October 3, 2019

Foot Locker Bets On Cultural Authenticity With Greenhouse Incubator

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Streetwear and sneaker industries continue to mature into lucrative segments whilst brands are upping their investment in cultural capital for the next phase of the game. Once considered a core part of the sneaker landscape, Foot Locker is trying to find its place in the modern battlefield of sneakers, fashion, and youth. The recent launch of Foot Locker’s Greenhouse hopes to give it the “cred” needed to expand beyond its household name as a retailer.

What is Greenhouse?

Project Greenhouse is Foot Locker’s recently launched initiative that’s meant to change how the brand interacts with a younger, culturally-savvy customer base. Greenhouse is headed by Mel Peralta, founder of watch brand FLüD. In his words, “Inclusivity, empowerment and innovation are really our three big pillars behind the identity of Greenhouse.”

This modus operandi is meant to be drastically distinct from the corporate obligations of Foot Locker proper, and for this reason, Greenhouse will have its own separate office far from Foot Locker’s Manhattan headquarters. “We wanted to make sure that we had a group that was really close to culture, that was not breathing our own air all the time,” said Foot Locker CMO Jed Berger to HYPEBEAST. To do this, Greenhouse will revolve around three key parts:

  • Collaborations: directly working with designers and creators on projects with cultural impact.
  • Concepts: connecting with brands in unconventional ways.
  • Think Tank: creating culturally-progressive initiatives within the company itself. This was Green house’s original purpose as a purely internal project before it branched off.

In Execution

Keeping with Foot Locker’s strong retail roots, Greenhouse will exist as an app where customers can buy exclusive product and check availability for items limited to select stores. But the primary goal for the incubator remains to create cultural capital through the talent it works with. Here are some of the names attached for the initial launch:

  • Photographer Christina Paik
  • Davin Gentry of Diet Starts Monday
  • Banga of PaperBoy Paris
  • Artist Victor Solomon
  • Designer Nicole McLaughlin
  • Founder of VFILES, Julie Anne Quay
  • Treis Hill of ALIFE
  • Dao-Yi Chow of Public School

Included inside the scope of this first push is O-1, a sustainability-focused e-commerce platform headed by Chow, and Project 366, whose aim is to identify young talent and offer mentorship towards retail early as opposed to waiting until they’ve had to grow their brand on their own

“All the cool kids are doing it.”

Foot Locker is certainly not the only brand to launch public-facing initiatives geared towards folding in young stakeholders into its ideation strategy. Regardless of their scope or under what dynamic the initiative operates, the end goal is to create a gateway on the side specifically for creative talent to connect with a brand or other brands, and to fast track them towards contributing their skills to the industry. Other brands that have done this:

  • LVMH Prize by Louis Vuitton: A program to empower and equip young designers with experience and resources
  • Studies____ by Reebok: A Kerby Jean-Raymond (of Pyer Moss) initiative focused on pairing designers with Reebok
  • Pensole: An ongoing footwear design program
  • Sneaker Essentials: A co-created curriculum featuring the Fashion Institute of Technology and Complex Magazine

Cultivating Talent for Tomorrow

At a time when brands are both mirroring the moves of their competitors while trying to differentiate, the launch of Greenhouse demonstrates how important cultural relevance and authenticity will be down the line. Part of that has meant that brands took stances on politics in a bid to demonstrate a better understanding of their target markets through their PR and business decisions. That was the output end of the brand strategy. On the input end, recruiting and nurturing loyal talent is as essential an investment as proprietary technology.

Why? In the constant arms race to show how different or better a brand is over its competitors, Foot Locker as a retailer is both late and outclassed compared to larger brands. That said, with sneakers set to outsell fashion footwear in the States by 2020, there will still be plenty of business to go around for this rapidly maturing segment. And when other brands join the fray, it will be interesting to see how their initiatives operate differently, what emerging talent they find and what new ideas come of them.

What’s the Missing Link We See?

One of the most frequent conversations we have is around structure in the realm of creativity. Structure manifests itself across both back-end and front-end elements.

  • Business (back-end): How do you create a viable business and build in the day-to-day requirements to ensure you can monetize your creativity?
  • Creative (front-facing): How do you plan out consistent and scalable creative execution?

In our experience, ideas are rarely the hardest part. Anybody can come up with a good idea, at least once. But understanding how to build something that can consistently exist in the realm of relevancy and (financial sustainability) is much more difficult.

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