Where smaller brands succeed

It isn’t always go big or go home

Note: This article will be focusing on some of the more artisan, handcrafted boot brands. So, under this definition brands like Mizuno, Asics, Concave and the like are considered “medium-sized” brands. The same goes for Pantofola D’Oro, who are well-known enough to be considered a medium-sized brand as well.

In era of superstars, million-dollar endorsement deals and huge social media ad campaigns, everything seems to be dominated by the biggest brands in football. Nike, adidas and Puma make extra loud and attention-grabbing ad campaigns and boots as they compete against each other, and everyone else for attention. Yet, if we look just under the surface, we see more than a few brands quietly going about their business. They don’t have huge ad campaigns and they don’t dominate the conversation in the way that bigger brands do. They harken back to a simpler time in the football boot industry, when some brands found success through word of mouth alone. These are the brands that we will be focusing on today.

One of the reasons why brands like RetroStar Classic, UnoZero, Adler, Ryal, Yasuda, and the like are able to be successful is because there are enough people out there who realise that these brands offer something that many of the big brands don’t; that is to say that they are unique and many of their boots are made in small batches and for the most part are handmade. Obviously, some of these brands’ popularity occurs with the generation of players who remember when most of the boot industry was like this. There are also boot enthusiasts like me and others who appreciate what these companies bring to the market. Very occasionally, you have a few of the younger players who also want to try something different and outside of the norm.

Many of these companies are not really aiming to be big hitters or are making grand promises like “We will be one of the world’s biggest football boot brands” and are simply satisfied to have their corner of the market and their own dedicated following. But aside from the handmade nature of their boots and the “old-school” aesthetic, one might wonder what some of the appeal of these brands are for many people.

One of the appealing aspects of these brands is the fact that many people involved with these brands seem more approachable, as if they are just average people who make football boots. This isn’t to say that there are not people like this among bigger brands but with these companies, it seems as though one can speak more directly with them about your thoughts and ideas with the brand and be able to have conversations with the people directly involved with the design and production of these boots.

A good example of this is RetroStar Classic. They are a German company run by two guys and have their boots made by a small factory in Northern Italy. Having the ability to directly interact with both guys and involved and talk about design ideas and the like is an appealing aspect of the brand. When was the last time you were able to talk with the head of a boot company or their designer? It isn’t common in the slightest.

It also makes you feel more connected to the company and in some ways, you feel as if you get to have a say in the direction of the brand. This doesn’t mean that they must listen to you of course, but it is refreshing being able to talk directly with people in these positions. It also makes you feel like you have a more personal connection to the product being made.

Another aspect that some of these smaller brands do well in is presentation. A favourite of mine in this respect is the fairly new US-based company UnoZero. The boots are made in Italy, of course, but what makes them stand out from the crowd is the presentation box and extras that the boots come with. It shows that an extra effort was made when it was decided what extras the boots with come with. A presentation like UnoZero’s makes you immediately think that the product you are getting is special. I would argue that they are very special. While it is true that big brands do occasionally put out some decent presentation boxes with some releases, it seems like an after-thought at times. With UnoZero, it is obvious that they realized that while the most important part is the boots, the extras that the boots come with are important as well and deserve thought and attention.

Something else that often impresses me about smaller brands is the consistency of the product. What I mean when I say this is that even when they come up with new product, they often continue to make previous product as well. A great example for this is the Japanese brand, Adler. Adler has released a few new models over the past year or so, but they also continue to release previous models in the same and sometimes new colours. In this time of constantly changing products and model updates, it is nice to have a brand that you can turn to when you want the same boots as before. Some might argue that this isn’t necessarily important, from personal experience I can tell you that over the years there have been more than a few people upset when a new model releases and an old model is no longer available. The ability to buy the same model as the one you previously wore is more important to more people than one might realise.

Customization of your football boots often seems limited to your name and number, and right now, Nike is pretty much the only major brand that offers you the ability to create your boots in different colours. These options are limited and even with the idea of making your own unique boots, because of the limitations, there is a good chance that someone else has boots like your own. With the Italian company Ryal, however, you have a fairly free hand when it comes to deigning your own boots. Ryal just released their own boot configurator this year. Some of the colour combinations you can create are sometimes excellent and sometimes ridiculous.

Unlike Nike, with Ryal’s customizer, you can go crazy. Want an orange, gold, pink and bright yellow boot? Sure, no problem, says Ryal. With approval, they will even embroider a custom logo on your boots, which further enhances the uniqueness of your boots. This lack of limitations and openness with custom designs is something that I have only seen from a brand like Ryal, and many of the bigger brands are all about the aesthetics looking right, despite what the customer may actually want. I applaud Ryal’s willingness to allow customers to go nuts with their boots and it sets a standard that I think some of the bigger brands would do well to follow.

One thing I also like is the sense of history that we can feel with some of these brands. I am a big history buff, so I love to hear about the roots of some of these brands. While the big brands have long, and interesting histories, many of the smaller brands are interesting in their own right. The newly revived Japanese brand Yasuda is one I like to read about. As I mentioned in my review for the Yasuda YX-2019, Yasuda was originally started in 1932. This makes it older than Nike (1971), Adidas (1948) and Puma (also 1948). It can be argued that we shouldn’t be looking back into the past too often when it comes to boots but I also think that we miss something when we don’t.

With the smaller brands, I often feel like there is more of a continuation with the past because it doesn’t feel as disconnected with the present. What I am trying to say is that for these smaller brands, the past informs their present. Yasuda’s boots are a great example of this, because even though their designs are a bit modernized, they still are callbacks to previous boots the company had made before going bankrupt.

The aspects listed above are some of the things I enjoy most about the smaller brands. Obviously, quality of product across the board is much higher than you would find in many of the bigger brands. This is another advantage when you are a smaller company because they have more control over the production line. What I also want to know is what you all think? Are there reasons you prefer small brands?

Let me know in the comments and make sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!
Special Thanks to RetroStar Classic and UnoZero for image permissions!


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