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New Russian shoe brands: Nikita Kovalev SHOES - handmade shoe brand from Nizhny Novgorod Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov
21.09.2018 15626

New Russian shoe brands: Nikita Kovalev SHOES - handmade shoe brand from Nizhny Novgorod

High men’s, umbrellas, or low white women’s boots made of soft calfleather, with leather laces, models with perfectly aligned lines. Similar in metropolitan DAD store, Italian handmade brands go for 80-100 thousand rubles per pair, and in Nizhny Novgorod in the workshop of Nikita Kovalev (Nikita Kovalev SHOES) such shoes can be ordered for 15 thousand rubles. While it is possible. Do not count for advertising, but the level of quality of performance is impressive. Twenty-year-old Nikita Kovalev turned out to be a very worthy student of a rather young Moscow shoe-maker too Kim Malygina. The new generation surprises with love for craft professions, passion and talent. The Shoes Report talked with Nikita Kovalev about his start in the shoe business.

Nikita Kovalev Nikita Kovalev - creator and owner of the brand Nikita Kovalev SHOES

As far as I understand, you are the same age as Kim Malygin, and maybe even younger?

I am much younger than him. I came to Kim's master class three years ago; I was then 18 years old.

How did it happen that at the age of 18 you developed such an interest in shoes?

I learned about Kim Malygin and his shoe workshop six years ago from the Fur Fur magazine (it has now closed). It was a men's magazine, where there were articles about motorcycles, clothes and more. This magazine published material about Kim. At that moment he was just starting to make shoes. I was very interested in all this, I thought that I would also like that.

As time went on, I managed to enter the university in Nizhny Novgorod to study architecture and safely fly out of there a year later. I had a break for six months, at that moment I saw that Kim had opened a course on sewing shoes. I had to keep myself busy, and I decided to go and study. We studied with Kim for three full days. I asked him to give the course as concisely as possible, because I did not have extra money to stay in Moscow for a long time, I borrowed the latter from my parents. The result of three days of training was my first ready-made pair of shoes. Now I teach the same basics to my students in Nizhny. By the way, when I returned from Moscow, I immediately forgot what I had learned.

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

Perhaps it was necessary to record everything?

It was necessary to do everything immediately at home in hot pursuit. And I blabbed for another month, entered the architectural study for the second time, my studies began again ... Slowly I started all over again, I made the first pair as a gift to the girl. But Kim's base gave its result, without it it would be much more difficult. Therefore, for everyone who is interested in sewing shoes, I advise you to go through such an express master class with me or with Kim, someone else. It helps to start and is very energizing, then you can already practice, master the skill, without it - nowhere.

Perhaps you can get something by looking at lessons on Youtube?

Well, by the way, I did not need it. When questions arose, I wrote to Kim and asked something. The main thing is to understand the principle of how it is sewn. After all, everything is very logical, in some cases you can guess yourself, you’ll think a lot yourself.

Where are the models from?

Naturally, the very first models were similar to Kim's models or to the models of such brands as Guidi, Marsel. I think even to this day this influence is felt. It is only natural that you first try to repeat what you yourself like. First you repeat, you pass through yourself, then some kind of individuality appears. Right now I have an idea to release a model of sneakers with leather soles, and what I want to do, I have not seen anyone else.

If you entered the architectural, you probably draw well?

Yes, as a child, about seven years old, I was engaged in drawing with a teacher. He also helped me prepare for entering the university (Note. Ed .: Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering (NNGASU)).

And the architecture is not carried away? I did not like studying. The level of education now seems to me to be very low. After all, I returned to the university, studied for exactly a year, and left it already on my own initiative, began to engage in shoes. It was a pity to waste time. I had only three years left to get a diploma, and at the same time over the past two years I myself have done a great job in the shoe industry ...

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

Do you need any additional training for shoe craftsmanship?

I would like to take some crash course with a master who sews classics, I wonder who works with leather and how, in this I have gaps.

And how do you like in Nizhny Novgorod with leather, with accessories?

It turned out that Nizhny Novgorod is a wonderful city for sewing shoes, because everything is there. Here you can buy pads at retail, which, in my opinion, is not easy even in Moscow. There are stores that specialize specifically in the sale of materials for sewing shoes. In this we were very lucky, in other cities with a population of one million there is no such assortment, everything has to be ordered on the Internet.

Are there many shoe-making masters in Nizhny?

No. Shopkeepers complain that there are few customers. But I help them, I send all my students to these shops, and they buy materials and tools there.

Are there nails and laces?

In general, that's all. I cut the laces myself out of leather, and since they have everything they need, I don’t have to order anything from the Internet. Perhaps some exotic leather, very good to buy is not so simple, but in general the assortment is good, and if you need something specific, you can order in a store.

When did you sell your first pair?

I did not record this moment, but sales started last spring. For half a year I got up and experimented. Exactly a year ago, I realized that I could make normal shoes.

So it took two years to experiment?

Yes, I shod my friends for a penny, sewed shoes and offered them at cost. They walked around, talked about their impressions, pointed to the jambs. These two years went into such experiments, and only last summer everything started spinning.

And by the way, what kind of knowledge would you like to gain? I would like to gain knowledge on brand development, learn from the experience of other designers. I have a rough understanding of what needs to be done, but it is based on some guesses, and I want to build everything correctly. I'm a little tired of learning from my mistakes, and sitting in Nizhny Novgorod there is simply no one to ask. For this knowledge I am going to go to express courses in Britanka in the summer (Editor's note: British Higher School of Design in Moscow). 

