Move over Nike, Lebanon now has its own sneaker brand. Launched in 2018 by 33-year-old Shant Donikian, the appropriately named Sneaked creates playful footwear produced in Baouchrieh, right outside Beirut. Available in a variety of dynamic colors and with accessories like bespoke stitching, the sneakers are a first for the Lebanese footwear industry, which so far has specialized in more classical models, including pumps and sandals for women and loafers for men.
Donikian’s father owns a men’s shoe factory, which he founded in 1977, so it was natural for the young man to follow in his parent’s footsteps, but by charting a more personal course. “I decided to have a brand of my own, to make my own designs and my own line, something that reflects my character and my identity,” says Donikian. “So I created Sneaked.”
In 2009, while studying for a Master’s degree in architecture at the Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA), Donikian started work at his father’s footwear factory. “That’s when my love grew for this domain,” he says. Nine years later, and after having worked in architecture, Donikian founded his label. “I used my architectural background to create sneakers,” he says.
Sneaked shoes are designed and assembled in Lebanon, but all materials are imported from Europe. “We import leather from Spain and Italy, some add-on accessories from Turkey and stitches from France,” says Donikian. In terms of sales strategy, the young designer decided to avoid carrying stock by producing shoes only after a customer has placed an order. “Every pair we manufacture is prepared after the order,” he says. “We ask our shoppers to send us their size according to sneakers they already own – by Converse, Nike or Adidas – and then we create the shoes. And since the sneakers we’re selling are not already made, we give the customer the ability to customize the shoes.”
The first batch of sneakers were for men only, but in 2019 Donikian started making shoes for women as well. He doesn’t have exact sales figures, but according to analytics from Sneaked’s Instagram page, 51% of his customers are men and 49% women, with ages ranging from 18 to 40. Sneaked shoes currently cost $133 in Lebanon (at LL4,500 to the dollar) and between $159 and $169 when shipped abroad.
First available exclusively online – reaching customers in Lebanon and across the diaspora – Sneaked will soon be offered at the brand’s first bricks ‘n’ mortar store at Demco Towers in Antelias, a few minutes’ drive north of Beirut. “I’m giving the shop the same identity that the Sneakers have,” says Donikian, “and planning to open in November 2021.” He’s also launched Sneaked USA online to capture the North American market. “It’s a platform where people in the United States can directly buy our shoes.”
Sneaked is a labor of love for Donikian, a venture that’s close to his heart. “I see myself when I see these sneakers. I’m not trying to imitate or copy anyone but just putting my identity into the sneakers. They’re the sneakers that I would like to wear.”