BYU grad builds multimillion-dollar men’s shoe brand

2011
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Kory Stevens stands in front of the shoe display at his newly opened office in Provo. Stevens founded the high-end men’s shoe brand Taft only a few years after graduating from BYU and designs all of the shoes himself. (Kory Stevens)

It was a typical Sunday family dinner when Kory Stevens’ phone began flooding with notifications.

He said a satisfied customer had posted a positive review about his company’s no-show socks on Reddit, and the post was going viral. Hundreds of thousands of people were flooding to the website, resulting in thousands of purchases.

“It was probably the most euphoric moment I’ve had, where I could see the potential and I finally saw, ‘Wow, people like what I’m doing and it’s worthwhile for me to continue,'” Stevens said.

Stevens, a BYU graduate, has experienced the ups and downs of life as he builds his multi-million dollar men’s shoe brand Taft and continues to be motivated for success.

“I have this quote on the wall right there,” Stevens said while pointing to a corner of his office. “It says ‘Life is tough, but so are you.'”

Stevens and his wife Mallory launched a Kickstarter Campaign in 2014 for no-show socks, which ended up raising over $46,000 in a month-long campaign. Soon afterward, they transitioned to designing and selling shoes. Taft typically does around $10,000 in sales daily.

Kory said Taft has allowed him to live a lifestyle he wouldn’t have otherwise, but starting and running a business has been especially difficult because of his severe depression. He said he grew up thinking he would be a lawyer, doctor or some sort of international businessman, so the risk and countless problems of entrepreneurship didn’t come easily.

“This is hard for me, but I’m learning a lot and I’m growing a lot,” Kory said. “It’s good for me.”

He also said facing the challenges of depression while building Taft helped him become a better person. He said he’s very open with his depression so he can help others who have similar struggles.

Kory said one of the greatest things about Taft is being able to spend time with his family.

“The whole reason I started Taft was so that I could be with my family more than I would have been,” Kory said. “I haven’t missed anything in my children’s lives. They know me as well as they know their mom, and that has always been important to me.”

Mallory has played an equally valuable role in the growth of Taft and also appreciates the time the family has together.

“We’ve always had the ability to spend so much time together as a family. We were both there for our children’s first rolls, first steps, first laughs, first words,” Mallory said.

Kory and Mallory Stevens take a family photo with their two kids. Taft has always been a family-run business and up until recently was operated out of the family’s house. (Kory Stevens)

Mallory said she remembers starting the business in the living room of the small south Provo apartment she and Kory lived in at the time. She recalls all the grunt work.

“I remember in that moment feeling like we were really doing it — it was scrappy and rough around the edges, but we were really running a business,” Mallory said.

Mallory said she and Kory have learned to work well alongside each other.

“Whether it’s parenting or running Taft, we’ve found a groove that works for us. I think it has taught us to really listen to each other’s ideas and to not worry about who gets the credit,” Mallory said. “We just want the best for our family and for the brand.”

Lisa Evenson, CEO of the warehouse Taft ships its products from, said she remembers watching the steady and substantial growth of Taft. She said working with Kory has been a great experience.

“Kory is brilliant,” Evenson said. “He’s a smart businessman, is a man of integrity and is well liked. He is driven, hardworking and doesn’t see obstacles — only opportunities. He has high expectations for his business, and they are consistently met.”

Some might assume Taft is a major brand with a large office and multiple employees, but Kory and Mallory have run Taft out of their home up until recently. Kory said they waited as long as possible before taking on the expense of an office, but now that the company is doing so well, he’s ready to expand.

“This year’s about growing the team,” Kory said.

Kory said he’s living so excitedly in the present day that he cannot say exactly where the brand will be in five years, but for now, he’s keeping his options open.

Kory said he would advise BYU students considering entrepreneurship to go for it sooner rather than later.

“BYU is a wonderful place. If I was back there, I wish I would have started a business earlier,” Kory said. “There’s no excuse to not start a business. If you want to start a business, you better start a business. There’s no better time than now.”

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