Perhaps the name Urban Jungle is still quite unknown to you, but the company, launched in Malta in 1993 by Alfie Borg as sports concept for the island, has achieved great success in Italy. The retailer has 41 owned and franchise stores across Italy,Spain,Malta,and Algeria. The brand’s market approach is based on a sneaker premium concept with rare and limited-edition sneakers together with streetwear apparel and accessories.

Urban Jungle is now on a path of expansion. In addition to a shop in Casablanca (Morocco), the company opened a brand new concept store in Madrid last November. SI catches up with Urban Jungle’s brand director Gianluca Salute on sneaker trends, customer profile, factors to spark off the purchase and e-commerce sales. Interview by Lorenzo Molina

You have recently opened your first store in Madrid, Spain. How has the initial reaction been like?
The reaction towards the new concept store has been very positive. Influencers and local sneakers communities are coming to the shop to discover our brands proposal and have given us very nice compliments. The international selection of brands has been loved by Madrid’s consumers.

What are your current bestselling sneakers? Which are your personal favorite brands?
Today consumers are looking for exclusivity and limited editions. Jordan Brand (Nike), Nike Quickstrike, Adidas Originals exclusives are the main products sold. For apparel, brands like Stussy/Billionaire Boys Club have been appreciated.
It is difficult to say what my personal favorite brand is. I spent over 25 years in the sneakers industry. I started with Converse in 1992 and then worked for 10 years with Nike, before becoming Urban Jungle International Brand Director. I’m a sneaker lover and collector. Nike, Jordan Brand and Adidas are the products I love.

Urban Jungle concept store in Madrid opened last November
Urban Jungle concept store in Madrid opened last November

Which sneakers do you think will become more popular during 2015?
I think that the Adidas Tubolar concept will be the new trend for 2015, the silhouette and the upper materials are really interesting for the many opportunities in terms of styles and colors. With the new strong deal they have in 2015, they launch the strongest colab with Kanye and the new one with Pharrell/Rita Ora. I think sneaker addicts will love them.

What are the features that customers look for when buying a pair of sneakers? Does comfort play a role in the purchasing decision or does everything depend on the look?
Look and style remain a must as exclusives and rare limited release. This differentiation gives to the consumer the pride to buy it and endorse. Premium materials and comfort provide an upgrade to the product, but today I think that shape, colors, materials and also heritage of the shoe are the base when a consumer looks for a product.

Jordan Brand, Nike Quickstrike and Adidas Originals exclusives are the bestsellers
Jordan Brand, Nike Quickstrike and Adidas Originals exclusives are the bestsellers
Sneaker trade shows such as Sneakiness are getting more and more important. Do you also visit them in order to be up to date with trends? What other sources of information do you use?
Usually we try to be at any international fair and see new trends coming out, but sometimes when you visit a fair future orders are already taken with big players.
Inspiration comes from streets, we use to visit the capital cities like London/Paris/Berlin and apart from the cities we have shops like Roma/Madrid in order to understand consumer’s needs.  International blogs keep us updated daily with info and trend, from any categories of products. Other inspiration comes also from music, art, fashion, and actually anything can influence the trends.

Are there any new brands which you have ordered for the first time now?
We don’t lack any reference brand in the sneaker scenario. We are also very curious of new apparel/accessories brands and the new proposal will come from this side of business. For spring 2015 we will launch in Urban Jungle Bbc/Ice Cream; Staple and Alife, that join Stussy, Ssur and Obey to complete the international offer.

Who is the average customer of an Urban Jungle store?
Today mainstream customers are between 17 and 25 years old, but our sneaker collector is from 25 till 35. Men still use sneakers as status symbol, they want be exclusive and want something that is unique. We have a good % of women that buy at our store and they are also looking for the stylish products that make them female. Influencers and music stars are the main ambassadors today for sneaker culture, and our consumers love the vibe of music.

What role does social media play for you?
Social media is the actual platform to be linked to with any consumers worldwide. We have a very focused and strong team that consists of musicians, artists and people that understand our consumers and that use to live as they live 24/7/365 connected. The responsibility is enormous to satisfy our audience and try to maintain our strong credibility any day. Internet is so strong today to become so dangerous if you do not satisfy properly your customers/followers. We have a strong team of Mktg that follows us in any aspect of decisions, and I’m very proud of them.

Impression of the Urban Jungle headquarters
Impression of the Urban Jungle headquarters

Urban Jungle runs an online shop in Italy. Do you plan to expand the online business to other countries soon? What are your expansion plans and/or planned openings?
Our online shop operates in Italy since 2009. It will be upgraded in 2015 with a brand new platform to better serve consumers that are joining us from other countries. Today more than 60% of our e-shop consumers are from outside of Italy. We now build a new Urban Jungle International team with executives based in London/Madrid/Amsterdam who, together with our actual Italian team and head office in Malta, will develop the new concept across the main capital cities of Europe and Middle East. Our Expansion plan is looking to a potential 50 openings by 2020.

Can you tell us a store worldwide –apart from UJ- that inspires you and why?
There are many stores that inspired me and helped me building Urban Jungle. I can mention SSUR or Reed Space in New York or Maharaishi in London, Bape in Tokio or Colette in Paris. Spending the past 25 years in sneakers industry any concept gave me the passion for products or the innovative design was inspirational from any point of view. Inspiration is everywhere, in architectures and design in music and art. I’m a collector of Sneakers, Japanese Vinyl Toys, Street Artists and International Books, and I continue to be inspired by any newness that comes out.

Urban Jungle Madrid
Calle Fuencarral 5
28004 Madrid