The famous Botas Classic series came to market in 1966 and became an instant hit. Not long ago, even the young generation was using the term botasky (Botas shoes) for sneakers in general, without knowing where the word came from. It all changed when Jan Kloss and Jakub Korouš, two young students of graphic design, entered the game in 2008. These guys used Botas shoes for their semester thesis and managed to turn them around. They came up with new styles based on the legendary models, gave them a fashionable look and could not believe their eyes. The new prototype was a slam-dunk not only with the producer but with many new customers as well.
Today, their shop BOTAS 66 at Žižkov sells a number of new series of sneakers, all of which proudly use the inscription “Made in Czech Republic”. Jan Kloss and Jakub Korouš are behind the graphic presentation of the company as well as the shop and breathed new life into the brand. A perfectly functional interior with matching colours is the work of a talented designer duo Jakub Pollág and Václav Mlynář from deFORM studio and shows the high standard of the company and Czech design alike.
The space underlines the visual identity of the brand and most of the interior is simply filled with piled shoeboxes. Is there anything else you need in a shoe store, really? Most of the walls are lined with bright yellow shoeboxes, leaving an aisle for displaying individual models. In the same vein, studio deFORM also approached the second interior of the Botas 66 shop, located right next to Narodní třída in the Skořepka Street, where the shoes are in plain sight of tourists from abroad.
What is your relationship to the original Botas shoes? Did you wear them as a boy? Why did you and Jakub Korouš decide to revive this particular brand?
I liked the original Botas shoes of course. I used to skateboard in them a long time ago but I can’t say they meant the world for me or anything. This changed in 2008 when professor Vaněk at UMPRUM in Prague gave us an assignment to design sneakers. Given that we were an atelier of graphic design, it made more sense to use this assignment to show the benefits of a close cooperation between a graphic designer and a company. The assignment was quite clear so we made our choice pretty fast. We were choosing between two brands and figured that Botas would be better. One of the reasons was the visual aspect and also the fact that although it is a traditional Czech product, belonging among 100 Czech design icons, it was almost impossible to get hold of it. We saw it as a product lacking in colour variation, adequate packaging, story and so on, which made it perfect for the assignment. At first, we were looking for an easy way to complete the assignment but then Jakub Korouš and I got so into it that we’ve been working on it for six years now.
The shoes are made exclusively in the Czech Republic, same as the original ones, which is awesome. Would you say that in the end it’s a competitive advantage or rather a price handicap?
We’re glad the shoes are produced here. It’s not only an advantage in communication but it also makes it easy for us to visit the production whenever we need to. We definitely see it as a positive aspect. On top of that, it makes us happy that what we do gives jobs to people. As far as the price goes, it is more about the amount of shoes sold, or in other words, the material bought for the production. We see quite a wide margin here and that’s also one of the reasons we decided to open a shop and try to get the product to people. It has proven to be a good call and soon we should be opening another one. We think that the brand BOTAS 66 has much more potential than it has been able to use so far. It’s important to make a few steps towards the customers, though.
Have you also heard any reactions from abroad? How do foreigners react to BOTAS 66? Do they take it as a continuation of an old tradition or more as a contemporary project?
The reactions from abroad have been excellent ever since the beginning. Even before we started cooperating with Botas company, we won the first place in European Design Awards for design and overall concept. Later, we were given a chance to participate at Czech Selection in Milan and more where it became crystal clear that BOTAS 66 has the potential to speak to people who don’t know the history of the brand as well. It’s not just about the sentiment but a modern product of high quality that’s also traditional. We have no intention of deviating from the tradition, as it is one of the aspects that we enjoy the most.
The original Botas model (Classic) has evolved into new series over time. Are you and Jakub planning to come up with new series or have you passed the torch to someone else?
The other shapes do not evolve so much from the classical model but they were designed based on archival pieces, models that Botas used to make and that’s why they look similar. We tried to go back to the roots and slightly alter the ones we liked for present needs. We do have a lot of plans for the future but everything has its time. We have a few shape series ready but they have to wait in our drawers before they’re ready to see the light of day. We’re not opposed to cooperating with new designers either.
You designed the yellow shoeboxes as well that have become symbolic for Botas and make up the space of your Žižkov store. How are they special?
When we were designing the packaging system, our aim was to come up with a fully functional object that would make sense. We didn’t want to design a package just for the sake of a package but rather something where every detail has its purpose. The shoebox is simple, all yellow so that it would catch one’s eye. The front side, which is the side that faces the store from the shelf, has a few cutouts that make up the brand logo. Two of the cutouts go all the way into the box (kind of like a bowling ball) so that it’s easier to move the box or take it down from a shelf. The other cutouts go just to the bottom part of the box where there’s a sticker with three key numbers that you can see through the cutouts – model number, colour code and size. The other texts that are less important are hidden so that you can only see them after you’ve opened the box. The idea was to create something that wouldn’t be hidden in a storage room and serve just the one purpose of conserving the product but more a product that would co-create the whole article.
BOTAS 66 presented an interesting project at Designblok named Fortune – in a nutshell, the only thing the customer chose was the size. The style of the shoe such as the colour combo was in the hands of designers. In the end, he got a pair of unique shoes that no one else has. How did the customers react to this experiment? Did they like it or were they afraid they would not like the final product?
The experiment itself was quite successful but more so after the event when we made the shoes public. A lot of people, either don’t attend Designblok or did not see us there among all the other great stuff so they only learned about it after the event. Also you had to be quite brave to take part in the project which could also be an issue. Despite that, there were people who took part in the project and some bought the shoes for someone else as a gift. We used the project to try some new combinations and draw inspiration from them for our regular collections. To answer the question, I have to say that we haven’t had any negative feedback, just the opposite! A lot of people were sorry they couldn’t take part in the project when they had the chance. Next time, hopefully!
You dedicate most of your time to the brand OKOLO under which you and the Štěch brothers and Matěj Činčera work with product design, graphics and typography. You also teach at Scholastika. What do you do when you don’t work if that ever happens?
OKOLO is kind of a creative team where we do a lot of different things but mostly the things we enjoy doing. Whether it’s exhibitions or publishing stuff, graphics or what have you, I see it, at least in some ways, as something that’s worthwhile. My free time is very limited, though. I try to fill it with culture, like music, which is quite a big part of my life or active rest in the mountains, travelling, family and friends.
(Jan Kloss, the owner of the shop BOTAS 66)