According to Girolami, the initial investment in Common Projects was “small,” coming straight from his and Poopat’s personal salaries. But as the duo worked on samples for their first collection, Girolami and Poopat had something of an epiphany. Inside the tongue of each shoe appeared its article number and size. In a flash, the founders decided to display these numbers on the outside of their shoes as a form of branding, having initially rejected the idea of using a stripe. They soon added another set of four digits— short-hand for the colour of each shoe — to balance the numbers out aesthetically. “It had a purpose, but it wasn’t necessarily permanent,” says Poopat. For customers who wanted a completely clean and blank shoe, the numbers could be rubbed off.
Launched for Autumn 2004, the company’s debut collection, “Achilles by Common Projects,” consisted of a low-top leather sneaker — the Achilles — available in white, gray and black. Paperclips, U-line staplers and army gear — “things that just do what they’re supposed to,” as Poopat puts it — influenced the shoe’s design. With a sleek silhouette, narrow toe box and hand-stitched smooth rubber Margom cup sole, it has all the aesthetic appeal of a high-priced sports car, something so beautifully crafted you didn’t realize you wanted it until you set eyes on it.
They first showed the collection to Steven Alan, who had just opened a showroom, as well as to Humberto Leon of Opening Ceremony, which was, at the time, “a large room with a big, purple velvet curtain — and behind the curtain, on a computer, was Humberto,” says Poopat. (Leon eventually placed an order). Poopat and Girolami also met with Stella Ishii of The News, a showroom with a reputation for launching the likes of Alexander Wang, Philip Lim and Band of Outsiders. Common Projects, however, would soon become her first foray into footwear.
Tokyo-based Ships was the first international retailer to place an order, but they weren’t the only ones interested in the line. “Everyone was interested right off the bat,” recalls Poopat. Demand for the product doubled every season. But Poopat and Girolami made a loss for their first couple of years. “We didn’t charge the right price,” admits Girolami. The company entered the market with product priced at $265, but were forced to recalibrate, raising prices gradually, so as not to shock consumers. (Today, the basic white Achilles retails for around $400).