Marcus Stroman from the Cubs is building SHUGO into more than just a shoe brand
When Marcus Stroman takes the mound for the Cubs, note his varied deliveries to disrupt batsman timing and the energy he exudes as he constantly moves.
Then look at his studs and examine them a little more closely. They could come in a range of colors – white, grey, tan, teal, royal blue – but note the logo on the shoe’s tongue, a circle with a horizontal line in the middle.
Soon it won’t just be found on Stroman’s shoes and gear.
“I really want to make it the next boutique luxury brand for athletes on and off the field,” Stroman said of SHUGO, which started out as his own cleat brand. “So on the pitch you get luxury leathers, luxury materials on your cleats, on your sneakers. And off the pitch you also get high-end streetwear, high-end clothing, cut-to-sew pieces, clothing that rivals any high-end brand out there.”
This is Stroman, a man with big ideas on and off the pitch. But he has also shown a knack for turning visions into reality.
SHUGO was originally a cleat designed and worn only for Stroman. But this year SHUGO is scheduled to be released for the first time. The exact date has not yet been determined, but will probably be in the autumn.
Athletes are constantly collaborating with established brands to create their own signature shoes, but starting a shoe and company from scratch is much rarer. Big Baller Brand is the most notable recent example, and its tumultuous history includes NBA guards Lonzo and LaMelo Ball leaving the family business.
Baseball doesn’t have the same impact on the footwear industry as basketball. Active MLB players wearing signature shoes include Mike Trout (Nike), Bryce Harper (Under Armour) and Francisco Lindor (New Balance).
“There aren’t many other shoes out there that are signature baseball,” said Erik Hernandez, designer at Studio Noyes, which works with both SHUGO and more established brands. “So for Marcus, disrupting what’s going on with the typical main three players at Nike by making his own is an important thing, let alone offering the opportunity to make other players of his same level SHUGO in the future . Adidas and Under Armour.”
If there was one athlete born to cause such a stir, it was Stroman, a pitcher often said to have been underestimated throughout his baseball career because of his size.
“Anything I do off the field, I’m usually passionate about,” Stroman said. “It’s not like I’m trying to make it a global business. I just want to spread the word and pursue a passion that I love, whether it’s clothing, whether it’s the message of being too small, or breaking barriers. I’m just trying to integrate everything that built me as a person.”
Stroman has already built a clothing company from the ground up.
HDMH originated from a proverb – height does not measure heart – that the 5-7 Stroman had used during college.
Then, a decade ago, Stroman wanted to trademark the phrase. He set up a website.
“It was kind of a deal where he and his buddies would walk into a t-shirt printing shop and be like, ‘Hey man, here’s my slogan. i need a logo Let’s print some t-shirts,'” said HDMH operations manager Adam Abdat, who is also Stroman’s brother-in-law. “And literally his logo was just an HDMH [block] Text with a heart-shaped tape measure around the HDMH.”
A few years later, Stroman asked his mother and sister to help him set up the business, and Abdat joined them.
“We were all involved in printing labels, packing boxes and all that stuff – and running to the post office,” said Abdat. “In the beginning there were really all hands on deck.”
For Abdat, it’s a wild throwback to that time. They now have staff for that. But the company has remained a family business, something Stroman looks back on with pride.
The brand is now collaborating with Stroman’s eponymous foundation. And they’re branching out into new areas, including uniforms for teams ranging from the Cape Cod League to the Little League.
“It’s good to be at a company that has someone at the helm who keeps breaking barriers, without boundaries,” said Abdat. “If it makes sense, then we’ll do it. If I have unique ideas, let’s try it, let’s see how it works, let’s get some samples, let’s do some testing.”
Thus began their unified enterprise. Abdat proposed the idea and estimates they have now worked with over 60 teams.
However, the brand clearly means more than just clothing to its most devoted fans.
One of Stroman’s teammates, rookie reliever Ethan Roberts, has had the HDMH logo tattooed on his arm since 2018, years before they met in spring training this year.
