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Give Better: Discover Gifts to Delight the Discerning

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People, Object History

Common Ground:
A Conversation with Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami

A decade ago, despite being separated by the Atlantic Ocean, friends Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami decided to work together. The New York-based art director (Poopat) and Italian creative consultant (Girolami) gave their collaboration a name—Common Projects—and decided to start by building a better sneaker. What began as a just-for-fun side project soon turned into an in-demand collection of men’s and later women’s shoes that combine utilitarian design with Italian quality and construction.

"Each person can wear these shoes in a different way,” says Girolami. “It’s like when you buy a pair of jeans—after a year, each pair has a unique look and feel.” We visited Poopat and Girolami in their New York showroom, just down the street from The Apartment by The Line, to learn more about the evolution of Common Projects, their creative process, and whether they approach designing for women any differently than designing for men.

How did you start Common Projects?

Flavio Girolami: Prathan and I have been friends for a long time. I used to live in the Marche region of Italy, which is the country’s center for making shoes, and I had been working with some companies there on branding projects. And so when Prathan and I decided to work on something together, we thought immediately of a nice sneaker. At that time we couldn’t find a good, high-quality sneaker—a better version of the Chucks or Adidas we used to wear but just as cool.

Prathan Poopat: The first factory that we used had never really made sneakers before. They made dress shoes. Neither Flavio nor I come from a shoe design background and we were really thinking of this as a one-off project, so we ended up working with this factory—we taught them some things, I think, and we learned some things that we’re still constantly applying. It all just worked. And I think men were immediately drawn to the shoes because there was nothing else like them.

When did you decide to branch out into Woman by Common Projects?

Flavio: We started by doing the men’s collection in women’s sizes. We thought the styles were so simple that they could work for everyone. But when we began to see the strong interest from women, we started to create something special—something unique for women, not just their boyfriends’ shoes.

The shoes you create have a timeless quality. Is that part of what you set out to do?

Prathan: We’re constantly looking at things that have been around or at least things that in memory have been around, and often we say that if it doesn’t look like it’s been around for a long time then it’s not going to work.

Flavio: We’re interested in making classics, with a beautiful material and in the best way possible—something that everyone should have in their closet. Sometimes people work too much on making something too special, when the truly special thing has been there along.

So you begin with these existing forms—or the ideas of them—and then what happens?

Prathan: We often go around the world and back. We end up cutting about ninety percent of what we wanted to add to a particular style. It’s a whittling process. It’s definitely subtractive.

Do you approach designing for women different than designing for men?

Prathan: Well, we’re constantly looking at girls. I’ve been saying for years that I love a girl in high-tops. Not all girls can get away with it, but there’s something about that girl. It’s a very specific girl, and we sometimes have to be careful not to betray that girl.

Flavio: Women are smart. And with women’s shoes, there is so much space for creativity that you can really go crazy.

Prathan: I’d say that’s the main difference between designing for women and designing for men: you can have a lot more fun.