Recently, we’ve seen the Fila label grow and evolve, and there’s one man to thank – Mr. Louis W. Colon III, the brand’s Creative Director, who’s also responsible for Kicksclusive magazine. Here, we probe his mind and speak to the sneaker aficionado, one-on-one.
Life+Times: You were clearly born with the entrepreneurial bug. Let’s get started – what propelled you to launch Kicksclusive – the first independent magazine dedicated to sneaker culture?
Louis W. Colon III: Yes. The bug has been in me since I can remember and Kicksclusive was my first major entrepreneurial venture in footwear over 10 years ago. I have been a lifelong sneaker enthusiast and after college I returned home to New York where as a hobby I would go to Japanese book stores to pick up sneaker magazines. I could never read a word, but the focus on footwear, styling of the photos and product differences between what I saw there and the U.S. had me spending money on these books monthly. In 2001, a light bulb went off when I realized there was a major void in the U.S. market for such a sneaker lifestyle driven publication. With no previous magazine writing, photography, or printing knowledge, I combined my entrepreneurial spirit and passion for sneakers and set my sights on publishing Kicksclusive magazine. We printed 15 books in seven years and in the process I learned valuable lessons about the footwear industry. This venture was my first experience in the business and helped create the foundation which has lead me to this position today.
L+T: From there you launched Laces, a shop dedicated to women’s sneakers – which you set up in SoHo. What was the response to this endeavor?
LC: Laces was really embraced with open arms by both footwear companies and New York sneaker lovers. We opened our doors in 2006 with a Nike account, which was quickly followed by the Puma Alexander McQueen collection. Laces also showcased the first women’s Creative Recreation account in NYC. The Laces concept was successful because of the combination of store aesthetic, location, and unique product selection which focused exclusively on women’s lifestyle. Once again, I recognized a void in the market and built a business around serving this customer.
Life+Times: You’ve always been interested in footwear and sneakers. Why? What is it about this industry/realm that you find so appealing and interesting?
LC: Sneakers have always been a part of the culture of growing up and living in Brooklyn. Sports, fashion and music are all threads woven into daily life here in New York and also are the major components of the sneaker lifestyle. Turning my passion for footwear into a career came as second nature to me. One of the reasons I love my city is that it’s actually very similar to the footwear industry. New York is constantly morphing and evolving, and never stops progressing. I also love how sneakers and the city can be both extremely utilitarian and beautiful pieces of art at the same time. It’s a challenging industry that is competitive, creative and technologically advanced. These are all things that really appeal to me.
L+T: You now spend your days working at FILA as the company’s Lifestyle Product and Marketing Manager. What exactly does this role entail? Take us through a typical day in your life.
LC: No two days at FILA are the same. My scope of responsibilities is focused on the Lifestyle line and fluctuates from being very entrepreneurial and creative to highly structured and analytical. Duties all revolve around creating and implementing the product assortment, as well as retail and marketing strategies for this division of the business. On any given day I may be working on product management and merchandising, line planning, product development with China, developing marketing plans, creating specialty products and stories for limited releases, visiting accounts and presenting the line to future retail partners.
L+T: When you signed on – what was your original notion of the brand? Over time, how has your perception changed?
LC: Before I got here, my notion of the brand was that it had a history of being luxurious and aspirational. FILA is a brand that has been focused on performance and style in tennis, mountaineering, skiing and even professional basketball. When I got here I quickly learned the history of the brand from the business perspective and understood the reasons behind the brand’s positioning in today’s market. Going forward I see FILA telling a brand story with a deep rooted history in fashion, sports and culture, while also building new stories around innovative products and today’s global consumer.
L+T: In your role, what do you want to achieve? What do you want the brand to become known for?
LC: I would like to bring FILA to today’s “verge” consumer who is more than just hip-hop or urban. This customer is part of a global sneaker culture and is influenced by music, sports, culture and fashion. This consumer is looking to identify with a brand that is authentic and doesn’t speak at them but speaks to them. We are currently in a discovery phase where these young forward thinking consumers are getting into the brand and learning the DNA of FILA. We are also engaging these consumers through the product, social media platforms, bloggers, websites, message boards and key retailers.
L+T: Tell me about the current FILA line that you created – where did you seek inspiration?
LC: The current line was inspired by the early to mid 1990’s FILA basketball archives. This was a decade when FILA signed several promising young players from major basketball schools. This was also a time when all basketball fans were looking for the heir apparent to Michael Jordan (when he retired to play baseball). I looked through old catalogs, visited our sneaker archives, and did a lot of research through countless vintage ads, images and videos. Telling our story by re-introducing some of our key heritage products with new interpretations mixed in is essential to creating a relevant and authentic FILA experience for our customers. After the key styles from our sneaker archives were identified, we made sure the product assortments were evenly balanced in colors, materials and stories. The key is to have consistency in both the product representation and messaging that we put out into the world.
L+T: Where do you see the brands aesthetic going? Changing?
LC: The aesthetic won’t change significantly, as the plan is to stay true to the core values of FILA and bridge our past to the present. The only true way to build a future is to have consumers discover the DNA of the brand. Staying on trend with materials, colors, and technology is always key, but even more important is to stay true to the values and messaging that FILA has presented for decades.
L+T: What are you currently working on? What’s coming down the pipe?
LC: The spring line has been rolling out to retail with great success. Now we are prepping the marketing/media/social pushes for the Fall line and will continue to build the buzz and expand the momentum we’ve created this Spring. We are growing this part of the business and on pace with our long-term plan. The key here is to make sure we stay with our product and distribution strategies. For the rest of the year I have half a dozen limited edition special projects that I can’t release information on yet, but I am sure they will get a ton of attention and have sneaker aficionados lining up. I am also working on product planning for spring 2014, which is really exciting because there are some new partnerships and products coming to market, like the KJ7 (the Kevin Johnson signature shoe). The spring ’14 line is looking great and provides us with several opportunities to tell stories through the product. I’m very confident that FILA will continue to grow as a player in the lifestyle market by winning back old fans, while also attracting new brand enthusiasts.