A P448 sneaker style.

MILAN — If you think the sneaker trend is about to end, think twice.

Wayne Kulkin, former vice chairman and chief executive officer at Stuart Weitzman, who oversaw the label’s global expansion during a 26-year tenure, is among the latest executives to have thrown his hat into the sneaker ring.

In 2017, he teamed up with Hilco Global’s chairman and ceo Jeffrey Hecktman to form StreetTrend LLC, a holding company focused on bringing Italian heritage and craftsmanship to the sneaker arena. He soon identified P448, an Italian niche sneaker brand founded in 2014 by Marco Samorè and Andrea Curti, as a label with great potential.

“It’s an oversaturated market, but on the other hand, there’s a complete casualization. I don’t think this is going to change and [we will] go back to men wearing suits and ties and women wearing dresses all day long, so this trend is here to stay. It’s comfortable, it feels good, it’s easy to wear and cool.”

A P448 sneaker style.

A P448 sneaker style.  Courtesy Photo

After helping to expand the label’s global retail network by signing an exclusive distribution and marketing agreement with P448 in 2017, Kulkin deepened his commitment to the brand by acquiring a stake in the company last summer.

In July 2018, StreetTrend joint-ventured with Italian investment firm Panda Srl to purchase the creative design, manufacturing operations and brand assets of the label. The cofounders retained a 35 percent interest.

“I fell in love with [Samorè and Curti’s] product a few years ago and I really enjoyed just getting to know the guys and trying to [grow] a brand that was super cool but not global,” he said.

Today, Panda’s founder Paolo Griffo serves as the brand’s ceo, Kulkin covers the role of non-executive chairman, and Samorè and Curti are co-creative directors.

Headquartered in Forlì, P448 offers men’s and women’s footwear styles that blend Italian craftsmanship with experimental designs and materials. For example, premium materials such as leather, eco-leather, suede, velvet and satin are infused with bold color combinations and patterns. Inspired by the Nineties and Aughts, the high-top, low-top, trainer and knit sneakers are embellished with sequins, glitters, fur and sheepskin inserts from Italian tanneries. A children’s collection offers a mini version of the same styles for kids ages three to 10.

With prices ranging from 180 euros to 300 euros, P448 sneakers are available in 800 doors, mainly in Italy, Europe and the U.S, including department stores such as La Rinascente, Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, Printemps, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus.

Last year, P448 expanded its reach, rolling out in Beymen in Turkey; Harvey Nichols and Bloomingdale’s in UAE; Gran Via in Mexico; Davids in Canada, and Lane Crawford in China, as well as select sales points in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

A P448 sneaker style.

A P448 sneaker style.  Courtesy Photo

In 2018, the company posted sales of 8.2 million euros, up 36 percent from the previous year. The goal is to reach 50 million euros by 2022, through a series of investments including renovating the Forlì headquarters; strengthening distribution globally; opening a European showroom; hiring new digital strategy and e-commerce experts, and increasing brand awareness by spending 5 percent of yearly revenues on communication. The team is also improving the e-commerce site and making it available in multiple languages around the world.

Building a “community for the brand through social media” is among the priorities, according to Kulkin. “We don’t want to have Instagram just as a catalog, but as a platform where people get to follow the journey, the creation, the story of the brand. No product is going to make everybody happy, no product lives forever so in order to engage the Gen Z and Millennial users you have to be authentic and real,” said the executive, adding that the plan is to tap a wide and diverse range of personalities from the art, music and design world rather than models or influencers “because everybody knows you’re paying them, so we want real people to tell the story of our brand.”

Beyond that, the next step would be opening standalone stores, according to Kulkin, who believes Miami, New York and Los Angeles are suitable locations for the brand.

“Right now the coolest place in the world would be Venice Beach, Calif. It has become a mecca for global travelers, so I think that’s a place that gives you some credibility,” he said, adding that being available in the right locations is far more important than being in the biggest cities. “The world is really changing: in Paris you see all the same brands you can see in Milan or in Rome, but if you go to other [interesting locations], like Southern Korea, you can find a lot of new things and an atmosphere of coolness.”

The brand will open pop-up stores at Selfridges and La Rinascente in March and April, respectively. And this month P448 will also debut its new showroom at Palazzo Serbelloni in Milan, in which the company has invested 500,000 euros. Designed by the Piuarch architectural studio, the unit complements the brand’s New York showroom and will be key to strengthening P448’s European distribution.

Kulkin’s long-term goal for the company “is to build a sustainable brand that we’re proud of, with a price and value proposition that’s fair, amazing design and expand to other product categories beside sneakers.”

One thing he won’t do, however, is add other brands to the portfolio — at least not right now. In addition to P448, StreetTrend also has the PS821 brand of made-in-Italy, limited-edition sneakers. “The name PS821 stands for Project Social, as 8.21 percent [of each sale] is donated to a charity,” he explained, adding that every customer can personally choose the social cause to help from among a selection of associations.