When Marcus Stroman takes the mound for the Cubs, notice his varied deliveries to disrupt batting timing and the energy he exudes as he constantly moves.
Then look at his cleats and examine them a little closer. They could be a range of colors – white, grey, tan, teal, royal – but notice the logo on the tongue of the shoe, a circle with a horizontal line down the center.
Soon it won’t just be about Stroman’s cleats and gear.
“I really want to make this the next luxury brand for athletes on and off the court,” Stroman said of SHUGO, which started out as its own brand of cleats. “So on the court you get luxury leather, luxury materials on your cleats, on your sneakers. And then off the court you also get high-end streetwear, high-end apparel, pieces cut to sew, garments that will rival any high end brand.
He’s Stroman, a man with big ideas on and off the pitch. But he also showed a knack for turning vision into reality.
SHUGO was originally a cleat designed and worn only by Stroman. But this year, SHUGO is set for its first public release. Although the exact date has yet to be determined, it will likely be this fall.
Athletes partner with established brands to create their own designer shoes all the time, but building a shoe and business from scratch is much rarer. Big Baller Brand is the most notable recent example, and its tumultuous history sadly includes NBA guards Lonzo and LaMelo Ball leaving the family business.
Baseball doesn’t have the same hold on the shoe industry as basketball. Active MLB players with signature shoes include Mike Trout (Nike), Bryce Harper (Under Armour), and Francisco Lindor (New Balance).
“There aren’t many other shoes that are iconic to baseball,” said Erik Hernandez, designer at Studio Noyes, who works with SHUGO as well as more established brands. “So for Marcus to do his own, let alone provide the opportunity for other players at his same level to be part of SHUGO in the future, is a major thing to disrupt what’s happening with the three key players typical of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.
If there was one athlete built to make that kind of splash, it was Stroman, a pitcher who is often said to have been underestimated throughout his baseball career because of his size.
“Anything I do off the pitch is usually something I do with passion,” Stroman said. “It’s not like I’m trying to make it a global company. I just want to get the word out and pursue a passion that I love, whether it’s clothes, whether it’s getting the message out about being undersized, breaking down barriers. I just try to incorporate everything that built me as a person.
Stroman once built a clothing business from scratch.
HDMH was born out of a saying – height does not measure heart – that 5-7 Stroman used in college.
Then, ten years ago, Stroman wanted to trademark the phrase. He set up a website.
“It was a type of deal where he and his buddies walked into a T-shirt printing shop and were like, ‘Hey, man, here’s my catchphrase. I need a logo. Let’s print T-shirts,” said HDMH COO Adam Abdat, who is also Stroman’s brother-in-law. “And literally his logo was just an HDMH. [block] text with a measuring tape in the shape of a heart around the HDMH.
A few years later, Stroman asked his mother and sister to help him grow the business, and Abdat joined them.
“We were all involved in label printing, box packing, all that stuff – running to the post office,” Abdat said. “It was really everyone on deck at the start.”
For Abdat, it’s crazy to look back on this period. They have employees for all that now. But the business remained family-owned, which Stroman speaks with pride.
The brand now works with the Stroman Foundation of the same name. And they’re branching out into new spaces, including uniforms for teams ranging from the Cape Cod League to the Little League.
“It’s nice to be in a company that has someone at the top who never stops wanting to break down barriers, without limits,” Abdat said. “If it makes sense, then let’s do it. If I have unique ideas, let’s try, see how it works, take samples, test.
This is how their uniform adventure began. Abdat pitched the idea, and now he estimates they’ve worked with over 60 teams.
The brand, however, clearly means more to its most loyal fans than just clothing.
A teammate of Stroman, 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’ve been following it forever,” Roberts said this spring. “He gives me advice, tips and tricks and this and that. We talk almost every day. I mean, heck, he gave me cleats. Like, how cool is that?
Stroman envisions HDMH and SHUGO coexisting, filling different niches.
“The identity of them is very, very different,” Stroman said.
HDMH is a motivational brand. SHUGO resides in the sphere of luxury.
“I’m still working on that,” Stroman said, “whether it’s the next wave of clothes we’re dropping, the designs, what kind of colorways we’re trying to launch for fall. I’m very in tune with that. , and I love it. I’m creative at heart.
When Studio Noyes first met Stroman, Hernandez was struck by Stroman’s ambitious vision.
“It was really interesting to hear Marcus talk about it, because it wasn’t just, ‘I want my own shoe.’ He wanted everything for him,” Hernandez said. “At the end of the day, he wanted to do something better that worked well for him.”
SHUGO’s story begins with Stroman’s split from Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike. According to Stroman, Jordan told him he couldn’t maintain their partnership and have his own clothing business.
“So I left them heartless,” Stroman said, “and that day I started working on SHUGO and HDMH fully.”
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 spokesperson told the Toronto Star, “While Marcus was a member of the Jordan Brand family, he never was not under contract. Beyond that, we do not disclose the specific terms of agreements with Jordan Brand athletes.
In developing his own cleats, Stroman leaned heavily on advice he heard from doctors and trainers he worked with while rehabilitating following surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament in 2015. (Still balancing several efforts, Stroman returned to Duke during his rehabilitation to complete his degree.)
“I designed it technically for my ACL,” Stroman said. “So the cleats are great. They are designed first and foremost for your body. And then it’s aesthetic after that.
Stroman took a SHUGO cleat and bent it in the middle to show off its flexibility, more like a running shoe than a typical cleat. Developing the shoe for an individual first gave Stroman and Studio Noyes the freedom to break the mould.
After a hands-on testing process, the cleats were ready to debut a few years after that first meeting in late 2018, a timeline affected by the pandemic.
“I knew it was going to work,” Stroman said. “But definitely a bit annoying to wear your own model of cleats for the first time.”
Now SHUGO is expected to be on a third model by 2023.
“I’m excited where this went,” Stroman said. “Because it’s all my ideas kind of thrown into it. I invested all my time and money in it. I haven’t taken any investors or anything yet. So I’m excited where he grew up.
The SHUGO name draws from a range of inspirations, fitting the brand of an athlete with so many disparate projects and interests – fashion, wine, podcasting, writing a children’s book.
SHUGO is a play on words for sauce in Italian and protector/guardian in Japanese. It is also the name of Stroman’s dog.
“It’s just a word that I liked,” he said, “how it sounded, how it flowed, how it sounded. And I just had a mark when I fell in love with the word.
SHUGO’s initial launch this year will begin with limited editions of the cleat model Stroman wore last year in three colorways.
“It’s going to be a high-end model,” said Samantha Noyes, owner of Studio Noyes, “a bit more exclusive just to kick things off.”
At the same time, they plan to release a lifestyle trainer with similar color stories and a clothing line. In the spring, SHUGO plans to offer a consumer version of the wedges.
By next year, Stroman hopes to bring five to seven baseball players, spanning the major and minor leagues, into the fold, making them SHUGO athletes.
After that, who says? When Stroman says he’s constantly working on SHUGO, he’s not exaggerating. At any time, the Studio Noyes band chat can light up with an inspirational photo of Stroman.
As Abdat said, Stroman is not one to set boundaries.
“I’ve always been someone who tries to maximize it in life,” Stroman said. “I just want to do everything while I’m here. I don’t take any day for granted. And I really want to fully pursue all my passions and interests. And I feel like I have the energy to do it all.
Next time Stroman takes the mound, take a look at his cleats. Because they’re not just a fashion statement or a tool of the trade. They are part of a larger vision.
“I really feel like I can creatively build a lot of things,” Stroman said, “that can take off in this world.”