”This is more or less a love story for boots”
Project Twlv founder Henrik Hobik on starting a global shoe brand from scratch.
Henrik Hobik, you seem obsessed with boots, why?
— I wear boots 90% of the time. It’s the height of the boots I like. I almost never wear low‑top shoes. For 14 years I used to sell Paul Smith shoes in Scandinavia, and I was always taking out the boots from the line. It became a hallmark for my own style.
You’ve been in the business for 25 years, but this is the first time of your own. What took you so long?
— People always asked me, why don’t you do your own brand? I always refused. I wasn’t ready because I didn’t know exactly how that would look. But a couple of years ago I started thinking about doing a boot collection. I think it’s always best to start with something which is very true to yourself, since it’s a product group you know very well. I was out traveling in all the bigger cities. New York, Paris, London, Milan. And pnly rarely I could find a contemporary boot collection which had the more handcrafted approach to it. That’s how it all started.
You saw a gap in the market?
— Yes. So I called up my friend Antonio Panella, a product specialist who used to be head of shoe design for Paul Smith. I told him I was thinking about starting a brand. After a chat over the phone, we said, “OK, let’s do it.” We are now both doing all parts of the business together.
What was the vision at the time?
— We wanted to create a definite look and to be very clear as to what we stood for. We didn’t look at what others were doing or at what’s going to sell. This is more or less a love story for boots. The first thing we asked about was “what kind of boots?” We wanted to use traditional construction, such as Goodyear welt and Blake rapid, and we wanted to use a lot of zippers, because they’re very practical. Also, we wanted a contemporary approach to the product. Something what was fashion, but still handcrafted.
Tell me about the handcraft?
— As boot makers, the last is the most significant and very first thing you see on a shoe or boot. We started with wooden last, like in the old days, and created our own last shape, which is rather unique.
In terms of design, how much is doing something new, and how much is creating something classic?
— We try to balance that. We have three or four classic styles. Then we play around, add some new to make it stand out in the marketplace. You need to excite your customer on a regular basis.
You’ve been travelling around the world with this collection, attracting significant retailers like Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Barney’s in New York. What is it that resonates with these very hard‑to‑enter stores?
— Basically, they are very professional buyers that have the knowledge to identify something that’s good quality and is also unique. I think they appreciate the different handwriting we have in our products. They also trust that we, with our collected experience, have the capability to sustain the project for many years.
You’ve worked in the fashion and distribution industry for over 25 years. How did you start?
— I think I’ve been in the industry longer. I started when I was 19, when I got a job at a distribution company, working with brands like Replay and Diesel. I became an agent and started my first company when I was 21. In 1994 I met the founder of Selected Brands, and he was looking for an agent. We had tremendous success with several brands, and I became a partner, and the sales and marketing manager. Very quickly, we expanded to the Nordic countries and the Baltic states. I was the CEO for about 14 years until I left that role three years ago. I’m still working on their strategy, as an executive chairman.
So starting Project Twlv coincided with you stepping down as CEO?
— Everyone who knows me knows that I have plenty of energy. After taking it a bit easier for a couple of months, I was thinking, “OK, so what’s the next step for me?” Then the idea of Project Twlv came up.
You’ve really gone into this 110%. I’ve seen you at all the trade shows, travelling around the world. Did you know that you had to commit long term?
— I think it’s very important to be very hands-on and make sure all parts are done the right way from the beginning. At the same time you need to be realistic and honest, otherwise, you’re going to fail. I always want things to happen quicker but we have to be proud of what we have achieved. We have been around for two seasons, retailing in 14 countrires, attracting top accounts worldwide.
Being Scandinavian and being Swedish, is that a plus for you when you do business internationally?
— Definitely. In the beginning, we didn’t use the Swedish‑ness or the Scandinavian approach so much. But I noticed that it was actually something positive to be Swedish, instead of being another brand out from France or Italy. People think its quite exotic. Even when I went to Tokyo, everyone was saying, “wow, you’re from Scandinavia. That’s really cool.” No doubt it’s similar to the way we discuss Japanese brands here. There are a lot of factors that actually go into that desire for Scandinavian brands. I think it’s the bigger picture. People think we, as a region, are very well‑developed.
What’s in store for the future of Project Twlv?
— For us, it’s also a journey of learning. Even if we’re now trying to do some sneakers and lower shoes, the core for us is always going to be boots.