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Big boots to fill

Occasionally in life things just slot into place… serendipity lends a helping hand and, quite suddenly, your best made plans and big ideas are a reality. The Swedish/Italian shoe brand Project TWLV was born of such fortitude. The company was founded four years ago by Gothenburg-based Henrik Hobik and Switzerland-based Italian, Antonio Panella.

Words by Nick Rice

Hobik followed that path trodden by those who make things happen. The road taken by people that just get stuff done. He wanted something but couldn’t find it – so decided to create it himself. The thing he was after was a high-quality pair of boots that had the durability and robustness of good workwear boots, but which were also tempered by a contemporary edge… he was after a touch of class thrown in.

Hobik had already been a key figure in the shoe and apparel industry as the main owner of the distribution and licence company, Selected Brands Nordic, and he’d worked with a long line of respected brands such as Kenzo, Hackett and Paul Smith. It was through his contact with Paul Smith that he first met Antonio Panella, who was the creative force driving Paul Smith shoes for over 12 years and remains a designer of handcrafted footwear held in high esteem by the wider industry.

When Hobik stepped down as CEO and gained some extra time, building a shoe brand from scratch was the challenge that grew from that inability to find the right pair of boots. He called Panella to get some advice and guidance, and that’s when the magic touch of serendipity happened. Panella had resigned two days earlier and was immediately interested in the idea.

Hobik had planned for six boot styles – Panella proposed six more, hence Project Twelve. The vowels were dropped to simplify trademark registration and it had the added bonus of looking cool and contemporary too. The founders spoke exclusively to Scandinavian MAN about their swiftly expanding brand. Referring to the initial spark for the company, Hobik says,

— I think the biggest boost was the desire to create a Swedish footwear brand. And I believe that the end consumer is able to recognise in our product its genuine quality. We get really enthusiastic when we see the positive reactions from our customers.

Project TWLV boots are Blake/Rapid stitched and Goodyear welted, sometimes with double soles or a Cuban heel, and with upper materials of different grain leathers, some kangaroo and also horsehide called soft cordovan from the Tuscany region. Some models also have uppers in rough suede, with leather lining and soles that are all vegetable tanned from a Swedish tannery called Tärnsjö, which reinforces the novel Swedish/Italian alliance.

Reflecting on why Hobik’s idea grabbed him so intensely, Panella explains,

— Henrik and I have years of shared experience in the field, me as a footwear design director in Paul Smith and him as a distributor for the Scandinavian countries. It happened at the right time, Henrik called me at a time when I wanted to start my own brand, so we decided to do it together by sharing our experiences and skills. The idea then developed during our meeting in Stockholm, the passion for our work brought us where we are today.

Building a shoe brand from the ground up is no small feat (excuse the pun) — even for a team with such extensive experience. Panella considers whether he was daunted by the prospect, or if he relished the challenge?

— By nature, you must have an attitude towards the challenge, which we both have. However, we have a preparation behind us that allows us to face the challenges that arise every season. Today we live in a market in continuous transformation, saturated with pre-consolidated brands that devote little space to the product, leaving it in the background. We prefer to be judged by the product, our brand is our product.

When it comes to the importance of being present at Pitti Uomo, Panella concludes,

—Pitti is unlike any other international fair around the world. You must have your presence here.