The interview: Mark Bage, CEO of Not Studio and Founder of Sneak in Peace

Mark Bage

Ex-Coggles CEO Mark Bage has launched a premium sneaker platform called Sneak in Peace after spotting a gap in the market for people who want premium sneakers from some of the finest designers and brands in the world – curated with a real eye for every detail.

It’s not for “sneakerheads” who queue up for the latest releases, it’s designed for the more discerning. In fact, women form almost half of the customers so far, certainly not the norm for a sneaker-focused website.

It’s early days, but over 75 retailers and over 4,000 men’s and women’s sneakers, including the world’s largest curation of vegan and sustainable styles, are currently available. The average price point is £200, topping out at over £27,000 for a single pair of sneakers. Brands include adidas OriginalsNikeA.P.CBalenciaga, Hermès, Filling Pieces, Zespa, Dolce & GabbanaMoncler and Yeezy, and users can now share wish lists of their favourite sneakers – a feature proving extremely popular with the website’s fast-growing customer base.

When people talk of Mark Bage, they immediately think of the ground-breaking job he did as CEO and Ecommerce/Creative Director at Coggles, or Coggles.com more to the point, where he trailblazed a bricks and mortar lifestyle fashion store going full-on digital, up until his departure in 2013 after over 10 years at the helm. Sneak in Peace is his latest project with his Not Studio creative agency. He talks us through it 

Sneak in Peace

Why you have decided to launch a premium sneaker online platform?

We felt there was a real need for a premium sneaker site – for less of a collector, more of a curator. Traditional sneakerhead culture seemed well served online, but we felt that nobody was really talking about the sector from a luxury fashion point of view. The same goes for women’s sneakers and the sustainable end of the market, as there is a real lack of coverage in those areas despite some really exciting young brands and boutiques breaking new ground. We see a really large, untapped market and we wanted to showcase these products on a platform that was beautiful, minimal and effortlessly browsable.

Has it been a long time in the making?

It’s one of our Not Studio projects which we’ve had boiling under the surface. In fact, we actually had a couple of prototypes for it about five years ago, but then we got really busy doing lots of other things so it was put on the back burner – until now. It’s really been put together in the last 18 months, but it was when COVID-19 struck that we really set about getting it finished. We showed it to a few people and they were really into it. That spurred us on.

What types of retailers will you be working with to direct customers to?

Sneak in Peace is very much about curation over aggregation. We are focused on the premium end of the market, and we stick to certain criteria when adding new sneakers to the site. Obviously, this means we’re looking at the big players in online multi-brand as well as luxury own brand stores. But it’s also really important for us to feature smaller brands and start-ups to keep things interesting and provide a genuine point of difference. I can’t give certain names out yet, but I can say that we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of who we’re getting on board. It’s very early days.

The £27,000 Nike Air Mag high tops

When will it move on from being a beta website?

It is a full-on website, and it’s doing its job now, but it’s an ongoing process. I know from doing ecommerce years ago that a website is never done. Even in five years time I’ll be saying we’ve still got a lot to do, and I’m sure most platforms are like that. Asos says that every year! It’s always adding new compartments and divisions. There’s always something to do. What we have done so far is reached our minimal viable product – a tech term to say ‘it works’ – so that’s why we’ve now gone live with it. We’ve got 4,000 styles and 75 retailers on board, so that’s a really good starting point.

How does it work?

Our proprietary tech allows us to compile a curated list of the latest styles and direct users to a selection of retailers that they know and trust. The software also automatically formats product information consistency across the site, which means that the user experience is really seamless, and it eliminates duplicate styles which is an issue on some aggregator sites. The team moderate the feed to maintain an elevated offering, so it doesn’t get flooded with ‘core’ or mainstream product. Customers get redirected to the relevant retailer’s website to complete payment, and we get paid a certain amount by the retailers for the sales. It’s a very simple system, but it works.

