Similar to a convenience store a.k.a. Bodega as we call them here in New York City, sole bodegas (as I like to call them) can be an incredible resource to footwear designers and brands. First, let’s start with how you find these gems which I get asked all the time. Guangzhou, China has one of the largest outsole markets that I have ever seen and despite how big it is none of these bodegas have websites, IG pages, twitter accounts, etc…which means the only way to see what’s available is by seeing it in person which can obviously get expensive to fly around the world and search these shoe markets that can be difficult to navigate if you don’t speak the local language or have friends that can assist you. To be completely honest with you, I like the fact that these places are not that accessible and can sometimes be a mystery to learn about. What’s impressive to me is when someone figures out how to crack the “da vinci” code on there own as I did when I was starting out in the shoe biz.
It’s no secret that brands and designers like to use existing outsoles but the problem is when everyone is using the same existing sole it can leave a bad taste in your mouth. Why does this happen you ask? I think it’s because 1) brands like to copy each other, especially when something in particular is selling very well. If this is news to you then you have a lot to learn. Most brands copy each other left and right, but its usually the smaller designers who are taking the risk investing time and spending there last dimes to find special outsoles and other components to make there shoes special which can end up getting knocked off in the long run anyway.
2) budget – it’s much cheaper to have someone who’s already in china send you photos of soles to choose from than to fly your designer out to search the market in person. The problem with that is the person on the other end is not you, and they could be sending you reference soles based on shoes that are selling the best in the market when in fact your looking for the complete opposite.
Brands that have smaller budgets and cannot afford to create new outsole moulds every season love sole bodegas and for me personally i love to go “crate digging” and find outsole gems that are unique and different. When your able to search the market on your own and spend time going shop to shop this really allows you to find those hidden gems that will make the difference between your collection and the next guys (or gals). In my opinion, it’s worth every penny you spend on travel, hotels, and food.
Sole Bodegas can sometimes feel like your in a candy shop. I remember some of my first experiences in these shops and immediately feeling overwhelmed and excited at the same time. You can find just about anything if you look long enough. Some soles will be obvious and others will not, but the key is to have some kind of plan when searching because it can get exhausting.
In the shoe business today the outsole has become the focal point for many brands and each season more and more are investing in there own tooling but for the designers who cannot sole bodegas are still a great option but if you want to find that special sole that has not yet been prostituted by all the big brands I suggest you take a chance, put your money we’re your mouth is and show up and figure it out. Good luck with your search.
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