Located right next to the German border, the Dutch city of Venlo has a strong reputation for its many shopping opportunities. Besides bucketloads of cheap liquorice and little bags of high-grade ganja, Venlo now also has a fine range of sneakers on offer: Since August 1st, the Calico Jack shop caters to the ever-growing footwear fam in the area. The owners, Erik and Rolph, tell us more about their background and concept.
Please introduce yourself and Calico Jack!
Erik: My name is Erik, I'm 25 and the co-owner of sneaker and streetwear store Calico Jack in Venlo in the Netherlands. I’ve been collecting sneakers for 6 or 7 years now. You hear a lot of different reasons for starting this hobby – mine is kind of boring: I needed new shoes, decided I wanted something out of the ordinary and started scouring the internet. I ended up with a pair of Puma RP-43 ‘List’ found online in a shop in Hong Kong. During my search I stumbled upon the world of sneaker collecting and a vibrant community, which gave me a place to talk about this phenomenon with like-minded souls. And so the addiction was born.
Rolph: I'm Rolph, 24 and the co-owner of Calico Jack. My family has been in the shoe business since my granddad started his own shoe store 65 years ago, which was passed on to my father in the 80s. You could say I was raised in a shoe store and this sparked my ‘fetish’. The passion grew so big that I wanted to continue the family tradition – but I wanted to do my own thing, so that’s how Calico Jack started.
Also, I’ve been a DJ for about 10 years now. Formerly known as DJ Ghetto I now go by David Ghetto, after the boys from Yellow Claw picked me up as their support act and convinced me to change my name. I get to play a lot of fun gigs around the country, which is great publicity for the store. The last few years I’ve also been busy as a marketing/promo consultant, organized parties and events for museums and cultural organizations.
What was the reason to open your shop?
Erik: There’s a few reasons. First off, there’s nothing better than turning your hobby into your job. Second, I have a degree in facility and real estate management – and what interested me about real estate is having the opportunity to build something physical and being able to stamp your name on it. I could do the same thing by starting ‘my own’ store. And lastly, finding a job in real estate in the current market is a b**ch.
Apart from that, we saw huge potential in Venlo and the region. Around town you can easily spot clothing and sneakers which couldn’t have been bought in the area as there are no stores selling them. This means people in Venlo used to go to other places or buy their stuff online. This meant there was a market.
Rolph: Coming from a retail family I know about the importance of great service and an excellent understanding of the product you’re selling. That’s what we feel is lacking nowadays in stores. The big chains have people working for chump change, no heart for the business or the product. We wanted to bring back the service from years gone by. A cup of coffee for the father whose son is trying on three pairs of shoes, a Fritz Kola for the customer to make him or her feel at home. We’ll measure your feet if you’re not sure which size you have. The customer has to leave the store with a bigger smile than he came in with.
Erik, you have a history in the Dutch sneaker game. Tell us about that.
Erik: Does having memberships to most sneaker platforms around the world, collecting for a few years and showing my face at the occasional gathering mean I have a history in the sneaker game? You be the judge. It does help immensely though when starting a store like this. These connections really made a difference during the startup period and gave us loads of valuable feedback. And not just that: when looking for a designer for Calico Jack’s branding for example, Kwills, most recently known for his ‘Best of Asics Gel Lyte III’ project with Afew, was the obvious choice. Good friend, practically lives and breathes sneakers, and turns out to be a pretty good logo designer.
How did you come up with the name of the store?
Erik: We ended up with at least a 100 different words / names on the board but none of them had the right ring. I thought to myself, we’ve all been young and pirate names used to be damn cool (still are by the way). I did some research on historical pirates and ended up at Calico Jack Rackham. We always wanted the name to have a certain link with who we are or what we were going to do, so I researched the word ‘calico’ and found out it was a kind of fabric. Furthermore, the fabric was imported to the US in the 1800s from India. The region in the UK which it passed through is Lancashire, where my mother grew up. And, most importantly, Rolph liked the name so we stuck with it.
