Life After Solebox – The Hikmet Sugoer Interview
Hikmet, it’s a real pleasure to have you back for an interview in Sneakers Mag. In our 15th issue, in 2012, you mentioned half jokingly that in the future some giant investor might buy up your operation. And what do you know, that’s exactly what happened! Was selling Solebox the right thing and are you happy with the way things turned out?
Yes, there have been some major changes since our last interview for myself as well as Solebox. At the end of 2013 I had reached a point where I had to decide on how to move forward. It was ultimately triggered by a tough family and a pleasant family affair. I needed and wanted to take more time for my family and the people who are important to me. From the outside, people tend to only look at the success, the final result. But the way to get there is often overlooked. As an entrepreneur, you’re not just working from nine to five. You’re working 16 to 18 hour days, and still processing work stuff in your sleep. And I think there were two options: Walk away, or accept asking for some support. Since I had invested one-third of my entire life into Solebox, the most favorable option at that point was finding a strategic partner. I didn’t want some random investor. So at the end of 2013 it all fell into place. I’m really grateful that Solebox found a new partner in Snipes.
Solebox for me has always been like a relationship between a man and a woman, with all the highs and lows of a love affair. And in that new relationship with Snipes I was the third wheel – just one too many. As the old saying goes: When you love someone, let them go… initially, I only wanted the best for Solebox.
You sold the store, the brand, and thereby a part of your life’s work. Is it possible to turn the page on something like that and move on to the next chapter, or do you still get emotional, for instance when things aren’t continued the way you intended?
Ending a relationship always calls for some time to process. And sure, I will find myself getting emotional here and there, but time will help. The most important thing is: I have only sold the brand and the store – not my life’s work or myself.
With Solebox you’re not only leaving behind a big name, but a legacy of countless amazing collabos. Looking back, what are some of your favorites? What’s your TOP 5 Solebox collabos, and why was each shoe important to you?
Thanks for the compliment, these have really added up over the years. What many people don’t know: Every single shoe, every single product, every miniscule detail from bags, to business cards and such was done by me. Every single product was made with love and passion. That’s why ALL my projects are really my favorites. But if I had to narrow it down to five products, I would choose the following:
- New Balance 1500 GGB
My very first collabo, ever. The first brand and the first person that ever believed in me. Thank you New Balance, thank you Michael Schmitz.
- Asics Gel Lyte III The Sun
At the time there was some beef with Nike and I consciously tried to build up other brands and silhouettes. The Gel Lyte III still remains the strongest silhouette in the Asics lifestyle range. Thanks to Asics Germany and Remco Korf.
- New Balance 1500 BPW
The color blocking on this one has been referenced quiet often. The tip-toes of the world have their origin in the Purple Devil.
- Reebok The Pump
This one is a favorite for the appreciation of the customer and collaboration partner. This project was the epitome of a collaboration done at eye level. Major thanks to Stephan Drescher, Andi Keppler and the US Team.
- Adidas Berlin
As an original Berliner (yep, we exist) it was a real honor to be able to create the Adidas Berlin. Thanks to Wes Tyerman.
Right now we are seeing the death of small brands with large chain retailers gaining more and more ground. What do you expect for the future? Do small sneaker stores still stand a chance and how will they be able to compete?
I created a monster. As a frontrunner of many of today’s stores I would say: The problem is the sheer amount of stores. Too many stores have tried to cater to the niche market, while only very few really understood the niche and blazed their own trail. Companies worked with a short-sighted approach, filling gaps on the map instead of working selectively. But a niche market is not so niche anymore when every single town in Germany has a sneaker store that’s dealing with limited editions and specials. How many stores of that kind does a country need? And even the brands themselves are working the segment with their own stores. These kinds of processes will work for a limited amount of time, but sooner or later, it just gets too much. In other industries, manufacturers consciously refrain from selling directly to end customers in order to ensure the long-term well being of the market.
But to answer your initial question: Great stores with great concepts and great people have no need to hide, they will always be superior to the major chains. Flexibility, creativity and quick decision-making are their clear advantages, next to close customer focus. In an ideal world, all the “small” stores would complement each other and work together instead of competing. But that’s only possible if the stores are different from one another. Plus, brands should know and appreciate that a heterogeneous store landscape is far better then the same-same offered by majors. Meanwhile, those majors are doing their share by buying up know-how and knowledge on the market. So yes, things will stay interesting. Cue “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor …
You really range among the inventors of the entire collabo game, next to a few others, and really put it on the map in Germany. Looking back, how would you compare the state of collabos back in the day with the current situation?
