San Diego Business Journal

The sandal and shoe surf brand Sanuk attracted recent attention for creating what some call the "not-a-shoe."

In February, the New York-based trade publication Footwear Plus awarded the local company the Footwear Item of the Year award in the multibillion-dollar footwear industry.

Nearly three years ago, Sanuk introduced the Sidewalk Surfer, slip-on footwear that falls somewhere between a shoe and a sandal. Since then, sales have more than doubled.

The closed-toe shoes are made of malleable cloth that flattens to fit into a backpack or to take to the beach. A pair retails from $48 to $55.

Sanuk President John Vance says that the company's founder, Jeff Kelley, drives the business and keeps ideas fresh.

Kelley, who founded the Cardiff-by-the-Sea business in 1999, created his first sandal concept from a swatch of green, indoor/outdoor carpet.

"We try to keep Jeff's creative DNA in all of our products , that way we make sure that the product is the center of our business, rather than us being the center," Vance said.

Sanuk is a Thai word meaning "pursuit of happiness," a translation that Vance says has remained a focus of his business.

"We're just a bunch of surfers yet we've been embraced by retailers as broad as REI, Fred Segal and Barney's in New York," Vance said.

The company's design center, Vance says, is based in its Cardiff headquarters, while operations and distribution are handled in Irvine. The shoes are manufactured in China.

Surfer Shane Dorian, surfer and musician Donovan Frankenreiter and pro rock climber Chris Sharma are athletes currently sponsored by Sanuk.

Irvine-based C & C; Cos. owns Sanuk and employs 80 people, including Sanuk's eight.

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A Double-Double In Sales, Size: Former model and New York fashion student Elizabeth Patterson has more than doubled the size of her La Jolla boutique since its November 2006 opening.

Last month, Patterson crossed the street and reopened an expanded store on Prospect Street.

Elizabeth's Closet is a high-end apparel store that caters to older shoppers, according to the owner, who is engaged to San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.

Patterson says that she kept the Chargers and their wives in mind when she opened her store, since their disposable income levels would support her more expensive clothing lines.

"I carried men's clothing in larger sizes that would fit a football player, and I focused on buying trendy lines for younger women," said Patterson.

Customer feedback at her Web site told Patterson that shoppers wanted more shoes and more men's clothing, both of which she has incorporated into her new store.

"I'm lucky to have not been affected negatively by the economy lately, since my customers are very consistent and seem to be less susceptible to the economic swings that others are going through," Patterson said.

Sales have more than doubled in the past year, and she says they are expected to grow even more this year.

Send retail news to Liz Wiedemann via e-mail at lwiedemann@sdbj.com . She can also be reached at (858) 277-6359.