“I’m going to marry him”
The story sounds like it is out of a movie. Two girls sitting in a cafeteria and laughing as they ate, one turns to the other pointing to the long-haired man who had just entered and laughs, “I’m going to marry him”. The man, Steven Lax, was a young wide-eyed American who had just immigrated to Israel after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. The girl, who would eventually become Susan Lax, was an Israeli working on the kibbutz during her year of service to the country. As they worked together on the collective farm picking melons and caring for calfs, neither could have imagined that years later they would trade-in their work boots for comfort shoes.
In 1988 Susan and Steven Lax left Israel with their two young daughters and headed to the United States. As they struggled to make ends meet and adjust to life in a new country, the couple began selling leather and sheepskin jackets from Israel. Lax often recounts that his customers were not all that interested in the product, but bought jackets anyway because they loved the salesman.
A proven salesman without a great product Lax was looking for something new when he heard mutterings that Naot, an established brand of shoes and sandals in Israel, was looking for someone to bring the brand to the United States. He was familiar with the brand, Susan’s sister and brother-in-law lived on the Kibbutz where the shoes were made, and knew that he would be able to sell the product, so Lax decided that he was the man for the job.
Ever the determined businessman, Lax persuaded the President of Naot to take him to a shoe show in Manhattan and told him that he had heard Naot was looking for an American distributor and that the plan they had laid out was all wrong. Refusing to take no for an answer, Lax persuaded Naot to give him a chance. He was given two months to compete with two other groups and successfully outsold both.
Yaleet Inc., a name derived from a combination of the couple’s two oldest daughters – Ayelet and Yonit, was born. The first Yaleet booth was constructed using Jaffa Orange crates, a humble nod to the company’s kibbutz roots and the company’s first warehouse was located in the family’s condo. When the family moved to a new home the warehouse moved with them, “If it rained we couldn’t ship,” recalls Lax of the days when the warehouse was still located in the family’s garage.
Yaleet now has a 50,000 square foot space that is home to its warehouse and office and more than 1,500 customers across the country, but the company’s mission has remained the same: to make the world a better place one “step” at a time. Each week the company pairs up with a local retailer to donate shoes to people in need and nearly everyday we hear of a new story about how a pair of Naots changed someone’s life.