Fuego: The Future of DancewearBy Ryan Zauk
Fuego: The Future of Dancewear
Fuego is a dancewear brand born in a Brooklyn dance studio. Its debut product, a versatile dance sneaker that doubles as streetwear, has propelled the brand to early success. I recently sat down for coffee with Fuego’s founder and Wharton MBA, Kevin Weschler, to learn about the company’s launch, progress, and future goals.
The Opening Number: How Fuego Began
Two years ago, Kevin was a NYC-based management consultant exploring a newfound passion for dance. While taking Salsa classes in Brooklyn, he became frustrated with the need to carry both a commuter shoe and dance shoe each day. His regular sneakers lacked the pivoting and spinning ability for dance, leading to injury, discomfort, and decreased performance over time. His formal dance shoes, however, were pretty unfashionable and lacked versatility. He noticed the women in his classes had it even worse, often wearing socks with uncomfortable dance heels.
Kevin realized this product segment needed a refresh, and he set out to design a sneaker that could be worn to both dance studios and clubs, and everywhere in between.
As he searched for the ever-elusive “industry whitespace,” he was encouraged by what he saw. There were a handful of dance companies, but none had perfected the fusion of dance and streetwear in both product and branding.
Compelled to create the next beautifully branded D2C passion product, Kevin got to work.
“The vision I had from day one has not changed at all.”
Rehearsal: Building and Testing the Product
Before starting at Wharton in 2018, Kevin wanted to gain momentum in product development. He left his job several months before school started and without any prior experience in footwear, started learning how to make shoes.
The core of his design was ensuring that dancers could move fluidly while maintaining a proper connection with the floor. Which materials would enable the perfect balance between slip and grip? How could the shoe maintain function without sacrificing street appeal? Over time, Kevin refined the product through countless iterations with his manufacturing partner overseas. After battle-testing prototypes with some of the world’s top dancers, he conceived the below:
Finding an Audience
With his product now designed, Kevin focused on building the Fuego brand. He knew Fuego needed to galvanize the young, energetic flair of dancers, so he zeroed in on the company’s target audience. The general dance market is massive – there are over 30 million dancers in the US and roughly 200 million worldwide, making dancing one of the most universal forms of exercise, sport, and recreation. You may be surprised to find there are more dance studios in the US (46,000) than yoga studios (43,000).
To reach as many dancers as possible, Kevin began partnering with professional dancers, influencers, and studios (including Wharton’s own Dance Studio). “In the early days, I got the shoes in the hands of people by DM’ing and leveraging any connections I could, focusing on the passion-economy and passion-influencers.” Drawing from the playbooks of successful lifestyle D2C brands, Kevin focused on delivering a product and ethos that resonated with a tight-knit community. See his strategy come to life in an Instagram post with Kristin Farina from NBC’s World of Dance:
The strategy paid off and, within months, Fuego had sold shoes in 24 countries around the world, all without spending a dollar on marketing outside the US. “It speaks to the power of social media and influencers. Dancers around the world listen to the professionals, and when they genuinely endorse a product, it holds a lot of weight.”
When he analyzed his brand’s customer demographics, Kevin’s findings surprised him. There was a roughly 50/50 split between men and women, and 25% of sales came from people over 55, something I personally found astounding. Moreover, Fuego’s customers hailed from a variety of dance styles, including salsa, hip-hop, dance fitness, and others.
This diverse consumer base presented some early challenges to his supply chain. Customer demands (both by colors and size) changed daily, requiring Kevin to constantly refine inventory projections. As Fuego reached new demographics, dance styles, and regions, his needs shifted constantly. Further, no two people’s feet were the same; even today, Kevin obsessively collects feedback to refine shoe construction, material, and overall fit.
“What does that tell us?” Kevin said. “Everyone is dancing.”
The Final Act
So where does Fuego go from here?
“We’re more than just a shoe; Fuego is a dance-inspired athleisure brand. Dance is embedded in our DNA, and we will always look to serve that community,” Kevin says. The shoes are the flagship product addressing the largest need, but he is keeping an eye on future launches. He cited lululemon’s success in expanding from its roots as a niche yoga clothing provider to an athleisure powerhouse that even supplies ubiquitous men’s work pants found across Silicon Valley and NYC.
What excited us most in our conversation, however, was the future of the Fuego brand and its content. The company’s media presence reflects the energy and passion (with an international flair) of dancers that make up its target audience. Its latest original content sequence, a video series called FuegoTV, just launched to provide a window into the lifestyles of dancers.
See the brand for yourself below:
The global response to Fuego, coupled with potential growth, are encouraging signs for the startup. Kevin has seen the most penetration in the US and Europe, but both South America and Asia have also shown promise. Dance is woven into South American culture and Asia’s Hip-hop community is growing rapidly, signaling strong opportunities for Fuego. Following in the footsteps of Outdoor Voices, NOBULL, and the ever-expanding list of well-branded D2Cs, Fuego is bringing a great product to a passionate, underserved group.
This fan fervor gives Fuego the potential to soar, and investors agree. Kevin recently closed a seed round from undisclosed angel investors as well as Dorm Room Fund to drive Fuego’s next stage of growth. Personally, I have my pair ordered and will be watching for Kevin’s next act.