Rolph: Yeah, it sounded great and the possibilities for marketing, a story, etc. are endless. You can build your concept around a name. Do much more with all things surrounding Jack Rackham. For example, matching the general feel of the store to the pirate. We did make sure we didn’t go too ‘Disney’, though. A bit of an old English feel to the whole thing was enough. We’ve got some upcoming clothing items which are heavily inspired by the pirate, so we’re really pleased with the name we chose.
You have one of the most stylish shoe walls ever. Who had the idea?
Erik: Thank you. That was actually not one of our own ideas. We asked a friend of ours, Daan de Haan, to tackle interior design with us. It was clear from the beginning our storefront wasn’t going to have a display, so our interior had to do that job. Daan came up with the idea of a curved sneaker wall in the context of a ship’s hull, continuing on a loose pirate theme. And because it looks much cooler than a few wooden planks on a wall, of course.
How did you go about choosing the range on offer? We see brands like Vans, Asics and Puma but also Floris van Bommel..
Erik: It always comes down to what the market wants. That being said, the market is sizable and diverse so there’s definitely room for personal input. Most of our shoe brands speak for themselves, Converse, Puma, Asics, New Balance, Vans and Huf are proven and what you expect to see in a place like ours.
Rolph: In our opinion, the market is dabbling with a more ‘adult’ style of footwear. Nike with its Lunargrand Cole Haans and other brands like Mark McNairy, Filling Pieces, ETQ or Diemme are all gaining popularity and that opens doors for other, more traditional brands to enter the market. That’s why we chose Floris van Bommel’s Premium collection. Van Bommel is a nine generation brand with a reputation of good quality, craftsmanship, an excellent fit, and it is already a well known brand in the Netherlands. A few years ago they decided to start with a collection geared to a more modern customer. Giving modern twists to the traditional ‘Goodyear’ shoe. We really like Floris van Bommel’s attitude and think it’s a perfect fit for our concept and the way we like to work.
Additionally, Clarks was the ideal brand to bridge the gap between the ‘sneaker’ and the more traditional Floris van Bommels. The Wallabee and Desert Boot are classics in every sense of the word and Clarks is really stepping up its game with new models. Look out for them!
What is your goal, who do you want to reach with your store?
Rolph: We think there’s huge potential in Limburg and the Ruhr area. It isn’t just about the shoes (Mars Blackmon was wrong), there’s a whole lifestyle (I really hate that word, using it anyway) surrounding the business we’re in. Standing behind your counter waiting for people to walk in isn’t an adequate way of running a store anymore. We want to build a community around our store, make sure we’re visible, doing things people might not expect but find refreshing. In the month before Calico Jack opened we held an exposition with a local coffee bar, Milk & Cookies, and Kwills. It introduced a different type of person to our concept and we’d like to continue the trend.
The region we’re in is sadly not as progressive as the major cities in the Netherlands. Sneakers, their story and the idea behind them are still a relatively ‘new’ thing to the people. Ultimately, if we can contribute to or even improve the Dutch sneaker scene and the one in our region, we’d be very glad.
The Dutch sneaker scene is one of the most interesting in Europe. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Erik: Interesting? If you say so. I guess every sneaker scene has its origins in Hip Hop, and the Dutch have had a thriving Hip Hop scene for a long time now. Somewhere down the road this translates into a vibrant sneaker scene. What helps is that there are a number of solid Dutch players with worldwide fame; stores like Patta and Woei and brands as Filling Pieces and Ontour.
Lacebag has also been instrumental. Having a reliable, local internet source with a tight group of enthusiasts over the years has definitely helped shape the market. The forum has a few knowledgeable members always willing to help out. Just don’t post a WDYWT with red pants and you should be fine.
Venlo lies right at the German border. From your perspective, does Germany have a different taste regarding sneakers?
Erik: I think so. Our sneakerhead neighbours tend to be more geared towards the traditional ‘Hip Hop’ sneakers; Air Forces and Jordans. Germans like the Force, we’re Max country, haha. Additionally they go nuts over Adidas and Nikes tech lines, the ZXs and Free Runs. On a good Saturday the entire Venlo city centre is filled with Germans. The amount of Free Runs walking past is ridiculous. And that's everyone. I guess sneakers and running shoes are generally more accepted in Germany than in the Netherlands. Which is great, because the border is just 7 minutes away!