Sneakers are hip and have long since morphed from mere sports shoes to stylish, essential items and they are valuable. Sneakers are traded like securities on stockx.com and at trade fairs like Sneakerness where everything revolves around cult shoes. Although the spotlight is on the latest models and collectibles when Sneakerness hits cities like Berlin, Cologne, London, Paris and Johannesburg, “happenings” including panel discussions, sporty activities or raffles are also key elements of the trade fair.
Custom-made, individualised shoes
Martin Olomi and Dennis Vollstedt’s Unique Pieces have been meeting demand in Hamburg for special shoes since June, when the company launched. Customs i.e. custom-made pieces for companies and casual customers with slightly more expensive tastes are created in Wandsbek in many hours of manual labour. Olomi and Vollstedt bring logos, writing, film stars or a picture of a pet onto shoes. Not surprisingly, this latest trend rolled over from the United States and has become more palpable in Germany since 2017, said Olomi, 42.
Passion becomes business model
An attempt to restore his favourite shoes saw Olomi enter the branch. “Then, more and more friends and acquaintances approached me and were willing to pay money to ‘save’ their shoes. So I founded Sneaker Surgery in 2013.” Vollstedt, a trained software developer, was doing similar work at his Sneaker Atelier, and eventually quit his job to devote himself entirely to his passion and joined forces with Olomi.
Every fifth pair of shoes based on customer specifications
While the duo designs most of the shoes freely and based on their own creative ideas, around every fifth pair of shoes is custom-made. “The customers come with a vague idea. Some might want to have Darth Vader from Star Wars on their sneaker and we’ll get down to it,” said Vollstedt and Olomi: “Some motifs are a real challenge. We work on surfaces that are just a few centimetres in size, but the visual effect is what counts.” At first, a Photoshop image reveals what the desired motif could ultimately look like. Dominik Wetzstein, another computer geek, is sitting in front of a computer and transferring racing car features onto a shoe for a customer.
Combining different techniques
The right combination is important, Olomi stresses. Competition in the customizing business is growing. Meanwhile, large sporting goods manufacturers like Adidas are now offering a personalization service. Customers can choose individual lettering when buying. “We stand out from our rivals by combining different techniques,” said Olomi. Anything from airbrushing to shoe tattoo, removing the shoe tongue or sewing on exclusive pieces of fabric is possible for which demand is high at present. Olomi and Vollstedt, for instance, buy well-known designer bags with signs of wear and tear, but with enough flawless fabric to give their shoes a new twist.
Shoes with Swarovski gems for EUR 1,200
The shoe artists have also worked with precious Swarovski gems. “I glued over 2,000 gems to a shoe for Milo, the rapper, by hand,” said Olomi. Naturally, such a unique pair of shoes is by no means cheap and came with a price tag of EUR 1,200. The average price of their customized sneakers comes to between EUR 250 and 350. “At present, we sell one pair a day. In the long term, we want to sell ten pairs a day,” Vollstedt said. Unique Pieces now hopes to seal business collaborations with Nike among others. The sporting goods manufacturer ordered 450 pairs of shoes for special merchandising campaigns, which went to athletes, musicians and influencers. Social media channels such as Instagram are important advertising channels for entrepreneurs and caused the value of the order to double.
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