On September 21, streetwear giant SNIPES opened their 14th branch in Berlin. Right in the heart of Neukölln, on busy Karl-Marx-Straße, the global fashion retailer founded in Cologne in 1998, has set up shop in the historic Alte Post, a protected building from 1906 that once served as the main post office for the district during the era of the German Empire. It’s not just kicks and caps that streetwear fans will be able to find here now. In the shop itself, SNIPES has built a state-of-the-art dance and recording studio, dubbed Studio44, free to use for the local community – no strings attached.
“We want to offer a contact point here in the neighbourhood,” says Dennis Schröder, General Manager Europe SNIPES, of the concept. “We want to give young people the opportunity to record songs, try it out themselves with the help of a sound engineer who will be here on site. The same goes for the dance studio. We want to offer opportunities for people they wouldn’t have access to otherwise.”
On opening day, the store – SNIPES’ 400th in Europe – is teeming with teenagers and young adults from around the area, rocking baggy joggers and tees, hoodies and chains, crop tops and cargos. They bustle about the racks of clothes and walls of trainers, past little nods to Berlin’s urban terrain; the interior is modelled after the city’s U-Bahn stations, with the ultimate goal of creating a space that feels like an extension of the Kiez outside, both above and below ground.
You’ll spot vending machines, metal chairs from the BVG, and even digital timetables.
An escalator takes the customers up to the shop floor, past graffiti art by the Berliner 1UP crew and a giant digital display board. Next to the Alte Post’s original flooring and brick walls, which SNIPES was required to incorporate into the design, you’ll spot vending machines, metal chairs from BVG stations sprayed in the brand’s trademark orange, and even digital timetables – with store directions where train arrival times would be – in the languages spoken in the area: German, English, Turkish and Arabic. It’s a little but crucial detail that shows SNIPES takes building bridges seriously.
In the back, a heavy black door leads to Studio44. Here, SNIPES invites members of the Neukölln community to record their songs and practise their dance moves for free. The idea was borne of similar community projects that the retailer has been offering in the US since its launch in 2019.
“Seeing what it was like, the amount of drug abuse, violence and living difficulties, that was a heavy culture shock for me,” says CEO Sven Voth. “But in the US, it’s the norm that successful companies give back to the community. And you realise very quickly that the whole system would collapse, if they didn’t.”
Indeed, due to a lack of government investments, local communities in the US are much more dependent on what Voth calls “give-back projects” by larger companies – sometimes known as Corporate Social Responsibility – whereas in Germany, government spending puts more focus on providing publicly accessible spaces, like youth centres or play areas. SNIPES is therefore in a league of its own, the first retailer in the country to offer a free community and networking space like this.
If we now have the chance to remedy this situation, that makes us very happy.
The recently proposed austerity measures in Neukölln suddenly emphasised the need for projects like Studio44. “It wasn’t like we knew this was going to happen,” says Voth of the threatened neighbourhood funding rollbacks. “If we as a company now have the chance to remedy this situation and provide a dance space or a recording space for free, that makes us very, very happy of course.”
The austerity measures might help SNIPES drive its point home, but Voth is also aware of the European attitude to freebies, which is a rather sceptical one. “In the US, the communities are very grateful, but they also expect it [from corporations] to an extent,” he says. “We did ‘Back to School’ in Berlin and Milan, where we gave away thousands of backpacks with school utensils for free, and people were like, ‘And what do you want for that?’ And when we’d say, ‘Nothing, it’s a gift’, they would actually start crying because they just don’t expect it.”
We want to do this in all of our SNIPES areas.
Still, SNIPES is determined to establish community projects across Europe; Neukölln is just the beginning. “We just happened to find a location in Berlin first,” explains Voth. “We want to do this in all of our SNIPES areas. We were looking for a location in Paris at the same time as Berlin, and we’ve now found a location there as well, which will open next year.”
Meanwhile, Studio44 is yet to show whether the concept will work here. It seems simple enough: using the SNIPES app, anyone interested can register to use the dance and recording studios. But SNIPES’ brand identity, strongly rooted in hip-hop culture, begs the question: are people outside of the genre welcome here? “We want the people who share and celebrate our culture to have access to this space,” says Voth. “So generally, we don’t want to exclude anyone. But if you ask me, ‘rap artist or folk singer?’, then you know our answer.”
Voth stresses that the company isn’t expecting anything in return for the use of their studio – though he allows himself to entertain one hope: “It would be fantastic if talents were actually discovered and born here. That would be the greatest thing.”
- SNIPES & Studio44, Karl-Marx-Str. 97-99, Neukölln, details.