“I followed him forever,” Roberts said this spring. “He gives me hints and tips and tricks and this and that. We talk almost every day. I mean, heck, he gave me some studs. How cool is that?”
Stroman envisions HDMH and SHUGO coexisting and filling different niches.
“Their identities are very, very different,” Stroman said.
HDMH is a motivational brand. SHUGO moves in the luxury sector.
“I’m always working on it,” Stroman said, “whether it’s the next wave of fashion that we’re coming out with, designs, what kind of color combinations we’re trying to launch for fall.” I’m very resonant with it and I love it. I am creative at heart.”
When Studio Noyes first met Stroman, Hernandez was struck by just how ambitious Stroman’s vision was.
“It was really interesting to hear Marcus talk about it because it wasn’t just ‘I want my own shoe.’ He wanted it all for himself,” Hernandez said. “In the end he wanted to do something better that would work well for him.”
The SHUGO story begins with Stroman’s split from Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike. According to Stroman, Jordan told him he couldn’t keep their partnership and have his own clothing company.
“So I just cold-heartedly left them,” Stroman said, “and that day I started working full-on on SHUGO and HDMH.”
Nike did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But in January 2018, shortly after Stroman announced the end of his partnership with Jordan on Twitter, a Jordan spokesman told the Toronto Star, “Although Marcus was a member of the Jordan Brand family, he was not signed. Additionally, we do not disclose specific contract terms with Jordan brand athletes.”
When designing his own cleats, Stroman relied heavily on advice he had heard from doctors and trainers he worked with during his 2015 rehab following surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament. (Always a multi-factorist, Stroman returned to Duke while he was in rehab to finish his degree.)
“I designed it for my ACL from a technical point of view,” Stroman said. “So the cleats are great. They are primarily designed for your body. And after that it’s aesthetic.”
Stroman took a SHUGO cleat and bent it in the middle to show its flexibility, more like a running shoe than a typical cleat. Developing the shoe for an individual gave Stroman and Studio Noyes the freedom to break with the mold.
After a hands-on testing process, the shoes were ready to debut a few years after that first meeting in late 2018, a period hit by the pandemic.
“I knew it would work,” Stroman said. “But definitely a bit nerve-wracking when you’re out there wearing your own cleat for the first time.”
Now SHUGO is said to have a third model by 2023.
“I’m excited to see where this went,” Stroman said. “Because these are all my ideas that just poured into it. I put all my own time and money into it. I haven’t taken on any investors or anything yet. So I’m curious where it grew from.”
The SHUGO name draws from a range of inspirations befitting the brand of an athlete with so many different projects and interests – fashion, wine, podcasting, writing a children’s book.
SHUGO is a pun for sauce in Italian and protector/guardian in Japanese. It is also the name of Stroman’s dog.
“It’s just a word I loved,” he said, “the way it sounded, the way it flowed, the way it looked. And just got trademarked when I fell in love with the word.”
The first SHUGO launch this year begins with limited editions of the cleated model Stroman wore in three colorways last year.
“This is going to be a high-end model,” said Samantha Noyes, owner of Studio Noyes, “a little more exclusive just to get you started.”
At the same time, they plan to release a lifestyle trainer with similar color stories and a clothing line. In the spring, SHUGO expects to make a mass-market version of the cleats available.
By next year, Stroman hopes to enroll five to seven major and minor league baseball players and make them SHUGO athletes.
After that, who’s to say? When Stroman says he’s constantly working on SHUGO, he’s not exaggerating. Studio Noyes’ group chat can always light up with an inspirational photo of Stroman.
As Abdat said, Stroman is not one to set boundaries.
“I’ve always been someone trying to maximize their life,” Stroman said. “I just want to do everything while I’m here. I don’t take a day for granted. And I really want to pursue all my passions and interests. And I feel like I have the energy to do anything.”
The next time Stroman enters the hill, take a look at his studs. Because they are not just a fashion statement or a tool. You are part of a larger vision.
“I really feel like I can build a lot of things creatively,” Stroman said, “that can take off in this world.”
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