Get Familiar: Warrior Shoes
Interview by Passion Dzenga
Today, we introduce you to one of our upcoming guests at our Zeedijk pop-up location – Wout Meulemans, representing Warrior Shoes. Back in 2017, Wout Meulemans and Fons Lagendijk embarked on the journey of bringing China's oldest sneaker brand, Warrior Shanghai, into the spotlight. Over the past few years, the brand's rich history and its distinctive, minimalist design ethos have carved out a unique niche in the relatively traditional vulcanised sneaker market.
Fast forward to 2023, after a span of about six years, Warrior Shoes has taken a significant stride. It has chosen to break ties with its Shanghai-based parent company and pivot towards Portugal for production. This strategic move not only shortens the production process but also empowers the creation of smaller, more agile collections. This transition embraces the potential for adaptability, aligning with the dynamic shifts in both ecological consciousness and technological advancements.
The brand's latest offering, the 'Made in Portugal' collection, is now accessible via their online platform. Excitingly, starting September 1st, a special pop-up event will unfold at Zeedijk 67. This event promises an exclusive gateway to experience their most recent collaboration with Wiki, a distinguished American rapper and record producer hailing from the vibrant city of New York.
Wout Meulemans and the Warrior Shoes team continue to steer the brand's narrative with a passion for innovation and an eye on the future. This new chapter heralds not only a refined production approach but also a strengthened connection with their audience, creating a buzz of anticipation for what's to come.
Can you tell us about the journey that led you and Fons Lagendijk to decide on importing China's oldest sneaker brand, Warrior Shanghai, back in 2017? What inspired you to take this step?
Back in 2017, Fons and I were working in a bar. During that time, I often wore the classic Warrior wb-1 that I had bought at the Patta store a couple of years before. While searching for a new pair to replace my favorite work shoes, I discovered that the classic silhouette was no longer available at Patta or any other European store.
That's when I realized that nobody was carrying the brand at that moment. So, we decided to send an email to China's oldest sneaker brand, inquiring about importing the classic vulcanized shoes, and that's how it all began.
Warrior Shanghai has managed to establish a unique position in the vulcanized sneaker market with its distinct straightforward design. How do you believe the brand's history played a role in achieving this differentiation?
Speaking for myself, the nostalgic look of the vulcanized wb-1 model made me fall in love with the silhouette. But I truly became excited when I saw the box they came in. The box covered in Chinese characters and 'basketball shoes' written all over in the craziest typo made me extremely interested in the brand and its heritage. Additionally, vulcanized shoes with a toecap always evoke a nostalgic feeling, as Vans and Converse are two of the best stories in the sneaker market.
Transitioning from being part of a Shanghai-based parent company to establishing production in Portugal is a significant shift. Could you elaborate on the factors that drove Warrior Shoes to make this decision? How do you foresee this change benefiting the brand?
Honestly, the transition from importing Chinese silhouettes to producing our own designed shoes in Portugal wasn't initially a choice. As you all know, the COVID pandemic began earlier in China, and due to closed factories, we decided, in good consultation with China, to look for alternatives nearby, as traveling to China or other Asian countries wasn't possible at that moment.
By moving out of China, we immediately decided to drop the Shanghai part and start with rebranding. We were all convinced that we couldn't capture the nostalgic feeling of the silhouette by producing it elsewhere.
With Portugal having a rich history in footwear production, we decided to visit some of the country's best factories and found an excellent place to help us build the new line of Warrior shoes.
Moving production closer to home and adopting smaller-scale collections are touted as strategies to enhance flexibility and keep up with current developments. Could you share some insights into how these changes align with Warrior's values and goals?
By dropping the Shanghai part and creating silhouettes with the same nostalgic feeling as the wb-1 model, the main purpose of the new Warrior line is realized.
By adopting smaller-scale collections and the flexibility of keeping up with the latest developments, we can use the latest techniques and fabrics on designs that are based on our own nostalgic taste in footwear.
Your collaboration with Wiki, an American rapper and record producer, on an exclusive collection is an exciting development. Could you give us a sneak peek into this collaboration? How did the partnership come about, and how do you feel it adds to the brand's identity?
We worked previously with Wiki on the Warrior Dime collection. With Wiki being based in NY Chinatown, and the Puma Suede-ish look of the Warrior Dime model, it made sense to partner up with one of our favorite rappers of the moment.
The Warrior Matterhorn is a shoe that somehow exudes a NY '90s vibe. Wiki's sound and appearance fit that specific hip-hop era of NY, so for both parties, it made perfect sense to partner up again.
The pop-up on Zeedijk 67 is an intriguing way to showcase your latest collection. What can visitors expect from this pop-up event? How does it tie into Warrior's overall marketing and engagement strategy?
The Warrior x Wiki pop-up will take place at Patta Zeedijk 67, which completes the story for many reasons. As I mentioned earlier, I bought my first pair of Warriors at the old Patta store on Nieuwezijdse. Moreover, NY, and especially NY hip-hop, has always been part of the brand's DNA.
Last but definitely not least, we are about to open a store around the corner from Zeedijk. By the end of the month, our new store (Dollebegijensteeg 9) will open up. The pop-up at Zeedijk 67 is a perfect way for us to communicate that we are a new kid on the block, with a new line of Warrior shoes.
With six years of experience in the industry, what valuable lessons has Warrior Shoes learned along the way? Are there any challenges you faced that significantly shaped the brand's trajectory?
Well, the entire shift from China to Portugal showed us that you need to be extremely flexible in running a shoe business. What started as a 'setback' is now an opportunity to create new things that are more suitable for an ever-changing landscape of footwear.
Looking into the future, what excites you the most about Warrior Shoes' journey? Are there any upcoming milestones or innovations that you can share with us?
As I mentioned, the new store is something that's truly exciting, along with a few more new models we are currently working on. It feels like we've just entered a road with so many more options and ways to express our taste in footwear. We are simply thrilled to show the world that we are more than just a strong silhouette from China.