What's a good-looking Sonoita ranch kid, athlete, Salpointe High and University of Arizona grad turned network TV soap and movie star to do?
Get rock stars — and as many of the rest of us as possible — to wear the $42 commie canvas sneakers he calls The People's Shoe.
Mark Wystrach, he of the amazing résumé, says he fell into The People's Shoe when a friend, the budding shoe company's founder, told him a story after they did some surfing in Southern California.
Getting there wasn't a direct route by any means. After graduating from the UA in 2002, Wystrach moved to Norway. Intentions of getting a master's degree in economics took him there, he says; romance kept him there — for a while. "A gal I met" is the way he puts it. But he decided it was too soon to settle down and headed back to the U.S. Eventually, he came to rest in the Los Angeles area, took some acting classes and worked in restaurants.
He got a part in a Lindsay Lohan movie, "Just My Luck," and then did a two-year hitch on the NBC soap "Passions."
"The writers strike shut down the business for four or five months," he said. Although it would seem he finally found something that could stop him in his tracks, it was not to be.
He ran into an acquaintance, Anton Brandt, who gave him a pair of the Chinese shoes. "As soon as I saw the shoes and heard the story, I told him that I wanted to get involved and help sell them," Wystrach recalls.
The story is that Brandt decided to settle in Shanghai, China, after college in California, noticed the crew rebuilding his street wore identical, but cool, canvas sneakers, and tracked down the source. He'd bring a few pairs as gifts each time he'd visit the United States. Soon, Brandt got requests from other friends. And then complete strangers were getting in touch to ask him to get them these relatively plain, low-cut, round-toed, old-school tennis shoes.
Brandt had the factory make a modified run of a few hundred pairs for him. The People's Shoe line now has three color combos: white and blue, tan and brown, and black with red accents.
Wystrach said he and Brandt wanted to be involved with an ethical company and had concerns about "everything we grew up with about Chinese labor, sweatshops, Nike and Adidas. We visited the factory. It was run by a family, eight-hour workdays, clean, not loaded with fumes."
They now use recycled tote bags, eliminating cardboard shoe boxes, and are working on getting the company to use environmentally safe adhesives. In the name of sustainability, they're looking into a type of canvas made from bamboo fiber.
Brandt "wanted to make philanthropy a big part of the concept," Wystrach said. They are donating a share of profits — which, he acknowledges, so far doesn't amount to much — to the Starfish Project, a program providing health care and clean water to Cambodians.
Wystrach is the marketing man in this two-man company without a marketing budget. So, he says, that means "viral marketing" — blogging, Facebook, their own Web site, anywhere else on the Internet that works, interviews with magazines (Rolling Stone, Footwear Plus, Threadtrend, Us Weekly, British Vogue) and everyone he meets.
When he's not promoting The People's Shoe by hanging out with rock stars at music festivals (Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, Coldplay and Franz Ferdinand at Coachella and Pemberton), Wystrach is back to auditioning for acting parts. And his indie-folk-rock-alt-country band, Young Whiskey, is playing around L.A.; he's the lead singer.
So he meets a lot of people. Los Angeles is full of Tucsonans, he said. He recently ran into a co-worker from his days at Gentle Ben's, which is, coincidentally, across the street from the Tucson launch site for The People's Shoe.
The shoes are available in Tucson only at Landmark Clothing & Shoes, 876 E. University Blvd. — so far, at least. Wystrach said it was a natural to introduce them at the UA Main Gate standby. Nationwide, they're in about 30 stores, mostly in L.A. and New York.
"As soon as I saw the shoes and heard the story, I told him that I wanted to get involved and help sell them."
The People's Shoe co-owner