Inside Chalhoub Group’s Web3 Sneaker Brand Launch
Middle Eastern retail operator Chalhoub is launching Sol3mates, its first Web3 sneaker brand. Countering recent negativity around sneakers and Web3, Chalhoub Group is betting on an innovative, consumer-centric approach to attract communities.
Photo: Courtesy of Chalhoub Group
Chalhoub Group, the largest retail operator in the Middle East representing the likes of LVMH and Christian Louboutin, is launching Sol3mates, a Web3-native sneaker brand.
The date of its first drop of sneakers, which will come as physical and digital wearables, and have NFC chip-enabled authentication, will be announced on 12 April at Sol3mates.xyz. The focus of the brand is threefold: boosting sustainability (and exclusivity) by never producing more than it sells; empowering designers to be “creative directors” of their own brands within Sol3mates (and paying them accordingly with royalties); and empowering community via co-creation.
Consumers will be encouraged to vote on decisions such as colorways or who the next Sol3mates designer should be. This co-creation element appealed to Sol3mates’s first designer, Kacimi Latamène, from France. It redefines the relationship between brand, designer and consumer, says Olivier Moingeon, CCO and co-founder of Web3 platform Exclusible, which is hosting the drop. “It’s one step closer to ultra-personalization,” he says.
This is not Chalhoub Group’s first venture into Web3. In May 2022, the company dropped a series of 500 NFTs, “925 Genesis Mood”, also in partnership with Exclusible. After this drop, Nick Vinckier, head of Chalhoub Group’s corporate innovation, began ideating Sol3mates. “After selling out in five minutes, I thought, this is crazy. We all underestimated the power, the size, the impact of Web3,” he says. “I thought, we need to do something with more impact at a bigger [scale].”
Through Sol3mates, Chalhoub Group is working to iron out identified pain points. One is overproduction — big industry players have a profit to make and shareholders to keep happy, Vinckier says. He also notes limits on sneaker designers executing their vision: “We’ll see big brands create an innovative silhouette every now and then, a crazy colourway with an artist, but pushing the boundaries of what is possible is not really happening [beyond] smaller niche brands because the crazier the silhouette, the lower the margin.”
The group faced challenges in its search for a manufacturer to produce the physical sneakers, with multiple factories saying likely quantities were too low. The solution has been to partner with a local factory in the UAE.
The first drop of what have been labelled “OG NFTs” is designed to “get the community together”, Vinckier says. Ownership will act as a ticket to the Sol3mates community. Crypto and fiat currency will be available, and the price point (not yet confirmed) will be pitched relatively low to broaden access. Membership perks will include merchandise, physical and virtual event access, and whitelists for future drops. There are four rarity levels — the rarer the NFT, the more utility attached.
Future bonuses are likely to include recurring raffles where community members win access to selected hype sneakers as well as weekly offerings for community members to purchase sneakers at retail prices, rather than the more inflated prices typical of the resale market.
OG holders will receive priority access to the first sneaker drop in April via a one-week window. The drop will then be shared for one hour with partner retailers (to be announced 12 April) before opening to the wider public. A two- to three-month lead time is envisaged between the closing of the pre-order window and the shipment of the physical shoe in the fourth quarter of 2023. OG holders receive their shoes a month before the public and also receive a complimentary digital wearable when they pre-order that can be worn in 3D virtual world Decentraland.
Sneakerheads and Web3 denizens: a perfect match?
Web3 is big on sneakers. Balmain’s first phygital collection is sneakers, created in partnership with digital fashion company Space Runners. This was a carefully targeted decision, aiming to link sneaker enthusiasts with NFT collectors, Balmain CMO Txampi Diz told Vogue Business. Rtfkt has also dropped phygital sneakers, including its Cryptokicks IRL.
The Sol3mates launch takes place at a time when formal eveningwear and casual luxury are leading the fashion conversation, with question marks over whether fashion’s sneaker bubble has burst. But many in the Web3 space remain committed to the sneaker. Vinckier sees a “natural overlap” between the two communities. “There’s a big affinity between sneakers and Web3,” he says. “Much more than if we were to go into Web3 heels or handbags.”
Sneaker enthusiasts say fluctuations in the hype cycle should be ignored. “I think that there’s a tendency in this generation to think that just because something isn’t hyped anymore means bad,” Danish sneaker collector Rebecca Hyldahl recently told Vogue Business. “Hardcore sneakerheads have always been there, and they’ll continue to be there.” In Web3, which has seen a similar cooling, entrepreneurs see value in this period of downtime and remain committed to blockchain’s potential.
It’s one step closer to ultra-personalization.”
To tap the existing dedicated community, Sol3mates is hosting a pop-up on Exclusible’s Discord ahead of the drop. It’s also a practical decision. “We are not a native Web3 fashion group. We want to make sure we leverage the expertise and experience of people like Exclusible,” Vinckier says.
“What we want to do is set something in motion,” he explains. “I believe we can be the snowball to push the boundaries, be more sustainable, more creative and pull the community closer into what we do.”
For Exclusible’s Moingeon, this is a moment he’s been waiting for. Sol3mates is the first Web3-native brand to come out of a luxury group, he says. “And it won’t be the last.”
Originally published in Voguebusiness.com
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