By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS)- Eric Porter has always been passionate about shoes. A self-described sneakerhead, the Deerfield native played basketball at Loyola-Chicago his freshman season before transferring to Lake Forest College and playing his last three seasons for the Foresters. After graduating college in 2018, he applied to many of the big sneaker brands hoping to land a job in the industry, but never heard back. That’s when he decided, alongside some college teammates and with the help of a former Nike designer, to start his own brand, StriaSport.

The brand, which took two years from conception to launch of the first shoe, was borne from that lack of interest from the big brands and a crowded job market.

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Credit: StriaSport

“Once we never heard back, I applied to a million different big brands and never heard back. This was always my passion. I actually have a full-time job right now, I’ve been working for a real estate developer for the last year and a half so I do Stria at night which is pretty hectic,” said Porter in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “But, I think overall my biggest passion in the world has always been shoes. I obviously would love to grow Stria into a big brand. But once I never heard back from all of those brands and applying to jobs, I was just like, let’s do it our own way.”

Doing it their own way has been a learning experience for Porter and his colleagues, picking up lessons in sneaker design, testing and production and all that the process entails along the way. Their focus is hitting a niche within the sneaker game that they feel is overlooked: an emphasis on performance.

“Our shoe is focused on lightweight, comfort, a performance shoe steering away from a lot of shoes that are heavier or have loud, crazy designs,” said Porter. “Ours is simplistic, sleek, and an emphasis on performance.”

The launch, in late 2020, came amid the COVID pandemic, which presented challenges of its own due to the fact that there wasn’t as much basketball being played. But, still, Porter says that the group has found success through word of mouth and their connections in the basketball world. As they look to the future, Porter says the goal is to find different niche markets within the crowded space with a particular focus on sales to high school, AAU, college teams and at basketball camps.

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“We launched five months ago and we really haven’t paid for any marketing or anything it’s really been

Credit: StriaSport

just word of mouth so far. Even when I’m playing pickup at Eastbank or other places downtown, someone is wearing the shoes. The goal down the line is getting the word out and to keep getting sales and finding different niche markets,” said Porter. “Whether it’s team sales, whether it’s camps, whether it’s tennis teams, volleyball. It’s not just restricted to basketball. The shoe is developed and designed for basketball but because it’s a performance shoe, it’s lightweight, it’s not a high top shoe, it can go into tennis, volleyball, pickleball, walking the dog. There’s different markets but I think the big focus is camps, teams, and just finding that niche market.”

What makes the shoe unique is that the brand offers the ability for it to be customized with any logo that the consumer wants. Porter uses examples of high school teams looking to have their own custom shoes or a high school player that wants his or her own logo on their shoes. A section of the website is dedicated to these specific types of orders and it’s one that Porter says the company has seen requests come in from across the country.

For now, the group is focused on e-commerce, but Porter says that they have had some conversations with local stores and retail will hopefully be part of the business down the line.

“We’ve had conversations but right now, it’s just e-commerce through our website. Down the line I think retail will be part of it but for right now it’s e-commerce,” said Porter.

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The company has plans for other designs as well, with the 107 series being the primary focus for the time being before hopes of expanding down the line.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff