Little Shop of Sneakers
Fresh off a successful collaboration with Saucony Originals, we took a moment to catch up with John “JP” Hudson, the owner and creator of Sneaker, to get his thoughts on sneakers, sustainability, small brands, and dropping one of the summer’s most mouth-watering sneaker collaborations.
DB: What made you want to start Sneaker?
JP: The idea of owning a retail store came about in high school in 2001 when I created a store business plan in my marketing class. Although the plan at that time was way different, the idea of a retail store concept stuck with me. That mixed in with my love for design, fashion, and sneakers drove me to create Sneaker.
Can you give us a little background on your shop?
Sneaker opened in Charleston, SC in 2012. I wanted to create a non-traditional retail experience. A common question people ask is "Why are you so hidden?" I wanted the shop to give the customer an experience by giving them something to search for and a community hub. The shop is tucked away in a courtyard (not visible from the street. You have to walk down an alley to enter the shop. It's like a speakeasy vibe.) so it allows us to host coffee and clothing pop-ups as well as music events. The location helps us stand out amongst a sea of stores in the market place.
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How did you first get into sneakers and/or streetwear?
I have always been into Sneakers since I was younger. August was my favorite month because my parents would take me to the local sneaker shop to pick out pairs for the upcoming school year so I was happy I could launch my collab with Saucony in August. Growing up I was very brand loyal to Nike and Adidas, but when I got into high school I started to venture into wearing Reebok, Saucony, New Balance, and Puma. Recently, all I wear is Veja and Obra (Two sustainable footwear brands). I like supporting the smaller brands now.
Describe sneaker culture and the importance of Sneaker (and stores like it) in smaller cities for those that might not be familiar.
To me sneaker culture goes beyond the limited release. It is about community and bringing people together to enjoy a unique experience. Creating product or holding events in the shop allow individuals to connect and talk about not only sneakers but other things as well. Back in 2016 we started to offer sustainable footwear by adding Veja. We have had a lot of great response from younger and older people. These are brands that connect with a community because they are trying to make the world better. Stores like Sneaker help expose people to community engagement and brands making a difference.
You mentioned sustainability in footwear, talk about how important sustainability is to you and Sneaker and what you've seen/would like to see in footwear/sneaker sustainability and culture.
To me sustainability in its simplest form is about mindfulness. It is about being self-aware about buying decisions and understanding where and how your product is being made and what materials are being used. I think it was great to see Adidas create the Parley line (some of it was made using recycled waste), Veja being very transparent by showing exactly how their footwear is made and where they are getting their materials, and Allbirds practicing sustainability with its laces, boxes, and insoles.
What do you see in the future for sneaker culture and the trends that are prevalent right now?
The future of sneaker culture will have a heavy digital presence which could make it difficult for smaller stores who don't have the budget to compete with the bigger shops. Online is so easy now a days with Amazon and other big online shops. Fast shipping and everything is at your fingertips. I think for smaller shops it's going to be important to be more engaged with your customers. Smarter product buys, collaborating and partnering with brands who value your business, creating more unique store experiences that give people a reason to not buy online, maintaining daily interaction with your customer base (Highly responsive on social media) and focusing on premium digital social media and website content.
You also mentioned supporting smaller sneaker brands. Talk about Veja, Obra, Saucony, and other small brands and what they bring to the culture/community that are overlooked by current sneaker enthusiasts.
Veja and Obra bring style along with their sustainability initiative. Saucony brings quality at a fair price point and retro runner nostalgia for their customers.
Do you think supporting smaller brands is something that needs to resonate more within the sneaker community?
I think it does. Smaller brands are creating some very well thought out concepts and designs and they have great stories to share. The sneaker community doesn't always have to be about the next big release. It can be about finding the brand not many people have heard of that looks and feels great.
In the landscape of big brands with large online digital marketing campaigns and a consistent influencer presence do you feel small brands can successfully carve-out a lane in the market?
To me small brands are hungrier and more authentic and are more in touch with their consumer. This allows them to connect better to their target audience so they are able to carve out a lane in the market. Influencers don't promise sales in my opinion, but authenticity and community helps smaller brands remain relevant in a landscape of big brands and large online digital marketing campaigns.
So how did your collaboration with Saucony Originals come about?
I have carried Saucony Originals for 7 years now. Eric Smolin reached out on Instagram one day in 2017 and asked, "What can Saucony Originals do better"? We messaged for a bit about the brand and what they had planned for 2017 and beyond and I gave my thoughts. All of a sudden, he messages, "Are you interested in doing a project"? It caught me off guard because it is rare these days brands will work with smaller shops so over the next few weeks I created a concept to present to them. One Sunday I was taking out the trash and I got a whiff of BBQ from a local BBQ restaurant. I immediately ran inside to tell my wife Natalie that the collab is going to be called Carolina Mustard after Mustard BBQ sauce which is native to the lowcountry (spans from Columbia to Charleston, SC).
Working with Saucony and knowing their strengths, how much pressure did you feel to come up with a food-themed sneaker? (hahaha)
I never anticipated my first collab would be food inspired. Charleston, SC is a foodie town so it made sense and our house is only a block away from a BBQ spot so the constant smell led me to the mustard BBQ sauce concept. I was happy Saucony loved the idea as much as I did and we were able to launch the product. I honestly was a little worried it wouldn't get accepted because it was another food collab. haha
How was it working with their team?
It was very straight forward and smooth from the start. I came in with the idea of offering a quality sneaker below $100 and they allowed me to use top notch materials and keep the price point at $80. We had a lot of fun working together on this food based collab. Saucony has had a lot of success recently on food inspired collabs.
Talk about the value and feeling of having your own collaboration with a sneaker brand like Saucony.
It feels great that I could put something out into the world and see how people react! I didn't sleep much during the whole reveal and launch process. I was excited and nervous at the same time waiting for feedback. The feedback has been incredible. Customers have been happy at the overall quality and the fact its based off mustard bbq sauce and not to mention the $80 price point. I really wanted to put the customer front and center on this project. I always listened to them over the years on how they loved how Saucony prices ranged from $80-$100.
What were some of your must-haves when approaching this collaboration?
Top notch perforated suede toe box
Cool packaging for third lace option
Store name visible on the collab
$80 price point
Your list of must-haves for your Saucony collaboration included a clearly affordable price-point. Why was that a concern for you?
I really wanted to make the collab for everyone. I was targeting the everyday person who wanted a nice wearable pair of sneakers while at the same time catering to the sneaker head market. I wanted to make sure as many people as possible would be able to get their hands on a quality suede sneaker for $80.
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What are some other brands and/or boutiques that you look up to?
Lapstone and Hammer inspires me on what they do with their store branded apparel, how they market their products, and their unique community events. They know how to market and cater to their customer base. You can tell they care about their community. For footwear I look up to Veja. I think its great to have companies that are focused on decreasing the environmental footprint left from manufacturing sneakers (Use recyclable and organic materials) and making sure the farmers and workers are being treated and paid ethically.
What can we expect to see from Sneaker in the future?
Let’s just say I keep my cards close to my chest. Ha
You seem to be pretty close to ground and heavily involved with the customer experience. How important is that to you and your brand?
Sneaker has always been about people. When I started the store in 2012 I held community events every month. That really allowed me to engage and be in touch with the customer. It became more than just selling sneakers. It was about creating a space for all people that wanted something different in Charleston, SC.
By: David Blackmon