Gym Rats and Ball Players: Solepack Has the Perfect Gym Bag Solution For Sweaty Kicks
School, work or on the train—you know who the athletes are. They’re the ones lugging a gym bag over their shoulder. There's one flaw in this design: your lunch bag sits in the same space as your workout kicks, which Solepack, a Staten Island company, is here to fix.
Solepack creates separate, detachable compartments for athletic shoes, what Solepack inventor and founder, Mike Sala, calls "the premier shoe-transport bag." Now you can avoid contaminating your textbooks with the funk you worked up on the court in those Jordans.
How did you come up with the idea for Solepack?
The idea revolved around my life as a commuter back in the ’90s when I commuted to NYU from Staten Island. Basketball was my life and I was a gym-to-class-and-back type of guy. One of the biggest things I hated was packing my b-ball kicks in the morning. Always in a rush, I usually either threw my kicks in my backpack, stinking it up, or carried a separate plastic bag tied around my fingers. It was a Footlocker bag (or a Herman's one for you older cats out there) that cut off circulation in my fingers and I really hated that. I really had one of those moments while traveling over the Verrazano Bridge on a S79 bus. I said to myself, "There's got be a better way to carry my kicks right on my backpack."
I looked and looked and there were none! So I made it my mission to develop a better way at that point. I just started cutting up bags to see what worked. I was finishing up my degree in Physical Therapy at the time at NYU, so I also made our Solepack bags ergonomic. Storing your kicks on the sides of your backpack puts less strain on your back versus having them stuffed in or having them dangle on your pack.
I came up with some rough prototypes that worked, and had the idea patented in 2005. And the rest is hard work and history leading up to where we are today. We are an evolving company passionate and dedicated to giving people a functional and practical product.
What lead to the final design for the SP-1? How did you go about finding a way to manufacture it?
Not too many people know this part of Solepack history so I'm glad you asked. After many months and numerous trips to patternmakers in the garment district, we finally decided what we wanted the final bag/concept to look like. We arrived at a bag big enough to house a size 11 or 12 men’s high-top basketball shoe (the current size L of our bag today). Ballers would be one of our target markets, and if their shoe could fit in there, then shoes of the other niches surely would as well. The silhouette and sole pattern was actually based off of a Nike Terminator shoe I got along the way. It sits in my office till this day reminding me of where the journey began.
As far as manufacturing, we spent a lot of the early years—the trying years—hunting down small biz manufacturers in the garment district, a time that really tested our fortitude. There were dozens of prototypes that just weren't well made. Months and months of waiting resulted in unacceptable samples. I always view these trying years as a necessary step in the equation. Then one day, a friend-of-a-friend had introduced me to a manufacturer in the urban clothing industry. After one look at our patterns, they delivered a perfect prototype within a few weeks. I had another one of those moments—I knew we had the bag that we can introduce to the world. What makes this product versatile is its ability to snap on any existing backpack you already have.
Dealing with sneaker heads and athletes alike, what’s been the overall feedback on your product?
Honestly, the overall feedback has been amazing. When they see the SP-1 in person with a pair of sneakers inside of it and I snap it off my display backpack, I get a genuine look of, "Dang that's pretty ill!" Or when they see from far away, they appreciate that it’s a whole new concept of traveling with kicks. The versatility of our bag as an accessory is truly our biggest and strongest differentiator. I learned a long time ago that it's all about accessories. Being a detachable bag that stores shoes on the outside, you never have to stuff dirty shoes in your backpack's cleaner interior, and, just as important: it no longer takes up precious interior room. You can rock with your day-one backpack or your brand new backpack. Just tag us along as needed. If kicks aren't necessary, simply leave it at home.
The sneaker heads love that they never have to stuff their grails inside their backpack or luggage. They get to keep a close eye. Our bag provides that separate place—a sanctuary—during travel. Athletes love that they can still pack their large kicks with our SP-1 and still have plenty of room for their other things in their backpack.
Most of your marketing has been directed toward basketball, football and running aficionados. Are there any plans to expand to other genres like extreme sports?
We are reaching out to the soccer community as we speak. We have a lot of players saying that either the turf or grass they play on always ends up sticking on their shoes after playing, and inevitably gets dragged back into their bags or homes—our bag would be perfect to help combat that.
We also have some early initial conversations with the CrossFit world, which could be another perfect market. Where there is a need to pack an extra pair of kicks, we will surely do our best to work on a grassroots level with those communities.
There have been a few custom SP-1’s shown on social media. Should we be on the lookout for any upcoming collabos?
We embrace and appreciate the love we have gotten from our local Staten Island community. Up next and even into the next few months, we have a few limited pieces releasing with another local and growing brand called Rosedreams. Stay tuned as a few Solepack products will be released in one of our local shops, Richmond Hood Company. It’s a great shop that has been instrumental in our growth as a brand. We also have another big collab to be announced in the middle of May, which I can't reveal at this time. But please stay tuned!! I’m humbled to be a small part of their announcement and journey.
Are there any Solepack products dropping in the future? What’s the next step?
We continue to grow our current line by expanding our colorways, as well as different patterns and materials. We have a few line extension items that are planned and will be revealed over the summer. We have another major item, one to surely add to the foundation of our brand, set to be released by Christmas.