- Buyer's Guide
Carry Evolution :: The Shrine
Under his consultancy, studioFAR, Fernando Robert, has designed soft goods for some of the best: Chrome Bags, Aether Apparel, Pelican Cases, and Kulkea to name a few. But only in the last few years has he taken his talent and focused it towards his own passion – collectible sneakers. Thus The Shrine was born. A hip, urban, travel goods brand designed for the world of sneakerheads and their kick-centric needs. So we dropped Fernando a line, to talk about the evolution of The Shrine and, more specifically, his new Sneaker Duffel…
Could you talk us through the inspiration for The Shrine and how, where and when you came up with the idea? Was there a light bulb moment?
Around 2009, when I had just moved to California, I got the idea for our first product the wall mounted sneaker rack. Our bag line grew from the concept of this original product. At the time, I was working freelance designing footwear and was designing an outsole. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool to display sneakers on the wall in such a way where the outsole was a focal point. Originally thinking it would be great for retail stores, I really wanted to target sneaker collectors (or sneakerheads). The ones who wanted to showcase their collection at home, the sneakers they would never wear and keep pristine. These guys mostly hide them away in boxes, out of sight, usually in their closet.
This was also a nice side project where I could experience the entire process of designing a product, naming, branding, manufacturing, etc. all the way to customer delivery. So I found a manufacturer in Oakland and started making small batches. Knowing how obsessed these guys are about sneakers, The Shrine stood out as a perfect name. When displaying their favorite kicks on the wall, it served as a Shrine to their hobby. That is where the brand started and the name came from.
While selling racks for a few years, my career started focusing primarily on the design and development of soft goods. Under my company name studioFAR, I started working with some great brands like Chrome Bags, Pelican Cases, Aether Apparel, even did some promo bags for Google. Late 2012, is when I first started thinking about the backpack idea focused around carrying sneakers and how it could be a line extension under The Shrine brand. Being able to take my love for sneakers and combine it with my profession of bag design seemed like the ideal path.
I’m curious, before we move forward, what exactly defines a ‘sneakerhead’?
A sneakerhead is just someone who is crazy about footwear and borderline obsessed with sneakers. Many of these guys own 100+ pairs and I’m sure you’ve heard of them camping overnight in front of stores to get a limited edition version. They know when specific shoes were released and when the next hot pair is about to drop. They are also very in tune with fashion, taking the same mentality with their coordinating accessories. I’m talking about caps, watches, jewelry, apparel, etc. This makes for a very interesting user scenario that warranted some unique carry challenges when traveling.
What’s your go-to pair of kicks?
My basketball days are long gone so I tend to stick with low top running shoes (Nike Roshe or Flyknits) and I’m a sucker for a classic Vans low top. Always need to have at least one pair with a clean white foxing and bumper.
What’s the vision behind the product?
For now we’re building an entire travel goods line, designed for the sneaker guy and what he carries. Somewhat of a lifestyle luggage brand, these bags are highly specialized for the needs of this user. Our designs provide the necessary protection and storage for their most valuable shoes, accessories, and of course gadgets.
Soon we plan to take the same thinking and apply it to more of daypack, wheeled luggage, and women’s travel bags.
How did the product evolve?
Our first product was the Shrine Weekender Sneaker Backpack, which we sold out on our first preorder. It was completely unique to the market since the entire front section was specifically designed for only storing two pairs of high top sneakers. The rear compartment holds your clothes and other accessories. The shape is boxy for maximum internal storage, but remains small enough to be carry-on sized.
I think most designers can easily see how the Shrine Sneaker Duffel evolved from the backpack design. Maintaining good weight distribution, we divided the sneaker storage into separate boxes and shifted them to the sides of the bag. This silhouette allows for even more main compartment storage than the backpack. You can get 3-4 outfits in this central area.
How long did the development take?
Since I’ve been designing bags for over 10 years, at this point I do most of the design work in my head (with some doodling here and there). I spent probably 3 months thinking about the design and refining the construction. Once ready, I created a paper mockup and then sent CAD artwork for the first sample to be made. Then it took about another 3 months of sample corrections and narrowing in on final fabric and trim.
