STATEN ISLAND, NY – The concept seemed simple. A backpack accessory that keeps dirty shoes away from the bag’s clean interior compartments; all without adding a load to the rear and still on trend. Easy, right?
The problem was, the product just didn’t exist. This is until Solepack arrives.
After his school basketball days ended at Bishop Farrell in the early 90s, Mike Sala wanted to continue playing recreationally as a way to stay in shape as he pursued his doctorate in physiotherapy at the University of New York. York.
Between textbooks, extra clothes and the sneakers he needed to bring, Sala quickly ran out of space in his backpack as he made his daily commute from his childhood home in Grasmere to Greenwich Village. And given his chosen field, a strained back after dragging extra-large backpacks would definitely be a bad look. There had to be a better way.
“I remember going to all these stores and asking if they had a product that separated my sneakers from my bag and they kept saying, ‘No, the product doesn’t exist’,” described Sala.
“I had some of my best thoughts on the go and just had one of those ‘aha! “Moments aboard the S79 one day I said I’m going to do it myself,” he described.
He had no idea that the journey he was about to take would be longer and in some ways perhaps more difficult than the six-plus years he spent studying for his doctorate.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have any design training, but I came across a concept that didn’t exist.
“It was before the great days of the Internet, so I remember looking for a patent attorney on AOL,” Sala said with a laugh. After being repeatedly rejected, he found a patent attorney in Minnesota who accepted the position and ultimately had the patent approved nearly a decade later in 2005.
“At first I didn’t even want to make the product, I was just looking to license it,” he added.
“I was just sitting around the idea of waiting a long time for these licensing companies to materialize. I concluded that if I wanted this to happen, I had to do it myself. I needed to bring the idea to life.
“At the time, I was going to college while working in a hospital and in private practice,” said Sala. “Whenever I had free time, I would go back to town to meet with small business manufacturers and model builders. “
“A lot of people who knew me as a therapist told me, ‘You are a great therapist. Why not just continue with this? ‘ he added. “But part of me thought that was my great calling.”
In 2010, after meeting a friend in the clothing industry, Sala linked up with a manufacturer on Canal Street who cut a prototype very similar to what would become the SP-1 model.
“I remember sitting in my basement and with this prototype in my hands and getting goosebumps,” Sala added. “I still get goosebumps thinking about it.”
Months later, the company launched its first product, the SP-1 in small batch with the options of black or gray. It sold out as fast as it took it out.
The bag has also caught the attention of sneaker enthusiasts like Jam Master Jay of RUN-DMC as well as publications like Complex, Men’s Health, Runner’s World and SLAM magazine.
Sala knew he was on to something.
“It meant a lot to get co-signatures from people in the sneaker industry. It validated the trip for me and showed me that I was on the right track.
Soon after, Sala introduced two more staples to the Solepack line; the GRF shoe string bag that combines its shoe carry bag with the portability of a string bag, making it a popular choice in the running community, and the OMEGA backpack: a 30 pack liters with integrated connections for the original SP-1 fasteners.
THE NBA CONNECTION
In 2017, after numerous letters and emails, Solepack finally caught the attention of NBALAB, a company that describes itself as a disruptive research and development incubator focused on innovative design, imaginative concepts and strategic partnerships – especially with the NBA.
“I’m sure a lot of people write to them,” noted Sala. “They finally responded by saying, ‘I think you have a great basketball-centric product that would be great for both of our brands.’ They basically co-signed there.
This partnership ultimately led to the release of the limited edition series of the NBALAB x SOLEPACK collection merging the work of street artist Billi Kid with the colors and logos of 16 NBA teams.
The hugely popular line has made its way into several NBA locker rooms and popular culture.
“Richaun Holmes of the Sacramento Kings was carrying one of our bags alongside guys like Harrison Barnes and Bobby Jackson. Being an NBA fan in the 2000s was really cool. We’ve also had a few Olympians in the track world with our stuff; guys like Michael Cherry and sisters Barber, Me’Lisa and Miki from New Jersey. It’s cool to have the seal of approval from athletes like this.
“We even appeared in the Showtime series ‘The Chi’. I had no idea what was going on – a friend was watching and told me about it. It featured a Catholic schoolboy who didn’t want to be seen in his uniform on the streets of Chicago, so he kept his street clothes and sneakers in our bag. It was moments like this that are cool because they weren’t contrived. They happened organically.
It was all the boost Sala needed to essentially transition from a physiotherapist who moonlighted as an entrepreneur to an entrepreneur who truly moonlighted as a physiotherapist.
Sala is a regular at many local sporting events.
He made custom bags for Under the Lights basketball league players at Berry Homes and sponsored events at the Ocean Breeze Track and Field Complex.
He also spent resources on gifts at numerous charity events across town.
“This is really my big picture for Solepack,” added Sala. “Give back more in the long term. “