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

How much does it cost to sew your shoes to order?

This is not entirely indoctrination, since I sew my models, just in different sizes. On average, making a couple costs 15 thousand rubles.

And how many models do you have now in your collection?

As such, there was no collection and probably never will be, everything is sewn gradually. I stop selling some old models, modify something, development goes on constantly. Now the basis is four models of boots - high for men, high for women, low for men, low for women. Plus - creativity, which I would like to do more, releasing some non-standard things. So I conceived sneakers, and I do not expect that they will immediately start selling, but I want to make them to show that I can do that too. The point is not about money.

But after all, being in demand, in any case, is the criterion of what you do well and feel your audience? ...

Now, as a result of the work done, I realized that I clearly get into my audience, and I really like it. I am ready to sew even old models, but for people who really need it. So you ask the question - "what are you inspired by?" At first I thought that, most likely, these are some brands, but now I understand that these are not Guidi and not Marsel, these are people with whom I live, work, make friends, communicate. Those with whom I like to communicate, for them I make shoes.

What kind of people are they?

At the very beginning I tried to define who my target audience would be, and now I really started to get into it. These are young people, guys and girls 25-35 years old, maybe older, but most likely not younger. Basically, these are representatives of creative professions, those with whom I am interested - architects, artists, designers. My last client is a girl who works in a museum of modern art.

By the way, about half of my clients are programmers. This is surprising, but apparently they also want to show themselves from some other side. It seems to me that my shoes help solve the problem of self-identification. For example, it is enough for me to cast a glance at a person, and only by what style of shoes he chooses can we understand that he is his own, that a common language can be found with him. That's exactly what I'm trying to build a brand for now.

Do you mainly have clients from Nizhny Novgorod or from different cities? I would like it to be 50 to 50, but now it turns out to be about 70 to 30. Something constantly arrives from the Internet, but so far I am trying first of all to shoe my environment in Nizhny. Last year, we sent a pair of men's boots to California. The girl wrote to me on Instagram, took measurements from her boyfriend's leg, I sewed a couple off, sent, I liked everything.

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

ЕIf good shoes are cheap, why not?

Yes, now it’s good to work with Europe in this regard, because our products are much cheaper.

Moreover, mail works well.

In California, the couple reached faster than parcels usually reach Peter.

Did you sell your models in stores?

I sold in St. Petersburg and was completely unsuccessful until I decided to stop selling offline in third-party retail. We have to give a significant percentage to the store. When I worked with Peter, the price of my shoes almost doubled. Plus, I myself had to raise the prices for my shoes in Nizhny. All this happened last winter, until the summer I was forced to keep such prices, and I had practically no sales. It was not clear what to do, and then the St. Petersburg store itself closed for some reason. But the experience I gained to work with retail did not inspire me.

By the way, I wrote to such stores as “DAD”, “Project 3,14”, but their level is too steep, here I’m afraid we won’t even agree on prices. Say, my model will cost 20 thousand rubles, and they have 100 thousand ... Of course, if they made some Russian corner with the shoes of Russian masters, that would be very cool!

How many pairs do you make per month? Is this a business that feeds?

He always fed, sometime more, sometime less. While I was probing the topic, I had some part-time jobs, and now sewing shoes is my daily earnings for 100%. Naturally, I want to do more pairs, most likely I will succeed when I purchase the equipment, this will speed up the whole process. Now I can do a maximum of 10 pairs a month. I have no apprentices, I am alone.

What kind of equipment is this? I need at least shoe sewing machines. Now I'm not sewing on shoes. Presses are also needed to stick soles and finishers. I would have bought them a long time ago, but money always flies somewhere. Now I’m trying to introduce into my assortment also the clothes that I order to a familiar clothing master, and I am testing sales. First, let's launch shirts and sweaters, then I would like to introduce outerwear.

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

And where do customers come from, from which social networks?

At first, only Vkontakte and Instagram worked for me, but now Vkontakte gives almost nothing, they mainly come through Instagram and Facebook. Word of mouth works well. I have never given advertising. It takes about a month for the client to make a decision. For example, in early August, a client writes to me “I want to sew shoes”, we talk to him, call up, and only a month later he sends an advance payment, and I start work. 

Do you like to do this, what are you planning in the future?

Everything happens in waves. I can't say that I really liked everything from beginning to end, there were also complete failures. I didn’t expect that there would be no orders at all in winter. Although I understood that there was a season, and one should not count on the beginning of January, it was difficult to foresee that there would be no orders at all. The complete lack of interest on the part of customers is a big blow to motivation. You start to think - probably nobody likes it, probably nobody is interested in it. But in fact, it's just not the season.

People at this time have their heads occupied with something else.

Yes, at first it was difficult for me to understand. Now, of course, I understand that I will work closely until December, and then there will be a low season until early March. I'm ready for this. Perhaps clothing sales will go better in winter, you have to try. In general, lately, since the summer, I really like everything that happens. I go to work with pleasure, and I can sit there from 9 am to 9 pm, and I will still like everything. Over time, such a thrill came. If you think about development, I would like to participate in a collaboration with some big brand in order to understand how everything works in big business - for example, how sneakers are created - from idea to release, all this is very interesting to me.

Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov Nikita Kovalev SHOES, photo: Sergey Korotkov

High men’s, umbrellas, or low white women’s boots made of soft calfleather, with leather laces, models with perfectly aligned lines. Similar in the metropolitan DAD store, Italian ...
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