Sole DXB 2016: The underground sneaker culture scene in Dubai
By WGSN Insider

Dubai’s flyest festival returns for its 5th event, placing the spotlight on streetwear, sneakers, design and music. WGSN’s Nicole McLennan reports

Nov 10, 2016
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11 min
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Sole DXB began as a platform for all the latest and relevant news in footwear, fashion, design and alternative culture in The Middle East. The event showcases the underground culture in the ‘City of Gold’  and was started by four savvy entrepreneurs who have been delivering Sole DXB for the past four years.

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This month, Sole DXB is gearing up to host its fifth event from 18-19 November 2016. Being held at Dubai Design District they have secured support from brands like Cadillac, Lenovo, Pepsi Co and Vida Downtown Dubai.

In a city where swag has always been king, Sole DXB welcomes a heavyweight global music and fashion bill to rival any other this year. The list includes artist like Skepta to Little Simz and brands from Puma to Diesel.

The fusion of urban music and street style in Dubai may not seem like an authentic combination, however, I caught up with Joshua Cox (One of the founders of Sole DXB) to get the low down on all aspects of the event and find out why the festival has been such a success for the past 5 years.

When I think of Dubai five years ago what comes to mind is luxury shopping, souks and beaches. How did your festival fusion come together?

It was actually a very organic process. We all met through common friends and over dinner we discussed how cool it would be for Dubai to host an event that displays the sub-culture here. We are all shoe fanatics and have roots that associate with hip hop, fashion and art culture. The key for us was to show an urban culture here through the glitz and glam. We began with a Facebook page and film screening about the potential event. Then reached out to a few brands inviting them to come along to the screening and it took off from there. For the first Sole we only expected around 200-300 people but the streets spilled with 1000+ people.
As the event grew, we developed how to balance industry and consumer. Also, expanding with an extra partner resulted in us all having our own niche market and encouraging people to come out and experience a different part of the city.

Grit. Grace. Gold. from SOLE on Vimeo.

When people think of the word ‘festival’ they might think of drinking and acting inappropriately. How do you manage to balance the constraints of Dubai laws with consumer’s expectations?
The laws are not as strict as everyone thinks and ultimately there are ways of doing things the right way. However, with our Sole consumers, they don’t expect to come out here and get mashed-up. It’s a chance to chill-out and have a good time while engaging with their favourite brands and discovering new ones. We summarise Sole as a hybrid between a festival and trade show, and we like to showcase culture and art. Our sponsors like Dubai Design District (D3) and Cadillac are great supporters, ensuring we do things right.

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Dubai Design District (D3)

In regards to our consumers, I hate the word ‘urban’ but that sub culture has matured and want different things now. So they aren’t just the ‘party, hardcore sneaker head types’ but we also welcome bystanders who want to get a feel for a new culture. We are not gate keepers and welcome everyone to help our event grow.

 Your ‘city of gold’ campaign video was amazing! From the branded gold knuckle dusters to filming the men live in the souk encompasses a very urban Dubai feel. Where did this concept begin?
The knuckle duster is an iconic piece of jewellery that we have seen everywhere from hip hop music videos to Spike Lee movies, so showing it being made by the men in souks was only right. As you know Dubai has a big story of gold and the city can make some outlandishly beautiful stuff, which music artists have taken advantage of in the past. The fusion was to show, that yes we have gold but there is an undertone subculture. So whilst hip-hop is owned by the USA, once it travels around the world we then put our own spin on it.

CITY OF GOLD from SOLE on Vimeo.

You have everyone from Art Comes First (The leading online destination for men’s contemporary fashion and streetwear) to (UK rapper) Skepta and brands such as Cadillac, Fred Perry and Diesel. How did you finalise the artists and brands?
Last year the concept was ‘New York’ but this year’s story is based on the UK. One of the exhibitions during Sole is called ‘It’s a London thing’ to show hip hop and streetwear from UK streets. It’s actually a perfect fit as there is a huge UK population in Dubai. Selecting brands pretty much always begins with people we have met or have developed good relationships with, so this year we reached out to our key networks from London. We have to have a love for the brand too, to work with them. Nike will be making a big presence this year and they have big things planned. The music bill is slightly more difficult but happily this year we have nailed two key music artists, with one being Skepta.

And who is the second artist? Is this Adidas Original special guest?
Unable to say! But if you think of who the two best UK grime artists are at the moment (one being Skepta) you can probably guess who the second artist is. Sorry we are very loyal, so can’t say (laughs).

What are the main collaborations for this year?
Everything is design lead and making something that works for the brands but have a cool aesthetic. For example:

  • Puma is a key collaborator for the second year. However, this year we had a lot of input when designing the exclusive sneaker.
  • The second collaboration is Pepsi. Throughout the week customised branded Sole cans will be available.
  • A Nike basketball court has been created reflecting a design/art element. Inclusive of a 3D immersive art installation ‘celebrate the swag’. A lot of mirrors.

What do you think will be the key fashion trends during Sole?
Exclusive drops everywhere. Consumers are wanting products that are in tuned with their location and speaks volumes about where they are from. Also, a mature element in the way it’s presented -we are growing with our informed consumers. A particular sneaker, probably the Puma Clyde, will be a drop that we will be shouting about. The full collaboration will be launched at Early Retirement concept store at Sole. Attendees will view the complete story around the Puma Clyde and be prepared to walk out with a couple of bags.

 

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Exclusive Puma Clyde x Sole DXB edition

You all come from a design background and we can tell creativity and sleekness is always at the forefront of your mind. How do you maintain this for Sole when there are so many hands in the pot?
By working closely with brands but they also know we are slight control freaks so they appreciate that we know what we are trying to do with Sole. If some brands are off-key of off-topic, we will turn them down, even for good money. We balance the commercial arm and our content constantly, which is tricky but worth it to stay true to our brand.

R.A.P London is making a comeback this season and will be showcasing at Sole. What are your thoughts on their vision, collection and branding?
This is an example of one of our love brands. The founder of R.A.P shot our campaign last year for Sole 2015 but while shooting we discovered he has his own clothing brand. When they launched years ago the whole aesthetic was well ahead of the trend curve for street style. So now with their relaunch they had to be showcased at Sole.

Currently this is Dubai’s only urban and culture design festival which takes place once a year. Are there plans launch more events throughout the year?
There are plans to do something different but it will be a Sole edition. We want to focus on each of our areas of specialism e.g. sports culture and music. An art exhibition throughout the year and a pop up store for Sole would be cool but we have to ensure it’s something that excites us and adds value to the city or brand. Early next year we do have something big in the works but can’t share dates yet – stay tuned via our website and social media pages.

What’s the overall message? The core has been sneakers but now the way everything has progressed has meant that the festival needs to evolve with design and branding. The whole marketing for Sole DXB is more of a teaser sending out the message that ‘Our weekend is the weekend you want to be here for’ says Joshua.

 

Like this? Follow Nicole on Twitter  here.

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