Browse any news publication or even fashion blog and you’ll find slightly depressing talk of economic downturn or the unfortunate financial state that many major brands have found themselves in. But the online brand phenomenon has taken the world by storm. Young U.S.-based upstarts such as The Hundreds, Mishka NYC, Crooks & Castles and Greedy Genius have all come from humble beginnings – the brainchild of some spotty skater kids who suddenly find themselves competing shoulder-to-shoulder with the retail word’s big players – and succeeding with relative ease.
The brands listed above (and countless others) seemed to develop credibility among their target audience almost overnight, taking new designs and pushing them down all the right avenues using a combination of online marketing and viral videos. Many of the old-school complained, saying that these young fast adopters would fade as quickly as they rose. Commenting that their lack of experience in the market would quickly become apparent, eventually resulting in the brand’s failure.
This pop-up brand trend seemed to hit the Czech Republic much later, as did the whole fashion blog/scenester movement. There are a few independent labels like Prague-based Loowfat who have recently taken the Czech & Slovak streetwear market by storm with a combination of quality photography and lookbooks with innovative and interesting designs which have been endorsed by musicians and cool kids alike.
But what about the traditional Czech brands? The names and designs from a time gone by, do they have any relevance in the current fast-moving, mercurial fashion market?
Botas, the original Czech sport shoe designers and vendors, are a perfect example of an old brand which has received a new lease on life. The Botas “Classic” shoe first hit the market back in 1966. The simple and functional design courtesy of Marcel Scheinpflug was an instant hit for the young Czechs at the time. The original design had a few minor alterations during the 1980s. But the general look and feel of both the products and the brand remained unchanged. That was until 2009, when Czech students Jan Kloss & Jakub Korouš gave the collection new life with fresh colours and materials for the brand’s traditional 66 model. The Applied Arts university students combined the original Scheinpflug & Mlynar design with exciting new colors and raw materials, and created a totally new look for the Czech-cherished brand.
I managed to get spend some time with Kloss, currently working on the Pedal Project, a Czech and English magazine, focusing on fixed gear bikes, photography and illustration. “It started as a very small university project”, say Jan. “Every term our lecturer would set a task for us. This particular semester he wanted us to design new sport shoes. We decided to take an old well-known model to show the important relationship between the factory and the graphic designer. It was so popular in the past, but seemed to have taken a back seat in recent years”.
It all sounds so easy! A few fresh ideas and tweaks and before you know it you’re re-launching your nation’s classic label! “We were really surprised when the Botas bosses came to our degree show”, Kloss admits. I assume they were even more surprised when Botas decided to go ahead with the student’s plans and put their new colors into production. “This is when things really changed for us. We suddenly had to translate our ideas into reality. We had to think about each of our designs carefully, materials and colors were vital for the collection’s success”.
By 2009, Kloss & Korouš’s designs had become reality with the new Botas 66 collection selling in select stores throughout the city, even managing to secure shelf space in Bat’a stores. “This was one of the biggest achievements in my opinion” says Kloss, beaming. “Botas had never sold their shoes in Bat’a previous to our new 66 collection. So it was new territory for all of us!” Since the initial 66 re-design, the guys have continued to work closely with Botas. Re-designing and rebranding their website and even opening a trendy concept store in the centre of Prague. So how has the whole process been for Jan? “It’s quite a slow process working with Botas. They are a traditional company and often things take time to implement. But it is always worth the wait. I would say that the whole experience has been an enjoyable learning curve.”
Korouš & Kloss’ Botas re-launch has struck a chord with the brand’s Czech customers. Take a look around any busy bar, shopping centre or city high street and you’re likely to spot a few of their new re-branded 66 shoes on the feet of cool kids and design types. “It’s a good feeling, every-day I see people wearing our shoes.”
Botas 66 @ Designblok 2010
There aren’t many stories that read like Jan & Jakub’s. But perhaps they have inspired designers and creative-minds to look closer to home for inspiration and renovations in fashion. Kofola has recently had a similar breath of artistic life. The Czech soft drink came on the scene in the early 1960’s as a byproduct of roasted caffeine. The brand underwent a number of changes and visible facelifts employing the talents of Czech illustrator Daniel Spacek & French design house SKWAK, resulting in higher brand visibility and improved sales.
Perhaps the examples in this article can be evidence that, sometimes, originality can simply be a fresh pair of eyes.
For more on Botas 66, visit the fashion blog at botas66.cz (Czech only).