P448 debuts second Paris location at Le Bon Marché with exclusive lionfish sustainable collection
The Italian-made P448 fashion sneakers may still be insider-y to sneakerheads and style hounds, but a new retail partner may soon change that. Debuting today with Le Bon Marché in Paris, the sneaker brand has created a universe for shoppers to discover the world of P448 that expands beyond cool kicks. It's also an opportunity to unveil a line of sustainable shoes made from lionfish leather. FashionNetwork.com spoke with founder and executive founder of StreetTrend, Wayne Kulkin, about the partnership and developments for the P448 brand launched in 2017.
Utilizing the innovative French retailer's top-floor gallery, the space transformed into a warm-weather playground dubbed, 'Endless Summer.' Thus, guests will find 'So-Cal' staples like an in-store skate ramp for social media photo ops, a basketball hoop, soft-serve ice cream, popcorn, and McConnell's Irish Whisky tasting bar, for those who prefer a stronger treat. Sneaker and lace customization will be done on-site by Malby Bird.
The activation kicked off on June 28 with a party and live DJ set. The brand tested the concept with a soft launch that featured dancers, acrobats, and music the week prior.
"People loved it; I think it shocked them, but they loved it," said Kulkin of the distinctly American influence of the space, adding, "Paris is on fire right now with fashion travelers and retailers. Our spaces are like experiential laboratories. Part store, part local music venue, part artist residency, part club."
Kulkin sounded especially jazzed about the artist program, which found the executive chairman searching the newly gentrified Parisian neighborhood of the 19th arrondissement for up-and-coming talents, who will populate the space every two weeks through August, displaying and creating art on a wall Kulkin dubbed 'The Shed'. Slated to show, thus far, are international street artists such as Pakone from France, Gone from the United Kingdom, and LA-based British artist Spraying Bricks in collaboration with Montana paint.
Kulkin's vision for the pop-up isn't just geared toward sneakerhead culture. Sustainability is a big part of P448's MO. The collaboration with Le Bon Marché will also feature exclusive styles made with lionfish, a predatory species with poisonous spikes and no known predator that eats over 50,000 fish per acre yearly. The executive wanted to use the pop-up as a way to bring attention to the issue as well.
"We met two men working on developing the skins for use from a company called Inversa. The fish repopulate and are taking over the ocean in the Caribbean," he said. The skins, which resemble snakeskin after the tanning processes, are used for details and trim as the fish are too small to create an entire shoe upper. According to the executive chairman, they pulled off an industry first by using them in a finished product offered at retail.
Other measures in being more sustainable include patents upcycling chrome-free leather, recycled suede, bio-vegan materials, and recycled and repurposed sole and insole materials. Kulkin feels the packaging is the biggest concern to address.
"The most circular you can do is eliminate packaging. We have a design patent to ship shoes in a compostable box; we package the shoes in a reusable dust bag, eliminating the need for an additional shoe box, and we use recycled shoelaces to bind the shoes in shipping. This saves two pounds of cardboard paper and plastic," said Kulkin noting that 25 percent of the brand qualifies as sustainable.
At first, Kulkin and associates acquired one-third of the P448 business in 2018, then in 2020 made the full acquisition. "It was small and regional but wanted to make it a global brand. It's currently available in 39 countries with 2,000 points of distribution globally and growing," said Kulkin continuing to explain that the fastest-growing market is the U.S., with the most significant percentage of the business.
"Now it's shifting the other way, so we want to expand in Europe and the Middle East," he added. Year-over-year growth for 2020 was 87 percent; in 2021, it was 50 percent, and the projection for 2022 is 70 percent.
Temporary spaces have been at the core of the brands' growth starting in 2019 with the first pop-up in New York. Covid-19 put the brakes on plans for the Brera neighborhood of Milan. A Miami location opened in December 2021.
"I look for 1 to 2 years. Customers get bored, and so do I, so I am not sure how permanent I will keep the locations except for Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré (in Paris). They are a key part of the store-slash-digital-slash social components that need to be a full circle for the brand," he says of the approach.
He also feels this is a boon to landlords with empty spaces who aren't collecting rent. "We had a store on Fifth Avenue that was vacant for 2 ½ years. It was a dreary empty store and livened it up and made it interesting," he said. Afterward, PSG or Paris Saint Germain—the popular soccer club based in Paris—leased the space.
In Paris, they found a spot in a former La Perla store. Kulkin said he had seen a lot of 'sameness' on the tony retail strip that didn't feel fresh. After some convincing, the landlord took a chance on the new sneaker brand, initially giving them a year's lease with carte-blanche to do as he saw fit with the space. The space opened in January of 2022.
"There was pink marble, gold, and mirrors everywhere. I hit a column with a hammer to reveal a traditional column behind the glass," he recalled. They set about making a raw space to house a half-pipe skate ramp, and a small basketball court and created a hidden room behind a tree-motif wallpapered wall. They serve Flecha Azul tequila, the brand by Mark Wahlberg. "We've given away more tequila to the French than anyone. They like it."
It's no coincidence that the 90s rapper, model, and actor's product was on offer. Recently Mark Wahlberg became a partner and strategic investor in the company taking a significant minority stake in the business. The Covid-19 pandemic was partly responsible for the actor's coming on board.
"My business partner Jeff Heckman met Mark on holiday at the pool. Jeff's wife contracted Covid-19, so they got stuck there for a month," Kulkin explained, adding, "Mark is a serial entrepreneur. After he met Jeff, we made him a custom P448 shoe in fuchsia to wear with his new Municipal styles, and his post got almost 5.6 million views, one of the most he ever got."
Besides the 90s musician and current actor, P448 has taken on a new chief executive officer, Justin MacFarlane, formerly of Macy's and Ann Taylor. Currently, two websites, one for Europe and one for the U.S., are responsible for 35 percent of the brand's sales. Next year, the goal is to reach 50 percent online sales, 25 percent in P448 stores, and the other 25 percent of sales from wholesale accounts.
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