A bit of history
A little more than three years ago, the news that we were going to resume production of the popular in the USSR sneakers "Two Balls" caused a flurry of discussions: how comfortable and practical the Soviet-Chinese sneakers were, what advantages or disadvantages they had over Western competitors, and, finally, whether they are so good from an aesthetic point of view or nostalgia is to blame. Then our project did not start, nevertheless, we did not abandon our business, set up production and launched the project this summer.
I must say that sneakers as a shoe and a dream of all youth became widespread in the USSR after the Sixth World Festival of Youth and Students, which was held in the Soviet Union in 1957. Everybody's tired of gym shoes and sandals were forgotten, and by the mid-1960s, sneakers were worn by the vast majority of Soviet fashionistas. At the same time, the first GOST No. 9155 "Rubber and rubber-textile sports footwear" appeared. Since then, sneakers have flooded gyms and shops, as well as informal dance floors. Sneakers "Two balls" were considered special chic… They were made in China and, oddly enough it sounds today, were of the highest quality. The fact that they were "import" (and the word then meant much more than now), external dignity, and, most importantly, quality - all this made them the subject of cult.
As an entrepreneur, I have always wanted to do something in the national style, to develop this direction. And when I first heard about the Two Balls sneakers, I immediately realized that this could turn out to be a big and strong story. It was obvious that in our country we needed more high-quality products that convey our culture and heritage, but at the same time, modern, smartly made and retaining a utilitarian function. I have been associated with clothing for a long time, and I found and made such a product in this area. Sneakers "Two Balls" embody a dear to the heart, a little angular, and very relevant today, socialist design, high-quality materials, thoughtful design and the best technology in the field of vulcanized sneakers.
The sneakers of the Soviet era turned out to be so high quality and interesting in terms of technology that globally we practically did not have to improve anything - the original product was made at a high level. Wear-resistant rubber, dense canvas, cotton laces - we have left this and much more practically unchanged. Only the insole was improved, which became much lighter, but retained its main "feature" - a small orthopedic support for the foot.
If you look at most modern sneakers today, it becomes obvious that practically no one produces such a “reference” product in this industry as before. The fact is that it is very difficult for many modern manufacturers fighting for a low cost of a product to keep its quality at the proper level. The materials used in production often have an extremely low service life, and the notorious technologies are aimed not at improving quality, but at improving appearance. As a result, despite the external compliance with the specified criteria, the resulting product is characterized by very low elaboration and fragility. We make the legendary Two Balls sneakersfrom correct, high-quality materials, according to classical technology - exactly as it was in the 70s and 80s, which in many industries are considered the golden age of production.
The idea has arisen, but where to get the money for its implementation? I started visiting investors. Everyone I met liked the project, but no one was in a hurry to invest in it on fair terms. And so one of my comrades offered to "fill" this project on Kickstarter, where unknown people collect millions of dollars for the implementation of their bold ideas. On the Internet, I found a community where there was a lot of analytics, information about this resource. It became clear that it is actually possible to raise funds in this way. However, everything turned out to be not so simple. It takes a lot of work for the audience to know about you - the platform itself does not give you any advantages in this regard. And for going to KickstarterI, a Russian, would have to pay a lot of money to intermediaries. Understanding these things led me to its Russian counterpart - Boomstarter, where intermediaries were not needed. Plus, it seemed that in Russia it would be easier for me to implement a project with my product, where everyone knows it.
We made a successful campaign, organized a lot of publications, attracted attention, and yet crowdfunding as a fundraising tool did not work for us completely. As it turned out, most people at that time did not understand what crowdfunding was, they considered it something like MMM. In our country, the culture of public funding is still poorly developed. When planning a crowdfunding campaign, your task is to invite as many target audience as possible to your project. In America, this conversion is about 3-5%. I understood that it would be less in Russia, but I didn't think it would be that much - it ended up being 0.02% - and even with our high attendance, we missed a little more than half of the funds needed to implement the project.
Despite the fact that we did not collect the required amount then, we still received a huge number of publications, mentions and even were on television. This gave strength not to leave the business, because it was obvious that the niche was not occupied, and there was a demand for the product. Even before that it was, in general, clear that high-quality classic sneakers of the Soviet era would be at least interesting to everyone - but then tens of thousands of people have also confirmed this. Many began to write, offering to invest in the project, and after a year of communication with investors, I found the right partner.
Harsh Chinese business
I found the original Two Balls sneakers from 1965-1976 through a bulletin board on the Internet and bought them as a sample. According to them, pads and templates were restored at the Moscow factory of orthopedic shoes. On the same sneakers, a label was found with the address of the Chinese factory, which produced the original "Two Balls" 40 years ago.
