Jakarta Globe, September 19, 2013
When starting up a new brand of urban footwear, Enrico Nicolin wasn’t satisfied with staying in his home country of Italy.
“Italy is a country for old men,” says the 38-year-old shoe designer, who has lived in Jakarta for 15 years. “Jakarta is vibrant. I love it here.”
Nicolin’s brand SomeAreThieves has been around since 2011 and is entering a new phase of development this year.
Instead of following Europe’s seasonal fashion cycle the brand is now launching a fresh batch of styles every two months, in a series titled “Capsules.”
In November, it plans to open a combined showroom and restaurant called the SafeHouse in Mega Kuningan, South Jakarta.
The goal is to promote SomeAreThieves as an international brand that is proud to bear the label “Made In Indonesia.”
“Indonesia for a long time has been considered a second level of footwear compared to products made in Italy or elsewhere in Europe,” Nicolin said. “But in fact there is much more knowledge of sneaker production here than in Italy.”
While Italy has a proud tradition of making high-quality dress shoes, Nicolin explains, Asia is still the king when it comes to sneakers.
SomeAreThieves sneakers are made from scratch in Indonesia. They are designed in Jakarta, washed and dyed in Tangerang, Banten, and manufactured in Bandung, West Java.
The homegrown products now stock in trend-setting fashion stores in Milan, Copenhagen, Singapore and Perth. Locally they can be found at the Goods Dept, Linea, Tribute and Cafe Aria.
The first “Capsule” of bimonthly designs was released just last week, featuring two shoe designs available in a palette of black, white, turquoise and lime patent leather. One shoe is a lace-up, the other a slip-on.
The unisex designs look simple, but Nicolin says there is always more to his designs than first meets the eye.
“It’s not something that you see and the first moment you fall in love with,” he said. “You look at it, you pick it up and you start to notice details that are not in your face.”
The “thieves” in the company name are wearers who don’t follow trends, who know their own style and can spot good quality and fine detail, Nicolin explained.
“I like the idea of a thief because a thief is somebody who doesn’t always appear.
Somebody who appears and disappears. He appears only to the people that look at him,” he adds.
The name is also a throwback to Nicolin’s childhood in Italy, when he and his friends used to play cops and robbers.
Nicolin was always one of the robbers, and he and the rest of the gang of “thieves” have gone on to pursue unconventional careers around the world. The “cops,” meanwhile, are back home treading a predictable path.
Nicolin first came to Jakarta as a university student in 1998, when his father was working for a manufacturing company.
Three days into his stay, Nicolin’s father turned the visit into a working holiday by asking him to monitor quality control on the factory floor.
“At the time I was just thrown into this big factory in Karawang,” Nicolin says. “I didn’t have a clue about the technical stuff.”
Nicolin didn’t go back to university. After two years working with his father’s company, he started to get the hang of the business.
He took a job manufacturing shoes for Italian brands such as Giorgio Armani and Costume National.
Over time, he began to take on more responsibility as a designer, not just a manufacturer. It was then that he decided to branch out on his own.
Nicolin started his career as a solo designer in 2006 and started SomeAreThieves in 2011.
His design process typically starts from a visual idea, inspired by movies, music or anything else going on in his life.
Comfort is the next consideration.
“There is a bit of a misconception in shoes because a lot of people think that if you want beautiful shoes it’s normal if they hurt,” Nicolin said.
“But a good shoe should fit nicely and look nice. At the end of the story, if people go to the shop and they try your shoe, if it’s not comfortable they don’t buy it.”
Last year’s collections featured slouchy leather sneakers and espadrilles with a pre-worn look, some in urban beige and black and others rinsed in chalky shades of pink, yellow and aquamarine.
This year’s Spring/Summer collection embraced retro running shoes, puffy hi-tops and a smart selection of sneakers in charcoal and white.
The styles are diverse and yet hold a common identity recognized in their unusual color schemes, inventive shapes and heavy-duty soles.
The “Capsules” concept comes in response to Indonesia’s retail environment.
Nicolin says that while European retailers tend to buy stock outright and hope to sell what they’ve selected, most Indonesian stockists will only take shoes on consignment, leaving shoemakers to bear the risk of leftover stock.
By producing smaller collections on a more regular basis, Nicolin hopes to avoid the burden of leftover stock, while at the same time pushing himself to be innovative.
A smaller production run also means he can afford to take more risks in pushing the boundaries with his designs.
“To be honest I don’t really look too much at what other brands are doing,” Nicolin said. “I know what they do. They tend to conform to what’s going on, they just review some element, they reshuffle it.
“SomeAreThieves is based on what I think is nice. What I would like to see.”
The distinctive styles have proved popular, with the brand growing enough over the past two years to attract investment for the planned showroom and restaurant in the upscale Mega Kuningan area.
The SafeHouse — so named “because the thieves after the robbery they go to the safehouse” — will translate the shoe brand’s identity into a food and beverage concept, Nicolin said.
Just as the shoes are based on principles of minimalism, originality and craftsmanship, the restaurant will be sparsely yet thoughtfully furnished with unexpected touches of detail.
Chef Tomasso Gonfiantini, formerly of Pepenero’s, plans to specialize in well-crafted sandwiches — a rarity in Jakarta’s cafe scene.
The rest of the planned menu will have an international flavor, favoring teppanyaki and experimental dishes over traditional Italian pasta and pizza.
With a fully fleshed-out concept for SomeAreThieves and the SafeHouse, Nicolin plans to bring the Jakarta-based brand to the world.
“I see what’s going on here, but at the same time I’m keeping an eye on what’s going on in Berlin, in Copenhagen,” he said.