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Partnered Story June, 16 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Max Miller of Greenwich Vintage

At Highsnobiety we’re always on the lookout for new companies and brands that reimagine the way we think about product creation. In collaboration with Vodafone #Firsts, we reached out to Minneapolis-based Greenwich Vintage to learn more about the brand’s history, inspiration and aspirations. In a very short period of time, the brand has made a name for themselves by offering unique, contemporary colored soles, all of which are made in-house, to re-crafted and re-purposed wingtips, boots and chukkas. Curious to know more, we spoke to co-founder Max Miller.

Please introduce yourself.

Greenwich Vintage was cofounded by Tamas “Zen” Pomazi and me (Max Miller). Tamas, or “Zen” as I call him, is a former graffiti artist under the name “Zen-One” and sneaker customizer, specializing in Jordans, Air Force Ones and Air Maxs. My background is in finance and accounting, and I have a history as an entrepreneur.

Zen is Greenwich Vintage’s Master Cobbler and Creative Director. All of Greenwich Vintage’s colored soles, as well as resoled and re-crafted footwear, are completed by him at our Minneapolis-based workshop. My role is more infrastructure-focused, specifically on the marketing, customer service, finance and accounting side of the house.

How did the Greenwich Vintage concept come together?

Zen’s father passed away a few years back and he inherited some of his wingtips. Zen wanted to wear his father’s shoes, but he also wanted to make them his own style, to incorporate his history as an artist and sneaker customizer. The logical place to start in his mind was working with the sole of the shoe. The problem was that his local shoe repair shop didn’t offer a colored sole. They only had the standard black, brick and crepe.

At that time, we were partners selling high-end vintage goods through a “by appointment only” shop in Minneapolis. One day, Zen came to me with this idea. He wanted to develop a colored shoe sole that would allow us combine the color and edge of sneakers with the classic style of men’s footwear. A shoe that was for all those sneakerheads that wanted to step their grown-man game up without forgetting the past.

Where did the idea of the fusion of vintage sneaker soles originally come from?

We’re a startup in the purest sense of the word and manufacturing new shoes, specifically, men’s wingtips, boots, loafers, etc. is very expensive, especially when your focus is making this footwear in the United States. So we took an alternate approach focused on Zen’s talent as Master Cobbler. We developed a unique online service that allows customers to send in their footwear to be resoled and restored with our colored soles. In addition, we began re-crafting (recycling) vintage American-made footwear that we sourced through local vintage shops, estate sales and online with our colored soles.

What was the inspiration behind your unique design ideas?

Our inspiration definitely comes from Zen’s art background and his love of sneakers, particularly Jordans. We have patterned a lot of our recrafted footwear off of the recent Jordan and Nike looks. We had the Grown Man Grapes come out after the Jordan Grapes and we put together an all-red Grown Man Yeezy 2 wingtips after the Red Octobers dropped last fall.

As part of Vodafone’s “Future Firsts,” how do you see Greenwich Vintage evolving in the footwear market?

I don’t think we’ll ever lose the resoling and re-crafting part of our business. The joy, for example, that we see when a client gets his father’s or grandfather’s shoes back fully restored and customized with a colored sole is really inspiring. We love it.

However, we are looking to expand our business in a few ways. We are very excited about the launch of our first of many new American-made shoes, the Desert Camo Derby. Our line of new footwear will embody what has got us to this point, high concept without sacrificing quality, American-made premium construction and gutsy innovation.

In addition, we want to expand the sale of our colored soles to local “Mom & Pop” shoe repair shops. As more and more consumers shift away from wearing sneakers to more expensive wingtips, loafers and boots, the need to provide them with sole options, specifically color options, will increase as these shoes naturally wear down. We want to help the “Mom & Pop” shops meet this demand.

Finally, we love working with fellow brands on collaborative projects. We have worked with some great companies in the past on marketing campaigns and products, including Florsheim Shoes, General Knot, Leatherworks of Minnesota, Railcar Fine Goods and Hellbrand Leatherworks. We really feel that putting our heads together on new concepts really creates something extraordinary for our fans.

What differentiates you from the abundance of footwear brands out in the market right now?

First and foremost, we take a much different approach when we look at building a shoe. Unlike most brands that design a shoe from the top down, we develop our footwear from the sole up. This allows us to create something that rethinks color combinations and style patterns. This approach also drives a better product because the construction of its base, the foundation of the shoe, is of a premium quality.

Second, we’re not afraid to take designs to their limit. We have patterned our design process after the Nike Innovation Kitchen, only for grown-man kicks. We experiment, change directions and combine patterns and sole colors that haven’t been used before.

What sort of relationship are you aiming to foster between your brand and customers?

We pride ourselves on having a very close “family” relationship with our customers. We built this company through Instagram and people have responded to us because we peel back the curtain behind the work. You see us pouring the colored soles and working on your shoe with cuts on our hands. We have not shied away from showing the grind it takes to start a company from scratch. We appreciate those that have been there with us along the way that wear our soles on the weekend, in the office, out on the town or at their wedding. Trying to make it in America for us is a family affair.

Do you think high quality manufacturing in footwear has had a resurgence in recent years?

Definitely. We think people are tired of spending for clothing, shoes, whatever, that cost a ton, but immediately fall apart. With men’s footwear, in particular, customers know when they put them on for the first time how well they’re constructed. Making sure the manufacturing is top quality is essential for not just your individual product, but your brand.

What was the inspiration when designing the latest collection?

In the next few weeks, we are planning to release a lookbook highlighting our resole service, as well as our new shoe, the Desert Camo Derby. Like all of our work to date, the inspiration behind our designs comes from Zen’s history of trading in the aerosol cans of a graffiti artist for the tools of a Master Cobbler.

Pick one item from the current collection that you’re really proud of and tell us a little about it.

Both Zen and I are really proud of the Desert Camo Derby because it represents the next step for us as a company and we’ve been able make it here in America. The Desert Camo Derby is a whole cut derby constructed from premium desert camo leather, blaze orange piping, a full leather storm welt and our Greenwich Vintage blaze orange commando sole. The Desert Camo Derby will be available in early June direct-to-consumer exclusively through our webstore, www.greenwichvintage.us.

Lastly, where would you like to take the brand in future? Do you think tradition and expansion can continue to exist side by side?

We definitely want to grow and be successful. We see a lot of potential in our American-made colored soles and footwear. However, we want to do it the right way. Our symbol, the Eagle and the Handshake, means a lot to us. It represents the quality, commitment, trust and hard work we’ve put in to date. Our success as a company and brand depends on remaining committed to these qualities. So yes, I do believe tradition and expansion are compatible. You just need to be focused on both. There are a number of American companies that have proven this. We’ve worked with them.

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