Art meets industry

When it comes to art, the last thing that comes to mind for some, would be shoelaces. But Kelly Babcock of EBEE design has helped to revitalize an industry that’s been a staple of Portsmouth’s economy for over 100 years.

By redesigning the SoleChoice factory catalog, Babcock was able to attract new business to the company and create a piece of art.

Babcock worked alongside SoleChoice leaders Nelson Smith, Bryan Davis and Ryan Bouts to rethink the design and product catalogs, showcasing the products in a new manner for buyers and designers.

“Nelson, Bryan and Ryan were really integral in the whole project,” said Babcock. “They had their hands in it throughout. We all collaborated closely to create these new catalogs.”

Traditionally, these type of projects would be sent off-site to print houses.

“We went in with the intention of disrupting what had always been the norm,” explained Babcock. “At SoleChoice, they actually have a library of the catalogs. They go back almost as long as they’ve been in operation, and they all look the same. The catalogs were similar to a three-ring binder with clear sleeves and paper, that the laces have been taped in. But that’s just how it was done.”

Co-owner and Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Bryan Davis, said a new perspective was essential to the project. The company was looking to recreate its image after shifting from Mitchellace to SoleChoice. SoleChoice had yet to create their books. Babcock’s unfamiliarity with the shoelace industry helped to spawn fresh ideas that wouldn’t have been considered otherwise.

“We wanted to do something that was more revolutionary for our industry. The books that had previously been published by other companies were not very interactive for the costumers and the designers that we deal with,” explained Vice President of Operations and Co-Owner, Ryan Bouts. “Designers are very hands-on they want to be able to take the materials, just like you would with fabric swatches and things like that. They want to be able to touch the materials and lay them down beside the product that they are working on. We wanted them to see every aspect of what goes into our laces, kind of like a how-to guide for shoelaces. We gave them samples, color swatches, examples of the tips of the laces. It gives them a step-by-step approach coming up with a good product that works in a shoe or apparel.”

Babcock studied the old catalogs, and reached out to designers and buyers to gain their perspective on how they view the catalogs and what they felt was missing. Through her research and creative designs, the new product catalogs came to fruition.

“We used the print shop, some of the employees used their time to help build the books and product catalogs and they made the sample laces that got put in them, it was all produced in-house. It was a huge team effort,” said Babcock.

Over 200 of the catalog books were produced. Since, SoleChoice has been sending them out to designers, like Nike, Timberland, New Balance, and more. The products produced at SoleChoice don’t just pertain to shoes and laces, but other clothing items like hooded sweatshirts and sweatpants, athletic shorts, and drawstring backpacks.

“We’ve sent it to several of our existing customers and prospective customers as well, and it has helped to garner new business,” said Davis. “The role-out was very successful. The designers and buyers that are seeing it are very impressed. Words like ‘revolutionary,’ and ‘game-changing,’ are what we’ve heard back. They’re utilizing it as a tool to help with their designs, it allows us to get our samples and our color palettes out to our customers quicker, and it is definitely been a success as far as reinventing our company.”

But Babcock’s work not only serves a functional purpose — it’s a work of art.

“It was fun, to me, to showcase something that is actually a very important sales tool for them,” said Babcock. “It’s something that they’re actually sending out to get business. It’s really interesting, the shoe design companies have libraries of all the different manufacturers, whether it’s leather, or the sole of the shoe, and for SoleChoice, it’s shoelaces. This product catalog kit is sitting on the shelf in New Balance, Nike, Timberland — all the big companies, and it’s what they pull off the shelf to decide what laces are going in their new shoes.”

Babcock entered her work in the Southern Ohio Museum’s biennial Cream of the Crop Art Show, where it is currently on display.

“This is the exhibition that we wait two years for,” said Charlotte Gordon, the museum’s artistic director. “Seeing what is made in studios today is exciting. Artists are living, changing, developing and ideas all the time. Kelly’s work is the first industrial design we’ve had, it’s really beautifully done, and it’s a great multi-faceted project.”

The Cream of the Crop Art Show exhibits works created by individuals within an 85 mile radius of the museum. This year, over 250 works were submitted, with only around half being chosen for display. Babcock’s work was the first Industrial Design that the show has ever seen.

“I was really flattered that they even gave me the opportunity to enter,” Babcock said. “I said, ‘you know, this is a little non-traditional.’ If you really study, there is a strong system in how the colors are used as different categories, and about how the colors are used to indicate different types of laces. It has the same sort of components that go into a painting, but they’re applied and used in a different way. I was excited that the museum embraced it and they were able to see the value in that.”

Time is running out to see her work on display —the exhibit will come to a close on August 12.

Babcock’s work has also been submitted to the International Communication Arts Design competition and is awaiting word.

“It’s been one of my favorite projects that I’ve worked on since I’ve been in design, and I’ve been doing this since 2002,” Babcock explained. “It feels even better knowing it’s going to help our town too.”

From Portsmouth Daily Times  |  August 10, 2016