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Kid 'n Play

A tech-savvy startup crafts fun, durable shoes while sparking community action.

PLAE’s children’s Thandi boots in Deep Space Purple and Lunar Blue, $79.95.

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The footwear brand’s CEO, Jonathan Spier.

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Larkin in Cameo Rose, $110, Mulberry in black, $160 and Prospect in Hyperspace, $99.95, all from PLAE's new adult line.

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When you think kids’ shoes, technology is not the first word that comes to mind. But for Silicon Valley startup PLAE, tech is at the core of the design-forward brand where fashion meets the ultimate in function.

Launched in 2014, PLAE got its unlikely start when Jonathan Spier, co-founder and former CEO of NetBase Solutions, met Ryan Ringholz, a lead designer at Puma, through a mutual friend and investor. As a dad and engineer with a penchant for new business ventures, Spier was hooked by Ringholz’s vision to create stylish kids’ footwear made for the wear and tear of the playground and with an innovative approach to fit. “I assumed I’d go straight into hardcore tech, probably an enterprise software company,” says Spier, a Harvard Business School grad who earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science at UC Berkeley. “But retail is an exciting space where things are changing fast. And who wouldn’t want to have a job where it’s all about inspiring play?”

Designed using biometric science often reserved for elite athletes, PLAE’s shoes are comfortable, washable, customizable and handcrafted from eco-friendly materials. An interactive 3-D Tab Lab online allows kids the option to create their own styles by choosing any combination of top-closure Velcro straps, which also come in different lengths for varying foot heights. The digitally native brand headquartered in San Francisco—fast-approaching the benchmark of 1 million pairs sold—is now carried abroad, in all U.S. Nordstrom department stores and on, as well as PLAE’s own online boutique.

Spier, who lives in Menlo Park with his wife, Brandy, and 9-year-old son, Max, says giving back to the community was key to the company ethos from the start. PLAE has donated more than $1.5 million in the past 12 months through contributions to Make-A-Wish, Baby2Baby and its Plae-it-Forward program, which earmarks 10 percent of each purchase to a local cause.

Fall debuts a limited-edition adult collection of 10 unisex styles ranging from $89.95 to $160, with three models available in coordinating Sidekicks versions for kids. Leading the charge in fashion tech, the brand also launched a new feature on its website where visitors can download a 3-D printer file template to create a customizable insole based on shoe size. “We’re getting ready for when all of our cameras are 3-D,” says Spier, who initially partnered with Intel in 2014 to prototype software for 3-D modeling and virtualization. “We want to be at the forefront of how new technologies are being used in retail—especially online.”


Originally published in the November/December issue of Silicon Valley

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