What kind of research did you have to undertake before kicking off the project? What did you need to wrap your head around?
I’ve worked on various types of bags for carrying all sorts of products (gadgets, instruments, camera gear, ski equipment, etc.). So I’m able to anticipate problem areas and envision creative ‘cut and sew’ solutions when needed. As a sneaker collector myself, I understood the user and that sneaker protection was of top priority. I also wanted the backpack to be accepted and used by professional sports athletes, so the compartments needed to fit up to a 20+ sized sneaker. I needed to measure the lengths and heights of various size high top sneakers to make sure the majority would fit.
If you notice, we used an expansion panel on the sides of the shoe compartments. This allows the box to expand and fit the larger size sneakers if needed. Now the more common sizes (8-12) fit just right and aren’t shifting around in the oversized openings.
What were the biggest challenges?
There are many challenges for a designer when starting a brand or product line. I think finding the right people to help you along the way is key. I wanted to focus on what I was good at (the design) and allow others to help with their specialty (marketing, sales, etc.). One challenge is learning to share control and putting trust in others. Easy things to say, but not always easy to do.
One awesome thing that you learned while developing the product?
Working for larger clients most of the time I’d be involved with the initial design of the product and provided insight through the sample development process. However, once the final design was locked in the product was passed on to a development team then production. I wasn’t a part of that process and not familiar with all the factors that can end up changing the decisions made previously.
Many design details can get lost or change when transitioning into production. You have to be on top of every little aspect: approving keepsake samples, hangtags, packaging, how they are nested, etc.
Also, it can be quite stressful when placing an order of bags from Asia. However, it completely made me a smarter designer and able to see the whole picture. The ability to anticipate what could be a problem around the corner is tremendously valuable. I’ve definitely taken my attention to detail to a whole other level.
How many prototypes did you go through?
I went through about 3 prototypes, that was after refining the concept in my head for some time. I first created a paper mockup at my studio to validate what I had been thinking. I needed to confirm the sizing for shoes and clothing space in the main compartment. After that, I dove into a fairly crude sewn prototype with basic fabric and trims collected from my local fabric store. The first crude proto was important for me to visualize how the front shoe compartment divider was connected, given there were no external seam on the pack’s face. It also helped me visualize the sneaker tie down strap configuration and hat sling sizing. After that a basic tech pack was sent to the factory for the first sample.
Given all the time I spent before this stage, very little changed from the overall construction of this first sample to the second show sample. The primary changes to the show sample were the application of final fabric/color/trim, which make up the final design.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and what influences the style of The Shrine?
I tend to always lean toward a simple and minimalist design aesthetic. However, each project lives within a context and I focus on what is appropriate for the market and right for the user. I’m always trying to get the most function out of the least amount of build. The position of every seam should have a purpose for some other function, or better yet multiple functions. The challenge I put on myself is trying to extract the maximum purpose and style out of the least amount of labor and material.
And where did you draw your inspiration from?
Obviously, the sneaker industry provides endless inspiration. I keep an eye out on many street wear brands these days. There is some really interesting trim and application details coming out of these industries.
What makes The Shrine special?
The Shrine is special because we are combining aesthetic and function for the sneaker enthusiast in a well executed/innovative design. I believe the success of our first product (the backpack) validates the notion that there was an absence for these concepts in the marketplace.
Are there other bags for sneakerheads on the market?
There are many bag brands providing the sneaker head fashion aesthetic to consumers (from a decorative standpoint). However, there are only a few brands creating unique carry solutions specifically for this user.
What single thing are you most proud of with The Shrine?
This is my first stab at launching my own bag brand. I’m sure I’ve made many mistakes and will surely make more. However, this learning experience is invaluable to my career and future ventures. Taking an idea all the way to a final product that is now being used by thousands of people is pretty amazing.
What’s next for you?
Along with The Shrine travel goods collection, I’m working on a few other unique bag designs for other clients. Look forward to sharing those stories with you guys as well.