Steve Lax and his wife Susan, who have been distributing Naot's comfort sandals successfully in the U.S. for 25 years, have agreed to acquire the company, which is the largest manufacturer of shoes in Israel.
Naot's previous owners had been in disagreement over several issues. One was the acquisition of a German shoe manufacturer, Theresia Muck, in 2007. Another was a more recent proposal to sell Naot to another company that would have transferred the production to China.
Steve Lax told Shoe Intelligence that one of his reasons for taking over Naot was the preservation of jobs in Israel and in the West Bank, which is regarded as part of the brand's DNA in the U.S. as a symbol of peace. Its sandals are made by about 800 directly employed workers in Northern Israel, with much of the stitching subcontracted to about 400 other people, including many Palestinians, at workshops in the West Bank.
Steve Lax, who is now 63 years old, spent 15 years in an Israeli kibbutz before coming back to the U.S. to distribute Naot through his company, Yaleet. He has been donating thousands of sandals each year to the homeless. The U.S. is the biggest market for Naot outside Israel.
Michael Illouz will continue in his role of chief executive at Naot. Nothing will change in the manufacturing process, but Steve Lax, who will act as chairman of Naot, wants to give a new look to the brand. Naot will continue to use good leathers from Italy, Germany and Spain.
On the other hand, Naot will close its European office at the end of this year, which employs eight people at Theresia Muck's head office in Bruchweiler, and transfer the business to a former distributor. The office is accepting orders for surplus stock but is not taking orders for spring/summer 2015. Erik Illig, who was managing Naot's European operations, left the company already a few weeks ago, but is still handling some financial matters while working for another company in India.
Naot had already decided to stop the production of Theresia Muck by the end of this year, which subsequently changed its name to Theresia M or Theresia. The new owners plan to stop selling the line completely, putting the brand up for sale. They will instead launch a new brand of footwear for the autumn/winter 2015/16 season. It will be partly made in Europe, using some of Theresia's know-how and perhaps also some of its facilities. The details of the project could not be learned at this stage.
Lax' company, Yaleet, has also acquired Dafna, an Israeli brand of PVC rain boots, slippers and military boots founded in 1964. The brand is manufactured at another Israeli kibbutz in the same region as Naot's, that employs about 150 people, but Yaleet is not taking over the workforce.