6 Important Insights from Virgil Abloh on Building a Sneaker Brand

Want to start a sneaker brand? What lessons can we take from streetwear...

We watched Virgil Abloh breakdown some important learnings for anyone starting a streetwear brand and pulled out his key insights relevant to starting a footwear brand.

Starting a footwear brand can be an exciting and rewarding journey, but it can also be challenging. Here, we'll look at six lessons inspired by Virgil Abloh's advice that will help you get a step ahead...

1 — Focus on the "Who, What, When, Where, Why"

When starting your footwear brand, it's important to consider not only the brand itself but also the people and stories behind it. Who is involved in creating the shoes? What unique features do they have? When and where are they made? Why should customers choose your brand? Answering these questions can help you build a strong brand identity and resonate with your target audience.

BAPE ape head t-shirt — impossible to get so you'd buy the next best thing

2 — Create an Unattainable Dream Product and Offer the Next Best Thing

Keep your customers engaged by offering a highly desirable, exclusive, and unattainable product, while also providing the next best thing. This approach will keep your customers on their toes and create a sense of anticipation and excitement around your brand. Periodically, surprise them with limited releases of the coveted product to keep them satisfied.

Virgil uses the example of the BAPE ape tshirt, everyone wanted it but it was impossible to get.

For your sneaker brand what is it only a select group can get their hands on? It might be a colourway, a particular sneaker, or maybe an item at a cheaper cost, such as a tshirt or sticker. And once that product is desired, largely due to its exclusivity, what additional products can you offer that are accessible?

Yung Lean and Sadboys tapped into a key emotional moment

3 — Tap into a Key Emotional Moment

Build a connection with your audience by creating a brand that speaks to an emotional moment or movement within the target demographic. Your footwear can embody a sentiment that resonates with your audience, whether it's nostalgia, rebellion, or self-expression. Understand your customers' emotions and use that to fuel your brand's identity.

Virgil breakdown of Sadboys cultural trajectory, starting with gangster rap a good 2 decades before it evolved until a movement that started in Sweden and took over the world...

"It's like the Sadboys thing, you know, Young Lean. It's a great sentiment. It's like a post-Kanye sort of thing. You need gangster rap and then you have average kid who knew that 'average kid' could actually beat gangster rap. [...] And then you have all these like grunge kids and that's the whole thing. So like Sadboys it's like a hipster version of like being emotional, which is awesome, because it's a real trait that actually resonates more than being like, confident. So it's like I'm starting a brand, that the messaging is that it's going to be ironic to wear but it's fun because it's like, it's on the trend of like emotional trend. And there's something super key."

4 — Make Your Brand DNA Apparent

Your brand DNA is the essence of your footwear brand, and it should be evident in everything you do. Whether it's your design aesthetic, materials used, or the story behind the brand, make sure it's clear and consistent. Ensure that buyers, tastemakers, and influencers can quickly grasp your brand's essence and relate to it.

Think bigger than the shoes you're designing and making and how all touchpoints that your audience interacts with will deliver your brands message and DNA. From your graphics, photography, art direction, content and social media posts must be at a level on par with the streetwear brands and footwear brands you will compete with. If you do not have those skills how can you build a team of collaborators that can help you?


5 — Be Patient and Strategic

Success doesn't happen overnight. Be patient and strategic with your brand's growth. Consider partnering with established designers or brands to gain credibility, experience, and exposure while you work on your own project. Understand that growth can take time, and maintaining a steady presence in the market is not necessarily a bad thing.

Virgil talks of ACRONYM who took years to establish a product-market-fit. This is largely due to them being before time, which many fashion brands suffer from and brands that can weather that storm and sustain the business and brand relevance can reap the rewards. But to do that remain patient. As you make shoes and improve as a shoemaker, your brand will grow. What else can you be doing and work on to contribute to this?

6 — Beware of Opportunists

As your brand gains traction and popularity, you may attract attention from potential investors, sales teams, and collaborators. While some offers may be genuine and beneficial, others can be harmful to your brand. Be cautious when considering these opportunities, and stay true to your brand's vision and values.

By applying these lessons inspired by Virgil Abloh, you can create a strong foundation for your footwear brand and navigate the challenges of the industry. Stay focused on your brand's identity, connect with your audience, and remain patient and vigilant on your path to success.

How I think about streetwear it's about like, it's like a deer running and you're pulling the hair pulling like a target as long as you get it you're gonna kill it.” — Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh has been a huge source of inspiration that lies at the roots of the origin of London Sneaker School. Not just from his work with Nike that legitimised aesthetics that customisers and shoemakers create but also his commitment to enabling and inspiring independent brands and creators. Knowing truly that the cultures future and power must remain in the hands of those making the culture, not selling it. We hope these lessons are as useful for you as they have been for us throughout Virgil Ablohs career. RIP Virgil and thank you for paving the way.

Watch the full interview here...

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