Thanks to an e-commerce boom in the late 2000s, sneaker sales began to shift from shelves to URLs at a blistering rate. The ease of shopping from home proved irresistible for many, resulting in a downturn in sneaker sales through brick-and-mortar outlets, who were also battling ever-increasing overheads. For a while, snagging a coveted release with the click of a mouse was an exciting exercise; however, the proliferation of bots has made it all but impossible to compete, resulting in constant frustration.
In an unexpected twist, the industry looks to be pulling a complete 180: it seems sneakerheads are re-embracing the human touch when adding to their collection. Recently, one of Europe's largest online sneaker boutiques, Foot District, decided it was time to open their first street-side location. We caught up with co-founder Diego Martínez to find out what prompted the retailer to wander from the world wide web onto the streets of Madrid.
From an online store to bricks and mortar, you don’t hear that too often!
Nacho [Bermúdez] and I started Foot District five years ago. We have backgrounds in digital and marketing, so I guess digital was the way to go for us back then. We later partnered with José [Ángel de Cabo] and Jaime [Peña], who have over 20 years of retail experience between them. I think the diversity of skills has helped us a lot.
After some time with just an online presence, we realised we needed a physical space that truly showed who we were as a brand. It was all about connecting with customers in a deeper way. It is incredibly difficult to do that with just an online store. We also had strong support from brands encouraging us to open a physical retail location, so that further motivated our decision.
How are you finding the transition from online to retail so far?
Pretty challenging! Fortunately, our business partners are well experienced in retail, so they are helping the management team find their feet. Personally, I don’t have that much experience in retail, as my background is more digital. That said, we are having so much fun trying to do things in a different way. We are so proud of the feedback that we have received about the design and concept of the store. It is amazing what you can do with a physical location in this connected world. Someone from China can publish a picture or a story about your store and voilà! Your store is in front of all their audience. It’s much tougher to have this impact with just an online store.
I’m guessing you guys are pretty big Jordan fans?
We all grew up watching Michael Jordan play in his prime, so we wanted to honour his legacy in a unique way. Jordan Brand have supported us right from the beginning and so we wanted to say thank you as well. We also wanted to connect the world of sports with the rest of the store in a premium way. Since we had a separate room, everything just made sense to us. We basically envisioned a space in which basketball and Jordan’s legacy unites with design and digital experience.
Pretty impressive fit-out.
The space represents our district – our city – in a very unique way. An urban grid of 300 cubes takes over the store. We have tried to recreate a city space and urban scenery in a premium way. The combination of thin cement, polished fencing and steel bricks recreates our district.
There is also a digital element. Some of us come from tech backgrounds and so we wanted to incorporate that into a brick and mortar experience in an interactive way. We wanted to educate customers on the legacy of Michael Jordan so we created 3D chromed models of the first 14 Air Jordans. Each model is labelled with its corresponding number. If the customer lifts a model, a video related to that shoe is triggered on the massive a curved LED screen that sits above our Jordan display.
Speaking of screens, it’s not every day that you see a slot machine in a sneaker store!
It is all about the experience. It is not your usual slot machine. It works exclusively with Foot District coins, and the standard fruit symbols have been replaced with sneaker models. You’ll find the NMD, Air Max 1, Air Jordan 1 and more. Match three of a kind and you win a 3D-printed miniature of that shoe.
Are they printed in-store?
We actually do have a 3D printer in the store dedicated to special releases. The idea is to be able to print out models live for major drops. However, the miniatures for the slot machine are printed off-site so they available instantly for winners.
If only they were wearable! Doesn’t look like it’ll be too long before we see 3D shoes hit shelves en masse.
When we came up with the concept for the store, we looked for a link between our digital roots and the physical world. For us, 3D printing serves as the link between both worlds. For the store’s cubic design, we envisioned it as if a printer had generated this urban grid that takes over the store. It might sound crazy but it took so much time to refine this concept.
As for 3D-printed shoes, I think they will change the whole industry. A sneaker can be designed and produced at a lower cost, and in less time. Brands will be able to react much quicker to customer needs.
Finally, what’s the sneaker scene like in Madrid? What models are popular?
The sneaker scene is growing rapidly in Spain – particularly in Madrid. Spain has something to say in this world! If we look at the past, models like the Air Max BW, Air Max 95 and Air Max 97 dominated the city scene. Nowadays, the tastes are more globalised. The Air Max 1 with the new shape and just about any model with BOOST seem to be the most popular right now.