SWEAR London have gathered everything they’ve learned in over two decades of footwear production and found that customers want one thing above all: choice.
To the unfamiliar, SWEAR is a brand that has managed to influence sneaker culture without ever really being a part of it. Their 90s offerings were seen in more raves than cyphers, and their early 2000s footwear was more sartorial than sporty.
But in late 2017, the brand made a big change that reverberated through the sneakersphere. A sharp pivot to a fully customisable range came with renewed interest in their most provocative designs. Haute heft emerged just as SWEAR was reviving their rotund retro offerings and Demna Gvasalia, whose Triple S was the movement’s marquis bruiser, recognised SWEAR’s OG status by collaborating with them on a sneaker that would come to characterise the ‘absolute unit’ meme.
Since then, SWEAR have spread the good word. They’ve championed unique voices like Gypsy Sport and delivered a breed of open-source collaboration that puts the likes of will.i.am beside a host of burgeoning non-normatives. But the luxury footwear market is always changing. Style writers have surmised that high fashion will turn its heel on sneaker culture, and the longevity of bulky footwear is in question. To see how SWEAR is navigating the space a year on, we spoke with their managing director, Mario Muttenthaler, about where they’ve been and where they’re going.
To kick things off, could you give an overview of SWEAR as brand? Who is your ideal customer?
SWEAR London is the first truly customisable sneaker brand in the premium space. Since its inception in 1997, SWEAR London has been a synonym for personal expression, and our footwear has continually been appropriated by people wanting to be individual.
All of our styles are unisex and boldly expressive, so our customer is confident in their style and not afraid to be different.
SWEAR just made a big change after decades in the game. Can you tell me about it and why the team did it?
Absolutely. After 20 years in the business we realised that there was an ever-growing trend of customers wanting to customise and personalise. At the same time, we acknowledged that customers were tired of seasonal collections. And, importantly, overproduction flooded the market with huge amounts of unsold product. The team, therefore, wanted to create a sustainable footwear brand, enabled by tech, and delivering a new type of experience driven by creativity of the customer while also being sustainable.
In September 2017 we re-launched SWEAR as a fully customisable sneaker brand, bringing together 20 years of heritage with state-of-the art technology. This allows customers to digitally create their perfect sneaker in 3D from 13 base styles, 12 materials and 55 colours. Not only that, but the sneakers are made within five days in Portugal.
We’re now one year out from SWEAR’s restructure. Can you name one thing that went better than expected and one thing that didn’t?
We were excited to see our customer base spread to over 65 countries since the relaunch. We found SWEAR fans not only in the US, UK and Europe but also in Armenia, Kazakhstan, India, Australia and Colombia just to name a few. We had a brilliant response to our Air Revive drop which took inspiration from the SWEAR archive.
What we realised soon after the launch is that customers do not want to be overwhelmed with too much choice. And they are not always keen on creating a sneaker from a blank canvas. Customers want to be inspired with pre-designed styles so that they can put their personal spin on it by making tweaks here and there. With this in mind, we created themes and invited curators to provide inspiration.
SWEAR has also made waves in the collaboration space. Could you tell us about some recent collaborators and why you chose them?
SWEAR’s values are about unapologetic individuality, self-expression and defiance. It’s important that whoever we work with reflects these values. We also want our collaborators to be truly excited about our brand and our product. We were incredibly excited to be working with Jazzelle, a New York—based model, for our Air Revive drop. She was actively involved in creating her own made-to-order designs and her shoot to support the launch. This also resulted in creating an exclusive version of the Air Revive sneaker.
The Vetements and Gypsy Sport collaborations happened very organically, and both were inspired by SWEAR Alternative’s 90s club shoes. In fact, both collaborations used original SWEAR Alternative soles from the 90s.
Giving people the option to customise ready-made collaborations is interesting. Do people usually run with the given design or do they tinker?
It’s a really mixed bag when it comes to customers designing further or simply buying what they see. For sure customers like to personalise their SWEARs by adding initials, even if they purchase what curators have created for them.
Customisation aside, I think the common denominator of SWEAR models is how starkly different they are. Is provocation ever part of the design brief?
It’s not about provocation but it is certainly about pushing boundaries. Why not have fun when you have the ability to create a sneaker that represents exactly who you are!
Bulky sneakers found a huge audience from 2017 to 2018. Is SWEAR betting on that trend continuing?
SWEAR was one of the pioneers in offering chunky platform sneakers in the 90s, so it was an easy decision to bring back an updated version earlier this year. Looking ahead, SWEAR will continue to push the boundaries of sneaker and footwear design.
What do you think of the predictions that high-fashion will move away from sneakers? If that happened, what would it mean for SWEAR?
Fashion is an ever-evolving and changing industry. Customers and brands alike want new and fresh ideas. I have no doubt that the popularity for sneakers will evolve. SWEAR has always moved with the times, putting customers at its very heart, and will continue to do so.
I’d like to get into the weeds with production if we could. Just how hard is it to make every sneaker customisable?
We have 20 years of manufacturing experience which has been a huge help in being able to create made-to-order sneakers in only five days.
Our fantastic SWEAR team in Portugal has worked closely with family-run businesses to create a supply chain that allows us to make our sneakers in record time, whilst always ensuring great quality.
Does the new strategy reduce wastage?
It absolutely does. We are moving into pure made-to-order in the next few months. This means 100 per cent on-demand creation of sneakers and zero per cent overproduction.
Is the current level of customisation the goal, or does SWEAR want to add further autonomy and options?
We are putting more creative guidance in place in some areas, in others we’re widening choices. For example, our design team pre-select certain colour and material combinations which makes it easier for the customers to make choices. At the same time, we are adding more base sneaker styles to give customers a bigger variety of sneaker styles.
Could you hit us with a couple of predictions for what luxury footwear will look like in 2019?
Sustainability is going be a big and important topic. Personalisation will continue to gain momentum. Interesting and exaggerated soles are not going away anytime soon!