Rock climbing shoes inspired by retro bowling shoes and soccer cleats have raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter, far surpassing upstart So iLL’s fund-raising goal. We got in touch with the founder to learn more.
Rock climbing shoes are core equipment. But while they get regular updates and lots of research and development from well-known brands, few recent product launches have seen as much buzz as a campaign by climbing hold manufacturer So iLL.
These are some slick looking shoes, yet they retain a profile and lines similar to dozens of models across brands. Through a concerted media blitz (we’ve seen these covered all over the Internet, thanks in part to a PR nudge from Purple Orange), as well as some beautiful imagery, the brand has captured the imagination of a lot of climbers.
But there seems to be more to these shoes than pretty pictures and fashion. There is a new sole compound, “Dark Matter Rubber,” that is not only sticky, but also can be dyed to take color.
There’s a clever naming scheme, somewhat funky retro design, and variety of four models intended for everyone from the beginner looking for a comfy shoe to the hardened sport climber working their 5.13 project.
Maybe the best part is pricing: The shoes start at an incredibly cheap $70 for “The Bowler” on Kickstarter — a shoe that is expected to retail at $100. The technically advanced, synthetic “Runner” goes for just $83 and will retail for $120.
So iLL is established in the climbing world as an artificial hold manufacturer, but this is the brand’s first foray into shoes. It seems to have hit this one out of the park.
We got in touch with Daniel Chancellor, owner of the company, to learn more about the new line of shoes and fundraising efforts behind them.
Have you been surprised by the success of So iLL’s Kickstarter campaign?
The weeks leading up to the release, our entire team felt like an author putting out a book, or a band releasing a record that they worked on for years. It’s difficult to put something out to the world that we have worked so hard on. We had an idea that the response would be good, but sometimes when you get too close to something, it’s easy to second-guess years of efforts, right before launching. What did surprise us is how fast things went. The campaign was funded before noon the first day. It was amazing to see our community understand and respond to what we are trying to do.
What do you think supporters see in your shoes that is lacking in the climbing shoe market?
They see quality, innovation, fashion, service, and support — all rolled together. Our community has supported us for over a decade since making climbing holds in my parent’s basement. We have grown together. They know that we build high-quality products, and have for years. To have everyone involved early in the process as early supporters, and to have them excited (the way we have been) about this new product, has meant the world to us. There are other brands out there, but we have proven ourselves reliable and forward thinking to our community. They see this in our products.
Beyond some nice colors and good marketing, what sets your shoes apart from other climbing shoes?
Dark Matter rubber is the first of its kind. In 30+ years of climbing shoe creation, there has never been a colored rubber (with sticky properties) applied to climbing shoes. Colored rubber has been used on climbing shoes before, but it is standard street shoe rubber and is never sticky. It has only existed on the rand, heel tension, or toe cap, and is always slick, not performance based. This is the first time that colored rubber has been applied to the outsole.
We kept the design classic and simple, and gave the rand an appearance that looks like the thick sole of a street shoe.
Your “Dark Matter” rubber is unique in that it can take color treatments. But is it better than other high-end rubbers, like Stealth Rubber, on the market?
Our rubber is available in both sticky black and sticky colored. The rubber is very high quality. Our licensing agreement for Dark Matter rubber was set at a reasonable price, which keeps shoe prices reasonable for our community. It’s a huge innovation to put color in sticky rubber. No one has done this in the climbing shoe industry.
We have had a variety of professional athletes climbing in the rubber indoors and outside throughout the entire process. The rubber is very comparable to other high end sticky rubber on the market in terms of stickiness. We wouldn’t put a sticky rubber on the shoes that we didn’t think was great.
Your marketing lingo talks a lot about “blending fashion and function.” Do you think other footwear companies are ignoring fashion when they build climbing shoes?
We tell the story of our innovative products. We designed the shoes differently than other brands in the space by really paying attention to both fashion AND function. Some people may not think that fashion is important, but we do. We think that both can actually be equally important, and neither should be ignored. We believe that fashion and function can work together, collectively.
You’ve chosen to model them aesthetically after some retro versions of bowling shoes, soccer shoes, running shoes, and street shoes. What did this accomplish?
Everyone needs inspiration while working on a project of this size. We found many similarities in classic footwear and we pulled those things into the shoes (colored outsoles, colored rands, different closures, upper materials, etc.).
How would you suggest fitting your shoes? Should you buy them smaller than your street shoe?
We suggest a half to full size down from your street shoe. There is sizing information and a chart available on the Kickstarter page.
What are your goals relating to comfort? Can a climbing shoe ever really be comfortable?
We use leather uppers for our beginner shoes to help with comfort. For our high-end synthetic models (synthetic stretches less than leather), we used a padded upper (the Runner) and a soft, stretchy tongue (the Street). We think climbing shoes can be comfortable and don’t need to always be painful to perform well.
What’s on the horizon for the brand after fulfilling your Kickstarter campaign?
We are going to continue producing innovative, highly designed clothing, footwear, and training accessories for rock climbers.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
The main purpose of So iLL is to build products for others. We take design direction to areas that we think people will enjoy. Our goal is to encourage people on their journey, and supply an alternative option for footwear, clothing, and training equipment. We encourage people through media, and hope that our products help them succeed.