Skate Brand Opus Footwear Takes Big First Step in Launch

Original story by Kari Hamanaka for Shop Eat Surf published March 7, 2024.

“Having partners is like being married; it’s just me this time,” Opus Footwear founder and owner Mirko Mangum said of starting his skate shoe company.

Nearly a year ago Mangum took his more than two decades of experience working at skate industry brands of varying sizes to launch Carlsbad, California-based Opus Footwear. He’s leveraged his sales prowess to get the brand into 150 action sports retailers in the U.S., along with building a “posse” of skaters that includes Kris Markovich.

“I had done other brands for the past 25 years and now, more than ever, was looking at the climate of footwear in the skate, surf, (and) snow distribution channels and saw there’s a void of new, independent brands,” Mangum said. “The bigger brands are finding the core skate market a little less enticing, so I thought now is better than ever. I just got to a place where I realized I have the know-how; I might as well do that for myself.”

That know-how to launch Opus is an extensive resume starting from Mangum’s days as a pro skater for Planet Earth and Venture in the early ’90s before moving on to work at Planet Earth when it was a handful of employees who did a little of everything to move the business forward. Mangum would later go on to be part of the original team behind Alphanumeric, then served as VP of sales and marketing at C1RCA Footwear owner Four Star Distribution, and was VP of Sales for the relaunch of Zoo York.

Starting Point

Throughout his career path, Mangum realized that, outside of seeing a hole in the market for a new brand, it’d be easier to create on his own what he missed from the Planet Earth days working with founder Chris Miller.

“We had a cool, family dynamic in the office at Planet Earth in the ’90s. We all loved Chris Miller and I’ve been chasing that,” he said. “I figured out after 20-plus years, I’m probably not going to find it and came to an epiphany.”

Mangum got together with Cesar Rodrigues, who now handles graphics and social media at Opus, Mike Nelson who does some branding work, and enlisted co-founder and long-time footwear designer Dennys Han for the shoe designs. Since the launch, the company’s added Louisiana skater Charlie Thomas to handle sales in the southeast and Mark Brandstetter as regional marketing manager for the northeast.

“Opus means ‘work’ in Latin, and the idea behind the brand is about the work you put into yourself, your community, and the people that support you,” Mangum explained. “Everything’s a work in progress – from skateboarding, learning to surf, or traveling.”

Han himself has worked for so many brands that striking out to build an independent made a lot of sense.

The long-time footwear designer’s resume includes senior footwear designer at Sole Technology, head of footwear design for Generic Surplus, and senior footwear designer at Huf. He and his wife Erin Wignall Han, the former head designer and director of OBEY Clothing’s women’s line, now run East/West Shop in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Han is also the founder of the apparel brand Gentlemen’s Fight Club.

“Opus has got authenticity,” Han said. “We’re trying to be a true skate company that supports skateboarders, not just a corporate company full of funding.”

Competitive Advantages

Last year, Mangum spent a few weeks on the road driving across 19 states to get Opus in doors.

He said distribution will be expanded in a mindful way. The brand’s in core retailers such as select Zumiez stores, Active Ride Shop, Skate Warehouse, Cowtown, and Money Ruins Everything. It also fits in lifestyle boutiques, such as Commonwealth and, of course, Han’s East/West Shop.

Opus is also working with distributors and retailers to help with fulfillment and logistics overseas, making it available in 15 countries when it debuted.

About 80% of the styles will be in black-and-white to avoid overproduction and the need to redesign a new line every season, with retail pricing currently ranging from $60 to $75.

Han also envisions the end consumer he’s designing for across a broad range.

“When I design things, especially for Opus, I’m thinking can a 15-year-old skateboarder and could a 48-year-old mom of two that’s hip and really in tune with things, wear the same shoe?” Han said. “People always say, ‘Oh, (the target’s) 18 to 24 (years old). I don’t know. Kids like older styles. What if dad’s got rad (stuff)?”

Opus also aims to take a different approach to the skaters or other individuals on its team.

“We’re not building a program around contest-based,” Mangum said. “Our goal is supporting doing good in the community. Some team members are great surfers, skaters, or snowboarders, and some people are great stewards of the community. It’s not all based on performance; it’s based on community building.”

Although Opus has launched with a splash, Mangum said growth, like distribution, will be controlled.

“Working for publicly traded companies,” Mangum said, “there’s always expectations of growth and when you’re able to operate an independent brand, you can grow with a purpose and an intent versus just growing for the sake of growing. Our growth will come from how we can be of service to more people and more communities. And when we can do enough in a particular community and they deem it worthy, then we’ll see growth.”

Special thanks to Shop Eat Surf for sharing the Opus story.