How to launch luxury sneakers in a crowded market

By Jalaja Ramanunni

In the world of luxury sneakers, standing out from the crowd can be a daunting task, even more if you’re launching a new brand.

However, Chalhoub Group’s Head of Corporate Innovation, Nick Vinckier, believes they have found a unique approach to launching their new brand, Sol3mates. By targeting the intersection of sneakerheads and Web3 and NFT enthusiasts, Chalhoub Group aims to tap into a super-niche market that sets Sol3mates apart from the rest.

Chalhoub Group entered the world of Web3 last year when Christofle, its Parisian Silversmith Maison brand, dropped its first NFT collection. They sold the NFT collection of 500 virtual art pieces in five minutes. It prompted the team to plan the next step and move the needle for the group.

Sol3mates, pronounced ‘soulmates’, is Chalhoub Group’s new luxury, Web3-native sneaker brand. In an overcrowded market of luxury sneakers, Sol3mates differentiates itself by targeting a super-niche space between sneakerheads and NFTs.

Vinckier comments, “Super-niche is the new niche. The super-niche of Web3 and innovative sneakers is a small one. It’s better to focus on a small group and dominate that first, fully understand their needs and wants, cater to them, and then expand.”

The Web3 angle

The Sol3mates community is token-gated, which means consumers purchase OG NFTs to be a part of the Sol3mates community. Vinckier explains that ‘OG’ is an acronym for ‘original gangster’. Some perks available to NFT holders are special pricing, early access to limited edition sneakers, free global shipping, and early delivery.

Once they purchase a pair of sneakers, they will receive a physical version of the shoe and a digital one that avatars can wear in Decentraland – a metaverse built, governed and owned by its users. The shoe was rendered to make it wearable in Decentraland, a 3D virtual world browser-based platform where avatars can purchase and wear digital versions of clothes and accessories in the virtual world.

When asked if launching NFTs helped to set the brand apart in an overcrowded sneaker market, Vinckier said, “100 per cent. The Web3 angle is a huge reason for the traction we see. If we announced that Chalhoub Group was creating a new sneaker brand, we wouldn’t have been able to create so much buzz in the industry. Now, we have partners in Japan, and people in Sub-Saharan Africa are involved because of the Web3 aspect. So, absolutely.”

In the next stage, Sol3mates pivots towards Web2. “The sneakerheads that are not necessarily into NFTs but love amazing sneakers. By doing that, we want to create more hype and buzz around the sneaker,” Vinckier says.

Building a community

Brands in the luxury industry must find an element, a sense of belonging that consumers connect with. Vinckier explains that when you buy a pair of Louboutin shoes, you don’t merely buy a product – you buy a better vision of yourself. Sol3mates’ strategy is centered around creating a community that consumers identify with – a community that is exceptionally Web3-minded.

Vinckier comments. “Instead of a two-way street, we do a full 360. The community gets access to behind-the-scenes content, to other members, and the designer.” The community is encouraged to get involved in decision-making by voting for new colorways for the sneakers and silhouettes, and they can suggest new designers.

Staying sustainable

Vinckier also clarifies that their aim isn’t to disrupt the markets. Instead, Sol3mates wants to show an alternative to the way sneaker production works today. “We work with a pre-order model to avoid overproduction. We have a long way to go with sneaker production; almost 40 per cent of shoes today are returned and end up in landfills. It takes between 25 to 40 years for those shoes to be degraded. Shoe production is a very unsustainable business today. With the made-to-order process, we want to show that there’s an alternative.”

He emphasises that, unlike the current norm, shoe designers can be fairly well rewarded, and a positive business can be maintained by keeping customers at the center of the community. Sol3mates’ first sneaker SIROCCO 1, was designed by Kacimi Latamène, an industrial designer who works on various projects in the footwear, jewelry, furniture, and interior design sectors. He has over 97,000 followers on Instagram.

In short, Sol3mates’ strategy is centered around creating a community that consumers identify with, encouraging them to get involved in decision-making, and promoting sustainability by avoiding overproduction through a pre-order model. With this unique approach, Sol3mates aims to show an alternative to the unsustainable business practices in the sneaker industry and build a positive business centered around customers – intertwined with Web3.