Novella is taking a different approach to creating coveted sneakers, working with artisans to tell stories through each collection.

Founded by Phil Marineau Jr., sneaker brand Novella launches on Thursday with its first collection, which the brand calls chapters. Within each chapter, the brand releases verses, different sneakers designed in partnership with artisans. 

“I’ve been a lifelong sneakerhead, probably because I was growing up in Chicago and it’s almost impossible to not be — especially during the Michael Jordan era,” Marineau Jr. said. “I used them as totems. I remember vividly getting the Air Jordan 1s and the feeling I got when I put on those shoes. I remember people saying, ‘what are those?’ and if it was just a reissue that ended the conversation, but if there was a story involved I started to realize that people really care about this even if they’re not into sneakers. They just appreciate the storytelling.”

Novella is launching its first collection with three artisans: “Love Poem” by poet Rudy Francisco, “Momotaro” by textile artist Katherine Entis and “Two Worlds” by sound artist Marcus Fischer. The three sneakers are created in a minimalist aesthetic; however, they feature graphic rubber soles that are inspired by the artisans’ craft. Each sneaker retails for $385, with the original white sneaker retailing for $370.

Novella’s chapter one sneaker styles.

Marineau Jr. worked with a team of executives who formerly worked at companies such as Nike, Birdies, Adidas and Vans, as well as his father Phil Marineau Sr. — who previously served as the chief executive officer of Levi Strauss & Co. — to launch Novella. 

Marineau Jr. explained that the design process for the first collection took roughly two months. The process entailed working closely with each artisan to understand their work, and then working closely with Studio Noyes, which translated the artisans’ work into the sneakers. The brand features the artisans in its marketing, including videos, photos and their stories to promote each sneaker.   

Novella is launching direct-to-consumer in order to focus on storytelling. Marineau Jr. said the brand plans to stay in the sneaker category, but would be open to expansion depending on consumer interest.

The brand aims to launch chapters for each season. Chapter two is slated to launch on March 30 and chapters three and four are currently in development. 

“We’re focused on bringing beautiful sneakers to market,” Marineau Jr. said. “We are a boutique brand where we do very limited runs. We only make 2,020 pairs of each verse and each one of them is individually numbered, so truly each sneaker is one of one.” 

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