With a decade of industry experience and a head full of dreams, Adrien Wira decided it was finally time to put his money where his pen is. Intended to address the negativity that surrounds ‘made in Asia’ footwear, Adrien’s new brand Sole Architects kicked off with a model named SA1.6180 in honour of the mathematically perfect ‘Golden Ratio’. In his own words, here’s what he learned along the way.
Even back when I started studying design, I always had the idea of doing something on my own one day. I didn’t know which direction I would go in, but I was interested in many creative disciplines. With a bit of luck, my personality and contacts helped shape my independent path.
You have to understand that it has been a long process to get here. I had to learn about business, build a good network, sharpen my vision, and also learn to be more objective. Stepping back to analyse what is good and what is not, is really important.
Creating my brand has been a personal challenge. Taking care of a brand from A-to-Z is very different from just being in charge of the design and development process. It also gives me the opportunity to create a product with 100 per cent of my DNA – something premium, timeless and well beyond the current trend towards eccentric fashion shoes. Whether it works or not, it’s important that I at least gave it a shot.
The reality is that everything – and I mean everything – is stressful and challenging. The process from design to prototyping and material selection is a normal part of my day job, but it’s all the other hidden aspects of building a business – like admin, shipping, taxes, patents, clients, websites and photoshoots – that require so much time, energy and money.
By far the most challenging aspect is that you still need to find agents, stores, magazines, influencers, and ‘friendly people’ who like your product and will support your brand. Several close friends have been very helpful, but apart from their input, I have done everything else by myself.
The Right Partner
During my first years working for adidas, I spent a lot of time visiting various factories in Asia, but Indonesia is the place I loved the most. After a few years thinking about building my own business, I was able to connect with the right partners and suppliers in Jakarta.
Without a great factory, there is no way to make your dream come true. Thanks to PT. Aggiomultimex Int. I have the best of both worlds – all the benefits of a huge factory but with a family atmosphere. The fact that they heartily opened their doors to a young unknown French guy who wanted to produce 500 pairs is amazing. Their clients are normally huge, so I am really thankful for their support.
In my case, they placed production on their small volume development line, which meant we were able to control the process through all the different phases – such as stitching, assembling, packing and shipping. The factory also helped me select suppliers and find the last few missing pieces of the puzzle.
Sorting out the customs paperwork is one of the most important considerations, which I knew nothing about six months ago. Special thanks to Subagio Lembono and Sodik Anwar who helped me so much. As I said, selecting the right factory is so important!,
Made in Asia
I am definitely tired of reading negative clichés and stupid comments on social media from people who obviously know nothing about the shoe business. People need to stop thinking that Asian workers are exploited children!
Those days are over now and, in my experience, it doesn’t exist in this business anymore.
In Indonesia, for example, the legal working age is 15. I’ve been to Italy where I saw very nice factories in Civitanova Marche producing high quality formal shoes. Some Portuguese companies definitely do a good job making classic sneakers. And in China, I’ve seen huge factories with advanced technology and 3D printers that cost more than your house. They have the best materials for pure performance shoes, and the money to invest in research and development, which means they can push the limits in terms of manufacturing processes and automation.
On the other hand – as it were – stitching two pieces of leather together, whether they are Italian, Chinese or Indonesian hands, still requires a lot of energy, care, talent and skill. There is no better way here or there. Sometimes things are done in a different way, in different atmospheres, or with a different mentality. I tried to make a shoe by hand once and, trust me, it’s definitely not easy!
Visiting all these different places helped me understand why luxury shoes are so expensive, and why the best running shoes are made in China. In my case, considering my own shoe is a classic design with leather and EVA, I decided Indonesia was the best fit.
But let’s be clear about the costs. Any shoe that’s made in a few hundred pieces will never be cheap! That’s one of the reasons I used my @Sole_Architects page to explain to my customers how shoes are made and what the different steps are. I also try to be as transparent as I can be regarding working conditions and how materials are sourced.
I’m proud of the development team I work with, and they deserve this recognition and tribute.
As I said before, designing shoes is something I am good at, but selling them is a very different skill. Ideally I would like to work with shops that specialise in sneakers, or at least sell selected premium goods and have a clientele who appreciate quality, and rare things.
Frankly speaking, I would love to find partners for real collaborations as well, which means really involving my potential partners with materials, colours, packaging design, and accessories – and not just placing a logo somewhere on a shoe. To me that should not be called a ‘collaboration’. If you own a store or a brand, and love my shoe, feel free to contact me.
The First Shoe
Naming the first shoe was challenging. ‘SA’ stands for Sole_Architects, while 1.6180 is taken from the Golden Ratio that has inspired architects, artists and mathematicians for centuries. When the Ratio is followed, harmony is achieved between every element, which is apparent whether you are designing a building or creating a piece of art.
I tried to follow the ratio, also called Phi, to design each element of the shoe, so I thought having the number as the name was a nice detail. Apart from that, the triangle on the heel is the alchemist symbol for ‘earth’, while the heel stabiliser has ‘architects’ written in Braille.
Aside from the exterior, I was primarily concerned with how the shoes fitted. I developed a special last in Framas, Germany, which has a unique shape, good volume, and plenty of comfort. The materials are a selection of the best leather and suede I could find. Inside, the shoe is full leather with a special breathable foam sockliner.
The packaging was another big investment. The box has a magnetic closure system, stickers, a shoe bag, postcards, and a leather key holder. The shoes are laser numbered, which makes each pair unique.
The True Cost
Considering this is a proper limited edition, just 500 pairs, my goal was to create a complete package for anyone who likes high quality shoes, plus all the details and extra goodies, at a decent price. Many may consider the price quite high, but it is definitely far from the luxury business. When you consider everything that went into the shoes and their development, not to mention the quality of the materials and the skills of the workers, I think the price speaks for itself.
If I had to start from scratch again, there are a few things that I would do slightly differently. I can still improve in a lot of areas but, in all honestly, I prefer to look forward instead of back. My second release is not far away, and since production is my favourite step in the whole process, it’s an exciting time, even if it is stressful.
The plan is for more colours and material combinations, with different packs and specific themes, colabs with artists, and a social and sustainable engagement that helps associations with direct donations.
Nowadays, our planet often looks like a battlefield, and that’s often so in the sneaker business too. I’ve been brought up on the idea that every creative person should contribute something positive through their talent and taste. I get a lot of messages from students asking for tips about renderings and internships. No matter how busy I am, I always try to answer and help as much as I can. Footwear design brought me a lot of good things in my life, and I try to give a bit of that back to whoever needs guidance to follow their dreams.
Thank you for reading my story, and thank you to Sneaker Freaker for giving me this platform. After spending so much time and energy to build Sole Architects, your time means a lot!
This interview was originally published in Sneaker Freaker Issue 43. You can cop it now via our Shop!