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The resurrection of Botas

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The new face that two young design students have given the 40-year-old Botas brand trainers has left an impression on the Czech media. The story of the shoes, worn by the generation of Starci na chmelu, doesn’t end there, however. In months, the reimagined Classic 66 has become the bestselling model of the tradition-bound shoemaker. The designers are working on further collections, and it looks like the combination of new ideas with old patents could spark a rebirth in domestic shoe production.

“We were very surprised by the interest,” Botas sales director Petr Lajžner said. Shop owners are likewise impressed. The new designs are available at 40 Baťa locations and have been selling like hotcakes. Two thousand pairs have moved in the brick-and-mortar shops, with hundreds more bought online and still more going to buyers abroad. Within four weeks of the newest model’s introduction, page hits on the Botas website increased tenfold and the shoes were the company’s bestselling.

The shoes’ designers, students at the University of Applied Arts in Prague, can see their success everywhere they go. “Just this morning I came out of the house and the first person I saw was wearing Botasky,” said designer Jan Kloss, 27. “It’s really weird sometimes when I see someone on the bus and realise I keep looking at his feet,” said designer Jakub Korous, 28. 

In theory it sounds simple: take a famous and once-popular product, modernise it so young people think it’s cool, and, at the same time, make sure that it strikes a nostalgic chord with older people. The formula has proven successful with international fashion brands, but very few Czech companies have pulled it off.

Botas wasn’t exactly a nest of visionaries. Before the collapse of communism, the maker of athletic shoes produced about two million pairs a year. After the revolution, Botas had to let workers go and accrued debts worth hundreds of millions of crowns. The company survived thanks to orders from the shoemaker Puma. Later, when the German company moved production to Asia, Botas specialised in skates, ski boots and shoes for skydiving.

Among the shoemaker’s advantages were the Botas the name, which retains high brand awareness in this country, even next to Adidas and Puma, and the design, which ranks among the Top 100 icons of Czech creativity, along with Cubist chairs.

But Botas didn’t know what to do with its assets. Luck came along when two students, working on a joyless school assignment, approached the company and offered to rejuvenate its legendary trainers. It worked, and today the school assignment has produced 13 types of shoes.

The shoemaker’s management also contributed to the success by bringing a rare commodity among traditional businesses: trust. Botas gave the young designers a free hand to change the shoes’ appearance, packaging and sales methods. The designers created a stylish shoebox, added extra laces in alternate colours, cloth badges with the Botas logo and a poster depicting the whole collection. “It was originally supposed to be a limited series, but, when we saw what a success it was, we gave the boys more room and they really took off,” said Lajžner, who wears blue-and-white Classic 66s. 

The happy accident has resulted in more than a collection. Kloss and Korous are already working on new colour combinations, which should arrive in stores in September. “We don’t want to wait until spring,” Korous said. “We want to bring out new models each month,”

Next year will see new models based on the original basketball and running shoes, and the two designers will likely continue through the entire line, including ski boots.

The brand will also expand geographically, likely appearing in Baťa outlets in Slovakia, as well as in stores in Japan, famous for its stylistically unconventional teenagers, and in western Europe.

Botas has great expectations of the new designers. “We want to continue working with them. These young guys have brought something that our dusty old models needed,” Lajžner said. “Today the only way to stand out and succeed is to have your own brand and it’s your own original design.”

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