The sole of the city

ArabAd - - COVER STORY - BY: IAIN AKERMAN

“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

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