Babson Magazine

Fall 2018

Just for Kicks

Small batch, artisanal, handmade. Those are popular buzzwords nowadays, most often applied to items like bourbon and cheese. Armand Wilson ’11 is stretching the concept to include his personal passion: sneakers.

Photo: Tyler Glickman

“I’ve always been really into sneakers,” he says. He’s not sure how many pairs he owns; suffice it to say, he has a storage unit for them. He also has always loved the idea of entrepreneurship—an ice cream truck business he started in high school helped pay his way through Babson.

So when Wilson, who works a day job at a tech startup, was casting about for an entrepreneurial idea, sneakers seemed a natural fit. But not just any sneakers. Artefact NYC makes products for the former sneaker-head who has outgrown tennis shoes and needs sophisticated footwear that moves seamlessly from the workweek to the weekend, says Wilson.

Make no mistake: The company’s signature sneaker, dubbed No. 85, is not meant for the gym. Wilson runs down the details: Italian leathers that get better with age, durable rubber soles, waxed laces, and a sleek, refined profile. He thought he knew a lot about sneakers before embarking on the process, but he soon found out there was quite a bit more to learn. Wilson says, “There were lots of late nights plotting and planning. I definitely know more about leather—nubuck, suede, pigskin, how smooth, how buttery, how durable. I know a ton more about leather.”

He also knows a ton more about launching a startup involving small-batch manufacturing. One of the biggest challenges, he says, was finding a manufacturer who was willing to make shoes in small production runs. To enhance the product’s aura of exclusivity, only about 100 pairs of each color are made—and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Artefact created a special model for curated men’s clothing website Grailed; it sold out quickly and is now in demand on the resale market.

Wilson says the rise of independent fashion brands, with products sold directly to consumers, helped inspire Artefact; such brands, he says, are “having a moment.” But he also gives a tip of the hat, as it were, to Babson: “My education was both practical and inspiring. Babson has a special culture, a motivating culture. I don’t know if that exists anywhere else.”—Jane Dornbusch