Athleisure trends have exploded in recent years. This sought-after style has blurred the lines between performance wear and everyday looks. Plus, amassed a huge following across the globe. It’s not only sweatshirts and joggers making their debut either, as trainer collections are also growing due to the popularity of streetwear and celebrity influences.
To get an insight into this exciting industry, we chatted to George Sullivan, CEO of The Sole Supplier on the growth and success of the brand. Plus, he shares his advice for aspiring creatives looking to get a slice of the action.
The Sole Supplier concept
Frustrated by long queues and spending hours online trying to find out about the latest trainer releases, George started a blog in 2013 to help fellow enthusiasts save time and effort when trying to get their hands on the latest drop.
Fast-forward five years and The Sole Supplier is now one of the biggest footwear partners to Nike, Adidas and JD Sports with over 2 million visitors each month and nearly 500K Instagram followers.
George, please give us an insight into your creative background
Since the age of 15, I have been a self-confessed trainer geek and passionate about technology, particularly web development and marketing. Now that streetwear has become an era-defining style, my aim is to inspire the converted and educate the non-believers, telling the story of what’s behind the designs, opening their eyes to trainer culture and giving them the buzz.
What was the main influence for starting The Sole Supplier?
It’s from my own personal frustration with the lack of information available around the UK trainer release dates, where to buy them and queuing up every weekend outside stores, that I decided to create my own platform to make it easier.
Fast forward five years and The Sole Supplier is Western Europe’s largest hub for casual footwear helping people find trainers from over 50 different retailers online. Through our website and app, we deliver all the latest releases, launch dates and confirmed stockists to our readers. Here they can buy directly from retailers before pairs fly off the shelves.
What has been the most challenging aspect when bringing your company into the industry?
One of our USPs is we’re the go-to place for exclusive release information and engaging content, supplied by our great community of partners (brands and enthusiasts) as well as a team of researchers in-house every day.
This means one of our biggest challenges is always to make sure we are the first in-the-know about the latest drops and collaborations before any of our competitors. We’ve built up a great community of partners, including brands and like-minded trainer enthusiasts) and hired a top-notch team of in-house researchers to do this.
We can also offer our readers direct links to all the retailers who will be stocking high-heat releases when they are announced. Even with trainers that aren’t released yet, we show who will be stocking them, so our community has the best chance of securing the latest, on-demand trainers.
We also recently re-launched our app, which is now faster, smarter and creates an easier purchasing journey for users, because it generates an all-in-one solution.
Are there enough opportunities for emerging brands to enter this industry?
Today’s sneaker market is littered with hard-to-buy trainer launches from big brands. It’s almost guaranteed that a limited release product will fly off the shelves in minutes. However, while the stock levels for these releases are ‘limited’, these brands are starting to over-saturate the market.
Silhouettes that were previously hard to get, now sit on the shelves in multiple variants and endless colourways. It’s harder than ever to have a unique pair of trainers in your wardrobe, especially if you stick to the bigger, better-known brands.
For the fashion-conscious, lesser-known brands can be a breath of fresh air. Our ‘hypebeasts’ are part of a growing subculture built around streetwear and getting access to the latest brands before they become mainstream is important to them.
Is the fashion industry campaigning enough for boutique labels and recognising emerging talent?
I think the fashion industry is starting to become more open-minded when it comes to boutique labels. Not only this, but a lot of people are willing to pay a little more for up-and-coming brands if they are unique and well-designed.
In the past, big brands and high-profile collaborations have received the majority of attention, however, many influencers in the public eye (as well as buyers) are now placing a greater emphasis on authenticity and quality.
There’s also a growing movement towards more eco-friendly fashion, giving an opportunity for smaller ethical designers to get noticed and gain recognition.
What are the key trends that we’ll see in the next few years?
A whole new sneaker category is emerging, using natural plant-based materials.
Trainers made from recycled polyester, organic cotton, wild rubber and natural hemp – combining both style and comfort – will grow in popularity in 2019 after getting a royal seal of approval.
Thank Meghan Markle for copping a pair of vegan Veja V-10s in Australia and the Dame in trainers herself, Emma Thompson wearing a pair of Stella #StanSmiths to the Palace.
2018 was the year left-field trainer collaborations really took-off…quite literally. We saw Vans drop four retro silhouettes with NASA branding, not to mention the Adidas x TfL trainers which came with an £80 Oyster card.
We expect more left-field collaborations as brands try to tap into youth and street culture which has become an era-defining style.
The phase of over-designed sneakers and colourways will continue with louder patterns and crazy hybrids hitting the market.
What advice can you give to aspiring designers and creatives looking to enter the creative sector?
Part of the success of The Sole Supplier is that it was created to fill a niche I felt wasn’t being catered to. It was a pain point for me and a natural progression, so creative entrepreneurs should always try to find a gap in the market they can offer a unique solution for.
This may inspire you to think of the next big thing consumers didn’t even know they were waiting for!
It’s also important you are truly passionate about a project and to let this shine through when pitching to investors, collaborators and future partners. It also makes everything easier and the creativity flow more naturally.
A huge point for me is being careful with your finances; when you are trying to build your business or even before when you are brainstorming ideas, make sure you save your money. Stop spending money on nights out, clothes, trainers (yes I said it) and save every penny to put towards your business. For financial education, a great book is Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
The fashion industry is tough and it can take a while to get a project off the ground. You need to be patient, resilient, take constructive criticism but above everything else, you have to really believe in what you are trying to bring to market.
Good knowledge of social media is key as more consumers choose to buy through channels like Instagram and Facebook. For example, if you have an Instagram for your business, you should be doing the following:
- Posting one piece of great content daily. You don’t need an expensive camera to do this as you can use your iPhone. Check out Portrait mode featured on the Google Pixel and iPhone X – this takes amazing photos that get shared
- Follow people that may like your business
- Like other people’s photos (100+)
- Comment on relevant accounts without spamming (100+)
- DMing people, letting them know about your business and how it may help them (100+)
Over half of Instagram’s 1 billion users are under 35, making it a prime platform for reaching today’s ‘super consumers’ – Millennials and Gen Z. Deloitte research also shows Millennials are using multiple channels at the same time, making an omnichannel approach to branding even more important.
Social media can be a great way to promote your work and brand to thousands of people and if done smartly, can be more effective and less expensive than traditional advertising.
What is your hope for the future of The Sole Supplier?
We have just recently re-launched The Sole Supplier app, focusing on giving our community a superfast and tailored user experience. This means an easier purchase journey, matching them to the trainers we know they’ll love and giving them push notifications if a model is re-stocked or launched.
Over the next year, we aim to become the home of casual footwear searches, expanding the range of products we cover. Almost like what Amazon is for everyday products, we aim to be the trainer equivalent. The only place you need to go to find a new pair of trainers.
Don’t forget to check out our Creative Hub interview series for inspiration and advice from tons of industry experts.