—Small Brands, Big Plans: stories about small Canadian marketers with big ideas—
Six Hundred Four is a Vancouver luxury sneaker brand that turns local artwork into limited edition footwear (like the piece of art above from Joanne Hastie). In the heart of Gastown, just metres away from the famed steam clock, the Six Hundred Four store has been open two years, but has already caught the eye of British rockers Def Leppard, who collaborated on a line of shoes last summer, and Cypress Hill, who will release a line later this spring.
Six Hundred Four founder James Lepp was a young professional golfer on the Canadian Tour when he launched a golf shoe business called Kikkor in 2008. At the time, golf footwear was still dominated by traditional—and formal—shoe styles. Lepp’s idea was to create a line of sneaker-inspired footwear for the links. “It was something that hadn’t been done before,” he said. “But then, a year or two later all the other brands started doing the same thing so it became quite competitive.” Clearly he needed a new idea.
He’d already been thinking about a men’s lifestyle/streetwear brand, but wasn’t sure what it would look like, except that it would be totally different and new. He wanted it to be a direct-to-consumer business, possibly featuring limited-edition clothing, with its own retail space—it’s own experience. Still unsure how to pull those threads together, Lepp checked out the Gastown location, which reminded him of a gallery. It was then he recalled an earlier conversation with Vancouver artist Jennifer Sparacino about putting some of her work on Kikkor clothes. This would be the genesis of Six Hundred Four.
“What we do is make limited edition prints, the prints just happen to be on shoes,” he said. Each shoe line is limited to 604 pairs, 151 in each of four colourways, and every pair is laser-engraved with a unique identification number. They’re made with a printing process that effectively “tattoos” the art onto the shoe, meaning it won’t fade or deteriorate. “These shoes are meant to be worn, not sit on a shelf,” said Lepp.
That’s the backstory. Here’s the rest of the story…
Why that name? While it is an obvious homage to Vancouver, it was actually inspired by more practical circumstances. “Working with factories overseas, there’s always a minimum order quantity that seemed to be 600 pairs,” he said. “Since it was so close to the area code for Vancouver we just called it Six Hundred Four.”
Was there a moment when he thought he was onto something good? “Probably the moment I came up with the idea of limited edition sneakers featuring local art.”
Right away? “Absolutely. As an entrepreneur, if you feel hesitant about it, it’s probably not a good idea to follow through with it.”
What are the plans for the future? “We want to open up galleries all over the world and partner with artists from those areas, collaborate with them and turn their art into shoes. A product mix in all of our stores where you have not only art from those local areas, but from all over the world, plus an amazing sneaker experience of limited edition shoes.” The first expansion will be in North America, with L.A., Miami, New York, Toronto and Montreal the likely destinations, he said.
Does that mean a Four Hundred Sixteen store in Toronto? “No it will always been Six Hundred Four. I don’t think we would change the area code.”
What about the marketing? Not a lot yet. The most important goal for Six Hundred Four is driving foot traffic, said Lepp. Paid media is limited to Instagram and Facebook posts, mostly carousel ads with lot of images of shoes and the store. “Our store is pretty,” he said.
Why not sell more online? “In theory we have a much better chance to offer a quality brand experience by having a potential customer visit the gallery compared to having them visit our site from a distant land, no matter how tied to Vancouver they are,” he said. “Six Hundred Four is more of an experience than it is a product.”