So, you think you’ve really spotted a gap in the market?

Yes, we totally have. The sneaker world is just full of sneakerhead websites, but not everyone wants to know or queue up for the latest release. Some people just want to buy very cool and well-made trainers. We come from the luxury end of the market, and there’s some great innovative collections of sneakers, all the way down to very small boutique brands that are really passionate about it. They can get a bit pushed to the side. The likes of Farfetch might feature them in a small way, and Selfridges might have some of them on their website, but I can’t think of anybody who aggregates a luxury sneaker collection. What we do is very heavily curated. We curate who we work with, and what the uniqueness and price points should be, then the tech element kicks in and manages to put all of that together. So, it’s a very clever combination of human curation and machine presentation. Everything is presented immaculately the same, and we’ve been careful to maintain that. One of things we really didn’t like about other sneaker or fashion sites that aggregated product was that they ended up looking like eBay. That was one of the driving forces of why we wanted to do this. We wanted to present a category at its most pristine and best.

Are you finding there’s a real demand for premium trainers then – even during a global pandemic?

There really is, the traffic is huge. There’s been a lot of shopping therapy in the COVID era, and I think that’s actually been very helpful for people’s mental health. Shopping has been a really good boost. If we’d have had this pandemic 15 years ago, and we’d had lockdowns without the internet, I think it would have been a much worse scenario.

Who would you say is your real target market?

That’s actually really interesting as almost half (48%) of our traffic is women, and we really felt that was a big marketplace because women always seem to get shoved to the back of any sneaker website. It seems to be a male dominated sector, so we wanted to appeal to women just as much as men. So, the women’s market is a really big audience that we’ve deliberately set out to crack. There’s also some amazing new technology in the environmental sneaker movement – from the likes of Stella McCartney, Veja, Filling Pieces, Clae, Mercer, Saye, Flamingo’s Life, Hylo, Beflamboyant, Elliott Footwear and Good News. We’re trying to feature as many of those brands that fit into the price point and the design quality.

How has the website been received so far?

It’s been received really well. We switched it on not expecting anybody to see it, yet we had even had people from Japan, Norway and South America viewing it, and it was really interesting how it seemed to just come to life by itself. Like the LinkedIn post I put up, I wasn’t expecting 4,000 people to have a look at that and make comments about it. People like the simplicity of it, and the infinite scrolling is really addictive – we keep that up to date all the time. You don’t know what picture will come up next, so it’s got the same addictive element as say Instagram or even Tinder might have.

How do plan to promote it?

We’re very much about it having an organic growth. There’s something great about having an audience that truly believes in what we’re doing, rather than a manufactured audience. We’ve only just started our Instagram, and that’s doing really well. We added the wish list feature to the site recently, and we didn’t even tell anyone that it was there, but on our first day we got something like 40 sign-ups. That doesn’t sound a lot, but when you haven’t told anyone it’s there it’s pretty amazing that people figure out what it does so quickly.

How did the Not Studio fashion media and creative content business come about and where does the name originate?

Following the role I had as Buying Director for Grazia between 2014-2015, helping them with their digital retail online presence – bringing on board some 200 designer collections for their ecommerce platform – I kept being asked, along with my team, to solve problems digitally. After about four or five projects, we decided that we’d actually become an agency. People had kept on asking me previously what I was going to do after Coggles, and I always responded “not Coggles.” Slowly, but surely, we kept the ‘not’ and dropped the Coggles. Hence Not Studio.

What’s the next step for Sneak in Peace?

We have a very strong opinion of how this should work and what we’re doing. We’re not really looking at anyone else’s sites, but we’ve got a few things that we want to do that will just naturally get rolled out. I don’t think people will necessarily notice the differences on the site, I think it will just become a bigger and more useful site. This time next year we should also have our app released. There’s a roadmap to things that are happening. It’s a beautifully simple project, and I’m sure it will be one of many that Not Studio produce over the next couple of years.