Collabos are also overdone at this point. There are too many projects, too many collabos. It’s become inflationary and random. To put it exaggeratedly, everyone who can launch Photoshop and has a couple pairs of sneakers in his closet now gets to work on collabos. In theory, everyone can potentially design a great shoe, no doubt. But it doesn’t mean you have to let them do it. Of course it’s a great challenge to brands when it comes to make everyone happy. But much like in a marriage, it’s not about being all things to all people, but focusing on one partner and your family. This will help you achieve the most unexpected results as part of a close partnership that will last a lot longer, if not forever.
You’ve been mentioning the name SONRA in your communications, which basically means “NEXT” and was the name for Steve Jobs’ project after he left Apple. What’s the story behind SONRA? Where will the name appear first?
Oops, I almost thought nobody would catch the hint. SONRA will be my next project. I hope I’ll have more to share really soon, but I can already say I’m going to stick to my guns.
Let’s speculate about the future a bit. Will there be a store run by Hikmet at some point again? Or are you done with retail?
Sure, it’s a possibility. Either by myself or with supporters. I’m proud of my work so far and love retail with its customer focus and close proximity to the products.
As we’ve already touched upon, you’re THE man when it comes to collabos and able to draw on a vast amount of experiences at this point. Will you offer this knowledge to brands at some point? Perhaps through an agency? Is your expertise available for hire?
I’m already offering my expertise just like that on a daily basis. You can imagine how many requests I get and how many pings on social media ask for feedback, support and so on. It’s my responsibility as part of a community to share my knowledge. But since you are asking directly: It’s also a welcome opportunity to get some compensation in return. Maybe I can use this as a chance to file my application. “To whom it may concern, I would be glad to send my CV and a copy of SNEAKERS magazine if you are…”
You also created the Turnschuh TV channel together with Simon Bus. What are the plans for the program?
I love Turnschuh TV! Simon walked into the store two years ago and asked if I was interested. My instant thought was, “Just another creative freak, all talk and no action.” But instead of just talking, Turnschuh TV evolved into the leading format in the German-speaking scene. I’m really happy to be part of Turnschuh TV. We have lots of big plans and already laid the foundation for what’s next. Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe.
You’ve clearly parted ways with Solebox, but there will still be collabos you have worked on. Which ones are still in the pipeline and what’s your relationship with them? Do they still make it into your bathtub?
My collabos are my babies! Sure, these will always have a place in my bathtub. Solebox was a part of my life and I’m happy about my upcoming projects as a last tribute to Solebox. Aside from the Ultra Boost, there’s something in the works with Asics and Diadora.
Have you considered working outside of the footwear business? Hikmet without sneakers, could you imagine?
Sure, I could imagine and I’ve already proven it in the past with my projects with Sinn watches, Bianchi, Rimowa, Bugaboo and so on. My dream would be working on projects in the automotive industry. Interiors, exteriors, extras – or better yet a complete ride. But I will always be wearing sneakers, no matter where or what I’ll be working on.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In my last interview with you guys, my vision became true. So I’ll use this one as a wish list, perhaps it will work again, God willing. I will have my own small but elaborate footwear brand. I’m collaborating with other stores and brands on products. I have built a novel niche concept in the footwear business in collaboration with a giant footwear brand. I’m a consultant on brand launches and brand building. I’ve received calls from Tinker Hatfield, Paul Litchfield, Steven Smith, Jacques Chassaing and Shigeyuki Mitsui offering to join their team. Turnschuh TV has a time slot on German television. I have a small house in the countryside, growing my own vegetables surrounded by my own cows and so on. I’m into sports and running the full distance at the Berlin Marathon. I’m a politician and get elected as mayor, or better yet, German chancellor: “Sneakers for everyone!” The 2026 edition of SNEAKERS mag runs another interview, asking me the same question. Thanks to my wife and children for their support and patience! I love you!
And finally, what’s next for Hikmet?