In September 2014, armed with all our developments, I went to China. It turned out that the factory does not make sneakers from the label anymore - they have been producing ugg boots for 10 years already. Nevertheless, the old-timers of production directed us on the right track, and we found several factories that still have the equipment we need and which, in theory, could fulfill our order. Having chosen one, at first glance, very adequate, with a long history and reliable in all respects, we began to develop samples. After a while, in the process of working with the chosen factory, strange things began to happen: under any possible and impossible pretexts, we were disrupted the deadlines, released a product that did not correspond to our samples and specifications, and delayed implementation in every possible way. To help fix the situation, I had to move to production and control everything myself.A few months after moving to China, everything fell into place - the factory was on the verge of bankruptcy, there was no money for anything, and they had long since spent our prepayment on personal needs.
I must say that the business culture in China is very different from ours. Much is based on the so-called 36 stratagems - ancient Chinese military tricks that businessmen perfectly learned and use. Among them: "kill with someone else's knife", "rob during a fire", "distract in the East and attack in the West", "hide a dagger behind a smile", "lure to the roof and remove the stairs" and many other "pleasant" things. I experienced almost all of these tricks on the part of my Chinese partners on my own skin.
For example, what is “to kill with someone else's knife”? When any production wants to “drain” a demanding client, they can recommend their “proven” contractor to him, who will have to make some intermediate component. The same one will definitely not make it, but will start to play for time, come up with excuses and, as a result, will break all the deadlines, provide poor quality or simply disappear. And the production that provided the recommendation, meanwhile, will be out of work, will be able to shift all the blame on its partner and wash its hands with your money.
“To lure to the roof and remove the stairs” means to bring the project to such a stage when it’s too late to retreat, too much money and effort has been invested, and then start changing conditions in our favor, “twisting hands”. It happened with us too. There is also a technique called "decorate dry trees with artificial flowers." It consists in the following: the client comes to get acquainted with the factory, where everything works: machines hum, goods are shipped, workers scurry back and forth. In fact, this is just a show organized especially for the client so that he can see the activity in the factory. Such a factory can conclude a contract, take an advance payment and … close. It is useless for a foreigner to sue the Chinese - he will never win it. And these are problems not only of small and medium-sized businesses, giants like Google andFacebook, as you know, is not particularly favored in China either.
As a result, we parted with the unscrupulous factory, the time and effort wasted was terribly sorry, the year of work was down the drain! Nevertheless, the accumulated experience and perseverance bore fruit - through our acquaintances Chinese we found a new factory, which, as it later turned out, used to produce the same complex product as the Two Balls sneakers, but today it mainly works for demanding and “confused "Japanese market. And when the boss of the new factory brought out a sample of sneakers made using the technology we needed, I was indescribably happy. Even if there were a lot of problems with them too, here, at least, no one wanted to deliberately deceive us. Six months later, we were able to establish production and released our first reproduction.
Why do they cost so much?
From the very beginning, we wanted our product to be at least a cut above all others in terms of quality. And so it happened, but at the same time, the cost of the two ball sneakers is much higher. In fact, there is no mystery here - today's price (from 3900-4600 rubles) consists of simple things.
- Top materials. Its weight, weaving is important. Most brands have 8-10-12 ounces, plus it often happens that it's either synthetic or a blend with cotton. Even if it is pure cotton - with such a light weight, it is too easy to tear. In “Two Balls” sneakers it is also 100% cotton, but its weight is 16 ounces, it is heavier, more solid than many other brands. This alone increases the price by 10-15%.
- Our sneakers have an additional midsole, which in itself is unique for sneakers, in which there are usually two layers of cushioning (sole and insole). We have three layers of cushioning - a sole, a middle insole and an insole, all of different hardness. This makes the shoe much more comfortable, which is especially felt when walking for a long time. We have completely restored this insole from the original, retained the orthopedic support of the foot, and only changed the material. Previously, foam rubber was used in it - it is relatively heavy and slightly stiffer, less elastic. In 2016, we use a light and modern material - EVA, which is often used in the production of running shoes. By the way, our insoles are made to a special order at a factory that, among others, works with New Balance andNike. All this adds about 20% to the price.
- All rubber parts, including the soles of our sneakers, are molded separately, connected by hand (including the logo, which is hand painted and painted over), after which the whole structure goes to a special oven and vulcanized. On the way to full readiness, each shoe goes through about 40 pairs of hands. Compliance with the original assembly technology costs us another 30%
- The laces in the “Two Balls” sneakers are not polyester, but cotton, with metal tips and engraving. Either you buy mass-market laces for your production, which are made in billions of copies and cost nothing, or you order exactly the same lace as in the original Balls, down to weaving, color and composition. It would seem that such a trifle is a lace. And yet, all of these details also add value and quality, creating a complete, complete product.
- Well, the exchange rate. Four years ago, when the project began, we dealt with a rate of 30 rubles. for $ 1. A completely different one can now be seen on the home page of your site. This is the reality.
By the way, those original "Two Balls" can still be found on the Internet on message boards - they cost 15 thousand rubles each.>