One Brand Takes Global to New Heights

Nationally branded merchandise soared during the World Cup, but SYou&, a new footwear project, aims to harness this global connectedness in the world of e-commerce.

After working together in the Netherlands, Merijn ten Thije, formerly of Nike, and Jaap Spoorenberg, decided to launch an ethical footwear collection to encourage “positive country branding.” Collaborating with a new nation on every line, SYou&  taps into the local community for design and development.

The debut project, made working alongside emerging talents in Colombia, is 100 percent locally sourced and retails for $119 to $129. Ahead of the brand’s launch on Moda Operandi this week, Footwear News caught up with ten Thije to find out what happened when SYou& headed to South America to produce sneakers.

What comes first, the country as inspiration or the designers?
SYou& is the vehicle for telling the story of a country, the local creative talent involved and the production facilities that come together to make the journey possible.  We emphasize inspiring stories and look for opportunities and possibilities everywhere we go. We know we can’t change the world by ourselves, but by applying the co-design principle to the very core of what we do, we’re trying to contribute in our own way, by doing what we believe in.

Several variables determine when we collaborate with a certain country: the production possibilities, local materials present and also the overall image of the country itself. We try to collaborate with countries where we can contribute in our own way to a better understanding and perception of the country and all of the great things happening in Colombia.

What did you look for when choosing the Colombian team? Will you continue to work with this team or is it only for one collection?
We reached out to creative talent all across the country by organizing a creative talent conference in Medellín, Colombia. We had 8,000 portfolios from creative talent sent in. We invited 29 people from different categories and organized a conference for them in Medellín. It was two amazing days full of co-design, co-creation and inspirational sessions. A [Colombian] jury ended up selecting the first five creative talents we started our collaboration with.  In the future we will be collaborating with lots of creative talent from Colombia. 

The other component is the collaboration with production facilities and local material suppliers. We found them through intense research and with the help of several local partner organizations and institutions, like for example, InexModa, Marca País Colombia and ProExport.

How long is the whole design process?
We start with a research phase in the potential collaboration country that lasts a couple months. Before that, we do a lot of pre-research. When we set up a local team, we focus on finding the right local production facilities and material suppliers, as well as on reaching out to creative talent in the country. Once we’ve found all of these, the design process starts. Some of this can go parallel. Overall, [I would say] it takes one full year of preparation.  We will add a new country to our portfolio each calendar year.

It sounds like there are many components in the design and production levels that need to come together. What has been the most challenging/rewarding part of the process?
The challenges are finding the right local partners, and then developing the collection, where we work with local partners to create a product/ collection for the international market and meet the quality and design standards of SYou&.

[The most rewarding part is] the final product, and managing to create a sneaker collection that is 100 percent made and co-created in Colombia. Another reward? The great people we meet along the entire journey across the entire country.

Where to next?
The opportunities are limitless. These are just the first steps on a worldwide expedition of discovery. We are forever surprised and humbled by the depth and breadth of talent around the world. The focus of 2014/2015 will be Colombia. In July 2015 we will announce the new country we collaborate with. We have several countries in mind already but will make this a community-based decision later this year. We will add another country to our portfolio in 2015. We will keep on developing new styles and co-designing with creative talent in Colombia at the same time.

Access exclusive content