The sole of the city
“I remember standing in front of a split-flap Solari board at Malpensa Airport in Milan thinking, what am I doing here?” recalls Hussain Moloobhoy. It was 2010 and he was waiting for Chiara Orlandini, head of footwear at Armani, whom he had been introduced to by a colleague at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York.
“I spent a few months between Milan, Marche, Tuscany, Bologna travelling between factories, trade fairs and tanneries in the hope of getting a sound understanding of the footwear game, driven by a passion for footwear and design,” he says. “I had nothing to lose.”
You could learn a lot from Moloobhoy. A former Saatchi & Saatchi creative, he quit his job, decided to do his own thing, and has never looked back. One of the co-founders of Sole DXB alongside Joshua Cox and Kris Balerite, in the five years since the lifestyle platform was launched he has made a mark on the urban landscape of Dubai that is perhaps unparalleled.
“It was time,” he responds when asked why he left big agency life. “I had been at Saatchi & Saatchi for eight years working with some amazing people and proud of the successful campaigns that we had conceived and managed. However, I had started to feel like I needed new challenges. Was there a product or service I could design, create, market and truly believe in? What would it be?”
I remember meeting Moloobhoy at an event in Al Quoz when the idea of Sole DXB was yet to be properly formulated. “I’m going to launch an event around sneakers,” was all I remember him telling me at the time. I must have looked bemused.
“You weren’t the only one,” he says with a smile. “Whatever you do, someone will judge you for it. I felt many questioned what I was up to. You can either be judged because
November 2016 you created something or ignored because you chose to protect yourself from criticism.
“Sole DXB is proof positive that a young city filled with expats can implant a specific culture and still make it its own. It’s a recognition of the fact that there is a large enough community in the Middle East that we should not have to get on a plane and fly somewhere in order to celebrate a culture and lifestyle that we believe in and grew up with.”
Moloobhoy lives and breathes brands. He has a deep appreciation for design and craftsmanship and argues that shoes are today’s ultimate statement of craft and wearable art. They are a form of creative expression, he says.
After Italy and the first Sole DXB event in 2011, he had flown to London and completed a few months’ worth of courses in footwear design at the London Institute of Art & Design, the London College of Fashion, and Central Saint Martins. He also spent the summer finessing designs for a small collection of six silhouettes and revisited a factory in Italy for prototypes.
“It was around that time I realised I was going to have to focus on marketing a product and start building a memorable brand for which I would need an agency,” he says. “So I returned to Dubai and six months later my ambition to start a creative agency – Moloobhoy & Brown (M&B) – was realised