WildBrain CPLG’s Jimmy Sorber on Space Invaders, Floris Van Bommel and why we’re in a golden age of footwear collaborations

Jimmy Sorber – Product Development Manager, Northern Europe, WildBrain CPLG – tells us about the creative process behind bringing Space Invaders into footwear.

Earlier this year, WildBrain CPLG secured a deal with premium Dutch footwear brand Floris Van Bommel for a Spring/Summer capsule collection inspired by the iconic arcade game, Space Invaders.

With the range now available, we caught up with Jimmy Sorber – Product Development Manager, Northern Europe at WildBrain CPLG – to find out more about the design process behind it.

Jimmy Sorber, WildBrain CPLG

Hi Jimmy; thanks for making the time for this. To kick us off, what’s your background in design?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been trying to let my creativity shine through in my work. It started with the creation of my own games on Commodore64 and then with designing artwork in Banner Mania. Later, I started learning how to use Photoshop, 3D design software and how to create websites. Working digitally meant that the only limit on my creative output was my own mind!

Was footwear always a focus for you?
Footwear and fashion were not initially a focus for me, but I was always fascinated by how much of a statement could be made by what you wear… You can really tell a lot about a person simply by their choice of shoes! With any creative person, you try to stand out from the crowd by choosing a style that reflects who you are and what you like.

How did licensing enter the scene?
I initially took a job at footwear company Leomil to give me a chance to save up some money so I could spend a year in Madrid. With my experience working with tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, I was able to reshape the company’s creative department and how designs were processed.

“The creative translation of Space Invaders needed to be subtle. It had to remain a Van Bommel shoe, but with an added kick that makes it stand out.”

A part-time job became the start of a career in licensing, and I’ll never forget the first time I visited one of our clients’ shops and saw a young girl pleading with her mother to buy her the sneakers I designed!

Yes, I can imagine that’s an amazing feeling! Now you’re Product Development Manager for Northern Europe at WildBrain CPLG. What does that entail?
When we start working with a licensee on product development for one of our clients’ properties, there are many questions we need to ask. For example, what is the licensee’s perception of the property? How does the property fit into their wider collection or licensed brand portfolio? What might retailers want or expect from the licensee? How do we think consumers and the licensor will respond?

My job is to guide licensees through the property, the style guidelines that need to be considered, and to open their eyes to exciting creative possibilities so that we can ultimately create an effective synergy between the look of their brand and the licensor’s IP. As an agent, we always try to both advise and inspire licensees so that we’re collectively developing the best products possible.

What are some recent products that have your fingerprints on?
Some recent launches I’ve been involved with include a Felix the Cat collection with Scotch & Soda; both a Peanuts and a SpongeBob SquarePants collection with Polish streetwear brand PLNY LALA; a Pink Panther collection with Happy Socks; and a Peanuts 70th anniversary fridge with Smeg, to name a few. We’re also working on some great collaborations which will launch later this year.

Jimmy Sorber, WildBrain CPLG
Let’s dive into your recent Space Invaders launch. What made Floris Van Bommel a great fit for the brand?

Firstly, Space Invaders and Floris Van Bommel are both classic brands in their respective areas. Space Invaders is one of the most iconic arcade games of all times, and Van Bommel is renowned for its long-standing history in making premium footwear.

We also know that Floris Van Bommel himself, who is the company’s Creative Director and a ninth-generation shoemaker in the Van Bommel family, has a personal connection with Space Invaders as he grew up with the game in the 1980s.

Jimmy Sorber, WildBrain CPLG

I imagine you could have gone in a number of different directions when bringing a brand like Space Invaders into footwear. What steered the look of this collection?
When developing the collection, the creative translation of Space Invaders needed to be subtle. It had to remain a Van Bommel shoe, but with an added kick that makes it stand out. We therefore chose to utilise the iconic Space Invaders colours, add a rubber patch on the heel, and make the ‘O’ in Bommel look like it’s exploding, as it would in the game.

Jimmy Sorber, WildBrain CPLG

That’s a lovely touch! What do you think is the key to translating a brand into footwear successfully?
The key to recognisability is to use a surprise design element known as the ‘kick’, which establishes the connection between the licensee’s brand and the IP. This approach works for both character and non-character-based properties.

With non-character-based IPs, this usually comes from the logo or the colours — the recent partnership between PUMA and Rubik’s Brand is a great example of this. However, the older the target age group for the collection, the more difficult it becomes to sell footwear with character artwork, so this would need to be very subtle or fully integrated into the design of the shoe.

You mentioned the Rubik’s x PUMA partnership there, and it seems like we’re in something of a golden age of branded footwear collaborations. Great stuff is popping up every week, whether it’s Adidas’ LEGO sneaker or Reebok’s Candy Land collab with Hasbro…
Yes! While brands like Adidas have done licensed ranges for several years, we’re seeing the number of footwear companies looking at partnering with IP owners really accelerate at the moment, particularly in the adult sector where we’re definitely in a golden age for brand collaborations.

With so many collaborations coming through, footwear brands are increasingly looking for ways to ensure their offering stands out, which is reflected in the bold and unique designs entering the market. As such, footwear companies are now going all out and pushing the boundaries of creativity, whereas before they would have taken a much more cautious approach.

“With so many collaborations coming through, footwear brands are increasingly looking for ways to ensure their offering stands out, which is reflected in the bold and unique designs entering the market.”

Also, because ranges are generally targeted at young adults, we’re seeing footwear brands seeking IPs that can make their collection enticing for this demographic, which is why there are many collections utilising retro and nostalgia brands.

This is all part of the ‘30-year-cycle’ in which kids who grew up with the IP, just as Floris Van Bommel did with Space Invaders, are now in a position that they can afford to buy something special, which also reminds them of their childhood.

Jimmy Sorber, WildBrain CPLG

Absolutely. Jimmy, this has been great, before I let you go, one final question: how do you fuel your creativity?
In my spare time I like to go out with my camera and I’m always looking to capture things in a new, surprising way. At work, I push myself to go out of out of my comfort zone as much as possible, and I’ve surrounded myself with a team of creative people who not only can challenge my beliefs but also bring their own unique perspectives on the ever-changing design culture and technologies.

It’s when I see and learn new things that new creative connections are made in my mind, and thus new ideas can be born.

Perfect! Thanks again; speak soon and good luck with the Floris van Bommel range!

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