Armed with boat shoes and his four best friends, senior Jason Shuman has begun his college campus takeover. What began as a project for an entrepreneurship class his sophomore year at UM has evolved into Category 5 Boat Shoes, the only manufacturer to sell officially licensed customized fraternity boat shoes.
Category 5 launched its “Class Meets Custom Takeover” at 80 universities this fall and will be at 200 campuses this spring. The University of Miami was part of the initial phase of the campaign, which involved campus representatives showing off the shoes to Greek organizations and the general student body.
The idea for the company came to Shuman when he was looking for boat shoes with the insignia of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. He noticed there weren’t any custom boat shoes and that most of the merchandise was overpriced and low quality.
Shuman grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so after hearing him talk about the idea nonstop, his family finally told him he should work on it.
“At first, I was more scared of failure,” Shuman said. “Two years ago I was immature and not ready. Now, I am wholly dedicated and put in 90-hour work weeks. I’m the first to come in and the last to leave.”
Shuman’s father put him in touch with a manufacturer. When the first prototype fell apart, Shuman decided to try again with the help of his best friends.
Through research obtained from Greek organizations and the licensing company, they learned that the market for the shoes was definitely there: The undergraduate market replenishes itself by 25 percent each year and the number of Greek students tends to stay the same, allowing for about 82,500 people to join fraternities and sororities each year.
“We’re all students; me and Jason are the only ones in fraternities, but we are the target market,” said co-founder Nate Shron, a senior at Syracuse University and a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi. “We are the students we hope will buy these shoes.”
Boat shoes have a special meaning to Shuman, who grew up in New England and spent his summers on the coast at a camp in Cape Cod.
“Boat shoes are the norm in Cape Cod,” he said. “They look good, feel good, and are convenient.”
After testing several prototypes, Shuman and his partners found their signature shoe: the Yachtsman. The design includes premium leather, slip-resistant soles and foam insoles that have a structured back, which make the shoes feel broken in from the start. The shoes are licensed for 19 fraternities, including SigEp, AEPi and Sigma Chi.
Category 5 is also expanding to sports teams, yacht clubs, country clubs, private schools and any other groups looking for personal customization. Shron says they hope to add women’s shoes and sororities in January. The men’s line will be adding color options as well.
“We’re always open to suggestions because customer service is the most important goal to maintain,” said Shron, who is Category 5’s vice president of business development and public relations.
Shuman has focused his energy on the business, because he says that to make it, you have to be fully invested in what you are doing.
“Dreams turn into visions, but hard work makes realities,” he said. “If you’re not thinking about this in the shower, then you’re doing something wrong.”
For more information, visit Facebook.com/Cat5BoatShoes and Cat5boatshoes.com.