Last May, Chad Kramer was at a dinner at Miramar in Highwood and a friend asked if he’d ever heard of the luxury shoe brand, Del Toro. A self-admitted fashion nerd, Kramer said he had been an early follower of the brand on Instagram but was unsure of what had happened to it.
Fast forward to October, and Kramer was on day one of his tenure as Del Toro’s CEO. A Venn diagram would be useful in illustrating how Kramer’s journey came about, but it all starts with a love of fashion.
“My whole life I’ve been very interested in fashion. My family owned an optical business in Glenview, so I’ve grown up in retail. I’ve loved eyewear my whole life and that led to fashion,” Kramer says. “My mom jokes around that she didn’t know what to do with me as a kid so she would just take me shopping with her. She says I grew up in malls.”
Kramer was raised in Long Grove and attended Stevenson High School before enrolling at the University of Illinois. After graduation he landed a job in asset management with JP Morgan, eventually moving to New York. Though he found success in the finance world, his interest in fashion never waned.
“When I moved to New York City I always had this hidden itch that I really didn’t talk to anybody about—that I was really interested in fashion and one day starting my own brand,” he says. “After living in New York for three years, I opened up to my fiancé at the time, Heather, who’s now my wife, and I said, ‘I have to scratch this itch, but I can’t tell anyone at JP Morgan because that’s not how I’ll ever climb this ladder’.”
Kramer started taking a fashion entrepreneurship program at night at Parsons School of Design at the New School. He would leave JP Morgan, tell everyone he was working with that he was going to business school, and then hop on the subway and go downtown to fashion school.
“I was living two very separate lives. I started to lose interest in finance, and I was toying around with starting my own fashion brand,” says Kramer. “My wife was working at Pinterest, loving life, loving the tech and media space, and she came home and said, ‘My boss offered me a promotion if we move back to Chicago’. She had moved to New York so I could work at JP Morgan, and clearly, I wasn’t happy working in finance, so I said, ‘Let’s go home’.”
When he got back to Chicago, Kramer realized his dream of starting his own fashion brand was going to more challenging than anticipated. So after some aggressive networking, he landed a position in 2017 at Meta helping market major brands on Facebook and Instagram.
“I realized I had a tool that I could use to stay connected to the fashion industry with Instagram probably being the most powerful platform today for brands, especially fashion brands,” Kramer says. “I could go find podcasters or bloggers or influencers that I admire or that I follow on Instagram and tell them, ‘Hey, I’m an employee at Instagram. I’m just of fan of yours let me know how I can help for free’.”
Turns out Instagram encourages employees to get out and about and network with advertisers. While Kramer primarily worked on the McDonalds business, he started networking—almost as a hobby, he says—with a number of powerful individuals in New York City within the menswear and fashion space. He ended up building a robust rolodex of people in the industry.
When Del Toro came calling, Kramer had the perfect resume for the position—a finance background, digital marketing experience at Instagram, and a bulky network of industry influencers. His fashion nerdiness was also an asset. He survived an intense interview process—the owners who hired him are Stanford MBAs—and started just in time for the busy holiday shopping season.
Kramer says he was fortunate to succeed Andrew Roberts, the first CEO hired under the current ownership, who focused on getting a nearly dormant Del Toro brand up and running again.
“His focus was much more on the operations side. He did a phenomenal job getting a business running that was at a low point when it was purchased,” Kramer says. “He did a great job of turning the lights back on. The operation side is really tight.”
Kramer is focused on a number of issues that align with skills and experience. These include getting a better return for digital ad buys (the vast majority of sales are direct to consumer via the company’s website), expanding Del Toro’s wedding strategy, and his personal passion—comfort.
“Comfort is everything. That was one of my key initiatives and something that I carry through everything I do as I work in product development,” he says. “Now that people are starting to come out more and more—to dinner or to their offices—people are getting dressed again but they don’t want to give up that comfort that they were able to experience the past couple of years.”
When he was returning to Meta’s offices in the city, Kramer, who lives a seven-minute walk from downtown Glencoe, says he wanted a loafer that he could put on and walk to the train, then leave Ogilvy and walk across the river into the Loop, without blisters.
“I’m the guy who wears loafers barefoot. It was really important before I even joined the company that the shoes were comfortable,” Kramer says. “Can I take them out of the box, put them on, walk to the train, and then walk around the city all day?”
Del Toro shoes are made in two factories in Italy—one in Milan and one just outside of Naples. Kramer was just in Italy a month ago and sat down with the shoemakers, walking through the design process and designing new shoes together.
“It was very surreal. It was a very wild trip, going out to Italy and sitting there and thinking, ‘Wow, I went to fashion school, and I thought my fashion dreams were crushed when I moved home,” he says.
For more information or to shop Del Toro, visit deltoroshoes.com.