There's a hidden urge inside of all of us to grab a pen and color our world. As a kid, this meant chalking the walls. Now, it's a quiet rebellion: finger-painting on dusty cars, or even just coloring outside the lines. It's this urge to create that Albin Warin channeled when he founded Mr. Monkies, a brand of shoes that you can draw on, giving the wearer their own creative freedom to color their world and wear their art. Recently, SHEI had the opportunity to connect with Albin and get to know more about the man behind the Monkies, talking inspiration, progression, and the future of wearable art with Mr. Monkies.
How did you get your start in the shoe industry?
Since I was a kid, shoes have always been a hot topic for me. When I was in high school, I often asked friends that were traveling to the U.S to bring me limited edition sneakers. I was kind of a collector. After my sneakers frenzy, my interest jumped to more mature shoes, and since then my fondness of shoes has only grown.
Mr. Monkies itself started one day when I came home from New York after crashing my previous business in the Internet industry: I was having dinner at my cousin’s house as a "welcome back" treat, and during my visit, my nephew came out of his bedroom with his new pairs of white trainers totally drawn on playfully and randomly. Of course, his mother was upset since he "wasted" the shoes, but I found the idea amazing and decided to create the first drawing shoes; a pair of white shoes with erasable markers that you could draw on, erase, and draw on again, anytime you wanted to. And thus, Mr. Monkies was born.
Mr. Monkies first launched as only selling shoes for children, but recently has launched adult campaigns. Did you face any challenges in the transition from the children's to the adult market?
After running the initial line for kids, there quickly became interest from older sisters, brothers, even Mum and Dads, all wanting their own pair of Mr Monkies! So we thought, "Why not give it a try?"
We launched the first sneakers for adults in May of 2015, in Le Bon Marché, Paris, one of the most famous high-end department stores in Europe. We sold out in two days due to the high excitement coming from the market. We decided to keep going with the adult line, and today it counts for 70% of the business and has opened doors to a lot more of exciting projects with partners in music, fashion, art, and even cosmetics, like Benefit.
How do you feel that your shoes have merged the line between fashion and art?
The original idea of the brand was to provide a shoe like a white canvas you can draw on, so it in and of itself is an artistic tool. This is the basis behind the whole company: let your imagination go all over the shoes. Afterwards we realized that not everybody is an artist and we launched a new service called Mr. Monkies Studio, so our own artists can customize a pair of shoes that you personally request. We also have limited have collections that we create and draw ourselves to sell.
Because of this, the whole brand holds a very artistic vibe. It’s handmade, it’s art related and we are now creating a strong community by proposing talented individuals to create collection we could sell on our platform. The art is everywhere within our brand and we bridge it to fashion.
What would you say has been the most surprising part of how customers respond to your shoes and the creative aspects they afford?
There are some people that go all out in their creations, especially some Japanese customers that spend hours to create a design on their shoes. Then in terms of custom made requests we have surprising orders from customers asking for a dog or a girlfriend’s face to be drawn on the shoes, which may sounds cheesy but is actually a cool way to carry your beloved one around with you, and I find that very emotional.
What has been your proudest moment with Mr. Monkies?
There have actually been two proud moments that stick out to me. The first one was during our launch in Paris [at Le Bon Marché] because it is such a big name that I felt proud to have my shoes be among all these amazing brands in one the most selective shops. It was an achievement for us, even though it happened at the very beginning of our story.
The second moment was the first Mr. Monkies’ fashion show. The shoes were running on the catwalk, people were staring at them, there was music, people clapping their hands at the end; I could feel a connection with the audience and that was really amazing.
Mr. Monkies is all about expressing yourself through fashion of your own making. Has Mr. Monkies been that outlet you envisioned for expressing yourself through fashion? What other outlets would you consider to be some of your favorite means of expression?
Well, my first vision when creating Mr. Monkies was to create a product that allows people to express themselves and, more than that, have the freedom to be what they want to be, and to proudly show it.
We all want be part of a group, but also be unique and ourselves at the same time. This was the clear direction I wanted to take with Mr. Monkies: create a brand that gathers people together but at the same time have people wear something that reflects their personal style and identity.
We started by doing shoes, but are expanding. Now, for instance, we launched a new accessory for summer, a t-shirt inspired by the traditional postcard. Imagine traveling with your t-shirt and write a message linked to your summer destination and share it digitally with our friends and family. These products are the beginning of our story and we have ideas to do much more. Our strength is our creativity.
What do you see for the future of Mr. Monkies?
Up to today, we have been focusing on developing the brand mainly online and building a community step by step. Our first market was Europe, with France as number one, and now places in Asia, such as Japan and China, are becoming a large and influential market. Our next goal for the end of this year and the next year is to work on offline projects, bringing the experience to people. We’re focusing on ideas such as workshops and live shows because we believe offline builds and experience with our customers that they can’t find on the Internet. We have a long way to go and are full of ideas a projects, but are excited to face the real challenge of bringing way more expression to people!
A special thank you to Albin Warin and the Mr. Monkies team for their help making this interview possible! To learn more about the brand, check out their website here.