At first glance, the new sneaker from the footwear brand, Trace, is trendy as it is a unisex and minimalist model, produced in three colours with a characteristic speckled sole. However, the concept is out of the ordinary: the sneakers are available in pairs, but also individually. Anyone with dissimilar feet can order the sneaker in two different sizes, and anyone who wears a prosthetic leg can just buy one shoe.
In January 2019, this concept enabled Naomi Kamphorst and Carine Martinelli to win the Meester Koetsier Entrepreneur Award. The Dutch duo won 10,000 euros and turned their idea into a real brand. On the occasion of the launch of their label, Trace, in August, FashionUnited spoke with the founders via Zoom.
The Helsinki by Trace: a trendy sneaker for dissimilar feet
The idea for the sneaker started as a study project at TMO Fashion Business School, where Martinelli and Kamphorst graduated last year. Martinelli said: “We had to develop a fashion project with a group of ten people. In the group there was a friend of ours with two different size feet. Another girl turned out to have a height difference as well, as did one of our teachers. This gave us the idea for Trace. Platforms offering shoes for people with height differences have been around for some time. For example, there is the Onpaar website, or forums where consumers can exchange shoes. “But these are often 'leftover' shoes,” Martinelli explained.
Kamphorst and Martinelli set out to create a trendy shoe that can be ordered separately or in different sizes, and that would be produced in a more sustainable way. This resulted in the Helsinki, a sneaker made with vegan leather, recycled rubber and canvas made from 70 percent organic cotton and 30 percent recycled cotton. On top of that: for every sale, the duo have planted a tree somewhere in the world via OneTreePlanted. Martinelli and Kamphorst also deliver emissions-free by bicycle in the vicinity of Utrecht and Amersfoort, the Netherlands.
Made in Spain
“We have come quite a long way since the award,” said Martinelli. “Our first samples were still produced in Portugal, which won us the prize at the time. Shortly after the presentation, communication with the suppliers became difficult. We then decided to look for another manufacturer.” Kamphorst and Martinelli found a number of suitable candidates in Spain on the internet. Martinelli continued: "We flew there ourselves to choose the best."
Kamphorst and Martinelli also wanted to get all the materials from Spain, from canvas to soles. “We have received an endless number of different variants,” added Martinelli. Especially the soles, made from waste rubber, turned out to be a challenge. Even now that the sneakers have been launched, the search does not stop. “We continue to look for even better opportunities with suppliers." The pair agreed that the Koetsier Award has made a lot possible. Kamphorst said: “10,000 euros is a very nice starting amount. Up until now we have been able to afford almost everything.”
The shoes were supposed to be delivered in March, but due to the coronavirus, customers had to wait a few months longer for the shoes. However, that hat did not detract from the response. “We have already received many positive reactions. Eighteen pairs were sold in the first two days, ”said Martinelli. She laughed: "Until now mainly in the same size." Kamphorst explained: “We see the individual sizes mainly as an extra. We are curious how many people will order different sizes, whether the concept is catching on, or whether people especially like the sneaker. Also good of course!”
What are the plans for Trace? “We will continue to sell online for the time being,” stated Kamphorst. “In the long run, we would also like to sell in stores, so that the shoes can be tried on.” The Helsinki sneaker is available in sizes 35 to 45, with a dark blue, white or camel coloured heel. Kamphorst said: "We hope to be able to make other models, sizes and colours in the future.”
Trace sneakers are on presale until the end of September. Until then, they cost 79.95 euros per pair. After that, they cost 99.95 euros per pair. Some shoes are available at half the price. An additional charge of 15 euros applies for the purchase of a single shoe, or two different sizes.
This article was originally written for FashionUnited.nl. It was translated and edited in English by Andrea Byrne.
Photo credit: Trace