scott. In 1955, it moved to its current location on Kona Street. The family originally rented the commercial space, but a fire that destroyed the building in 1969 gave them the opportunity to purchase the property.
Slipper material at first came from U.S. sources, but “in 1955, my father took a trip to Japan. He found that Japanese pigskin for the leather uppers was finer and smoother, so we started to source from there,” Scott recalls. “We also started to get EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate – a plastic) soles from Japan.
“This is around the time we were big on the Mainland with Hawaiian-themed shops, such as Waltah Clarke.”
But, in the ’70s, Scott Hawaii switched to rubber soles and began to source its materials from Taiwan. “This is when we started to service the surf market, with rubber soles and nylon straps.” (The ’70s and ’80s were also when the business branched out to include body boards and swim fins. It still sells body boards through a licensee in Australia.)
According to Scott, all the manufacturing was done here in the company’s factory until 2000. “In the late 1990s, we started to use a factory that had been in Taiwan but moved to China. With Hawaii being in the middle of the Pacific, it started to become more expensive to ship materials here, then ship the finished product overseas again.”
Another problem was maintaining an adequate, trained, local workforce year-round, when demand for their products would boom during the summer, then drop off the rest of the year. “At our peak, we had between 55 to 60 employees during the busy summer months, but then down to 45 during the winter,” Scott says.
New designs are now sent with descriptions and any graphics to the factory in China, with a follow-up meeting in person to review the final model.
The cost of shipping and foreign tariffs was another reason to move production overseas, according to Scott. “It became easier for us to ship to foreign countries if it doesn’t come through Hawaii, but goes directly to the customer.”
Scott Hawaii distributes to the U.S. Mainland, Canada, Japan, Europe, Australia, Micronesia, Samoa and Tahiti. (In fact, the company produces slippers and headgear under the Hinano Tahiti license.)
Scott says about 70 percent of the company’s sales are to Hawaii and the Pacific Islands, 25 percent to the Mainland and 5 percent to foreign countries. It manufactures about 300,000 pairs of slippers annually.
The company has 11 full-time staff. Scott’s wife, Jackie, helps in the office. Sons Michael, 45, president, and Kaione, 34, VP, are the third generation being readied to take over, though Scott says he’s “not yet ready to retire.”
Has the template for slippers changed over the years? “It hasn’t changed that much – it’s maybe gotten wider. For men, we’ve gotten into a lot bigger sizes.
“At one time we were making slippers for Wilt Chamberlain. He sent us a drawing of his foot. It was big. I remember his foot was long, but not wide.”
Locally, Scott slippers are carried by big-box stores, as well as by sports and specialty stores and gift shops on the Neighbor Islands.
Yukio Yukawa is the store manager for McCully Bicycle & Sporting Goods, and has been carrying the Scott Hawaii brand for more than 30 years. “We carry their basic models – the Makaha, Manoa and Hokulea – they are the most popular. Our customers love the Scott slippers because of the quality. Some say they are the only slippers they use.”
Stylin’ With Scott
Women’s slippers: “Women want new styles every year,” says Scott, “so we do an update every fall.” Models range from flowery, tropical looks to several-inches-high black wedges.
Makaha/Manoa: “These two are our basic models and our biggest sellers,” Scott points out. The Makaha has a flatter sole with thin channels underneath to disperse water; the Manoa has a sole with ridges for a better grip while hiking.
Hokulea: “It has a white sole that’s nonmarking – so it’s great for the fishing and boating community – and it’s made of rubber for good traction.” Most Scott Hawaii slippers are molded, with arch supports, including the Hokulea.
Story by Hawaii Business Magazine