Where to start with Startas? At Sarenza, we love shoes (no suprise there!), and we love nothing more than discovering new brands, new creative stories, and ultimately, amazing new shoes! You may not be familiar with Startas now, but you can bet that you soon will be. A brand with a rich and historical DNA, this is one trainer that has truly stood the test and trials of time – consider it a bit of a plimsoll phoenix. We met with the Léo and Jean-Baptiste, the two French men who have taken this Croatian creation on as their new project, and who are bringing this classic trainer to a new generation of sneaker freaks.
When business student Jean-Baptiste Lafitte fell in love with Croatia after a University exchange programme in 2009, he left the Balkan state with a lot more than some new friends and a few words of Croatian vocab. Falling in love with the history and story of a little trainer born from the country’s socialist heyday, he was inspired to undertake a business project to revive this plimsoll, and he doesn’t try to hide his ambitious plans for this little canvas shoe.
After launching in 1976 with great prospects at a factory in Vukovar (founded by the successful brother and business partner duo, Bata) this canvas and natural rubber trainer was a great success during the 1987 university Olympic Games, where it even became the event’s official trainer. Unfortunately this success was short lived, and during the terrible years of war experienced by the Balkans, this mythical factory was ravaged and left devastated.
Leo de Bévillon soon joined the project. A friend of Jean-Baptiste, he was so enticed by the adventure that this little Croatian shoe offered tha he left his high-flying job at IBM. The two visited the state factory, where at the height of manufacturing, 22,000 pairs are being produced by 1000 workers today.
A state recovery plan was put into action, and since 2008 Startas has been bringing jobs back to local workers, both Croatians and Serbians. From the outset, the two entrepreneurs had already imagined distributing the brand in France and further afield. Having a real love of the product and the brand’s DNA,they had tonnes of ideas on how to update it for the modern trainer market.
“After four years of steady recovery, we were surprised that the trainers still hadn’t been launched in our native France. We asked for a distribution license and they granted us one”, says Jean-Baptiste. On the spot, they were told that they were crazy to work with the State…but 2 years later, the duo have no regrets. Startas trainers are now sold in France, by over 40 different sellers. “We’re 7 months in and it’s going really well” exclaims Jean-Baptiste. The real proof of success though? Startas shoes are already being seen on the feet of sneaker addicts everywhere.
The duo is at the heart of the creation process : quirky prints, bows, different fabrics, they think of it all. They then present their best ideas to the head office, who are more than happy to see their designs take off for Japan, Belgium, Greece, South Korea, and the Netherlands. The affordable price (£42), of which they make a “low margin” is the product of their commitment and good will in this project. Not afraid to get their hands dirty and go back to where it all started, they can often be found working in the factory in remote Croatia. They refuse the idea of moving to China where it would be three times cheaper to manufacture and produce their canvas shoes, as both partners prefer the idea of sticking with this closer to home business model, and manufacturing and selling their shoes on a small-scale (they currently produce around 2000 pairs of each design). Their belief? To think outside the box and go beyond the sneaker trends that are largely driven by the American market: they jokingly claim themselves to be the creators of the unconventional sneaker!
While Startas sneakers are for all ages and styles, Léo adds that “our customers tend to be young, and are usually women. Our prints are inspired by the maritime culture of the Balkans, as well as French tastes, with original prints, casual-cool vibes, and monochrome.” The swallow print shoe, which has been a hit with the fashion press, is a welcome change to the studded, embellished sneaker that was so on trend last year – they add a little touch of humour and poetry to your feet!
If you’re crossing the channel anytime soon, make sure to stop in and say « Bonjour ! » to Léo and Jean-Baptiste at their pop up store (17 rue des Blancs Manteaux, until the fourth of May) Not heading to the city of lights (and croissants) any time soon? No worries! You can discover the SS14 collection online at Sarenza now!