With strongholds such as Nike and adidas (and in some markets, Under Armour) maintaining the bulk of the market shares within the athletic footwear industry, independent athletic footwear companies often find little success as a result of overwhelming competitive pressure. Footwear and athletic apparel label BrandBlack tackles this highly competitive market with a focus on athletic performance combined with a unique contemporary design perspective. Helmed by founder and longtime footwear designer for FILA, adidas and Skechers, David Raysse and creative designer Billy Dill, BrandBlack aims to not only establish a presence in the athletic footwear market, but also send a message that there will always be a market for quality product. Recently continuing its campaign with Jamal Crawford of the LA Clippers, the brand provides an early glimpse at the J. Crossover II as numerous models of BrandBlack’s basketball shoes have quickly sold out at their online shop. The Hundreds recently spoke with BrandBlack to gain a better understanding of the operations. Below are excerpts of the interview that can be seen here. Is there a future for independent athletic footwear companies such as BrandBlack in this highly competitive industry?
LUIS: After getting a closer look at what you guys are doing for next year, I’d definitely say you’re competing within a smaller micro-market like Nike’s NSW, rather than directly against the huge global category that is Nike basketball. Either way, the million dollar question by most would be, what motivated you guys to enter a landscape so overwhelmingly occupied by one brand?
BILLY: I’ll let him answer, but from my perspective we want to make really pure product that we are into. If we become a 30 billion company, I’m not mad at it – but that’s not the driving force. We want to maintain a good business where we’re proud of what we’re doing, we wake up excited, it fits within our aesthetic and sensibilities… And then hopefully there are other people that join in. What we’re trying to build right now is more than just marketing a sports company, we’re trying to build a movement, in a sense. We’re connecting with core basketball guys and when you’re knocking on that door and going against those guys – those guys get free product all day – so for them to even take your call or put your shoes on and get ridiculed because they’re not wearing a Nike, that’s tough. There’s a lot of guys that have come out, put the shoes on, realize that they perform and they really like them. People are addressing it, it’s starting to percolate on that sports level.
DAVID: First off, I love basketball. I played high school basketball, college basketball, I design basketball shoes. That is my biggest passion. Beyond anything else, I’m going to do something with basketball. I feel like of all the categories it is the one that requires the most understanding of the culture and is the one that most brands get wrong. They all try to do it and they don’t get it. So I felt like if Nike has 96% of the market place that’s absurd. There’s got to be somebody that wants something different. I know that the other clowns aren’t going to do it right. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do and it’s going to look a little bit like Nike and that’s great. But there’s gotta be room for something different.
So that’s definitely what our thinking was. And to Billy’s point about the movement, Nike is a $30 billion dollar company and they did it exactly how they wanted to do it. They don’t follow other people’s trends – I mean, they do on the bottom stuff, but the big ideas are pure and it’s their thing. I would love to move the entire marketplace to our will in the same way they did. They took the adidas milkshake and they drank it. They took their aesthetic and just bent everybody to their will – I would love to bend people’s wills.
One of the reason we started this is we were thinking Nike is the victim of their own success. They’re so big, so successful – there’s got to be people that just want to wear something different. Not by any fault of theirs, just that they’re too awesome and there’s too much of it out there. At a certain point, there’s got to be somebody that’s like, “I want to wear something different just because my mom, dad, grandpa, cousin, everybody has the same brand on.”
That was one side. Then the other side is that we felt like youth culture is – recently I feel like more than any other era, especially in hip-hop which is what I’m closest to – it’s the first time that they’re totally irreverent and have no respect for the older generations and don’t really care about it and the music has just shifted completely where it’s like, “You know what? Fuck Jay Z, fuck all your albums, don’t really care.” [Laughs] “I’m going to listen to trap music and I don’t really care how awesome you were back then because it’s completely irrelevant nowadays.” And even the aesthetic, though – you get people that are like, “Fuck that, I’m not wearing skinny jeans.” So I felt like these kids are ready for a new brand. I think we can be part of that movement, hopefully. [Laughs]
How long have you been working in footwear design for?
David: I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I started with FILA in the ‘90s when I was in college. I designed the Grant Hill II when I was 22.
I loved that shoe.
David: That was nuts at the time for me because I was very close to the demographic that was buying it, so it was really cool. I remember I’d be on the subway – I lived in Brooklyn at the time – I’d be going on the A Train and there’d be these thug kids. I remember they’d be looking at me like, “Look at this dude.” But they’d have my shoes on. [Laughs] I worked at adidas after that. I was head of basketball. That was good because I learned a lot, because the Grant Hill – even though I love it – is a fucking terrible basketball shoe. It looks really nice, but do not try to play in it!
I learned a lot about making shoes at adidas. I also learned about having any kind of purity beaten out of you. [Laughs] They are a marketing company, so it’s tough to get through that. I think anybody that’s worked in an industry has that part beaten out of you on some levels because that’s sort of what marketing does. Marketing identifies something that works and then no matter what pure idea you have, they’ll say, “Well take this idea and supplement it on top of whatever pure thing you have.” The sad part is that it works, that’s why there is one. So it’s tough to rinse that off.
It took awhile. I got to work with Philippe Starck and that was his criticism of me many times. [Surprisingly good French accent] “Fuck this marketing bullshit, you have to get away from it.”
And I wasn’t really able to understand what he was really talking about – it took awhile. It took a long time to grasp that because it’s really beaten in to you. US culture is all about that, too: Whatever works, works, so do it. If anything comes of this brand, I think just being able to have pure ideas again is really refreshing.
BrandBlack introduces the Jet Mid into its stable of 2015 premium lifestyle designs
DESIGNING WITHOUT ALL THE MARKETING
Why do you feel marketing impedes when it comes to pure design?
DAVID: I think that at it’s core, what marketing does is identify. Let’s say they say, “Okay, right now. Neon’s really working and kids like something trendy.” So you’ll come up and be like, “I want to come up and do a shoe that’s all white, doesn’t have any crap on it, and is really pure.” They’d say, “That’s great. However, if you stuck neon on the front of it, it would sell better.” So all of a sudden, if your idea was all about taking things away – which probably could have been successful had it been channeled in the right way – it ends up veering off in a way that isn’t that idea anymore.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not anti-marketing, I just wish that marketing was more nuanced sometimes and they would identify what they have in front of them and do it the way that it should be done. If you look at when Apple was blowing shit up and killing it, it’s because they were saying, “Great, everybody’s doing this. So we’re going to do this and we’re going to do it well, it’s going to be focused and marketed and targeted and we’re going to look at our consumer with what it is. But we’re going to do it a way that’s specific to that idea.” And I feel most brands don’t do that – most companies don’t do that.
There’s no longevity.
David: There’s no longevity. That’s another one, too, I feel like there’s so many brands that have one idea, they fall in love with it, and then that’s it. They don’t want to do something new. And maybe that’s because they’ve become a victim of their own success?
Billy: That’s why Nike’s so good. Nike’s playing chess, everybody else is playing checkers. Nike’s light years ahead in terms of their strategies and thinking. They’re not a one-trick-pony, they’re always trying to push it. The smaller guys have difficulty because they don’t have a staff or everybody’s wearing a bunch of different hats or whatever it is, but you get locked into that idea and that’s all you see. Then when it’s gone, you’re the guy chasing the dragon. Now you’re the guy that’s chasing after everybody else. Then you’re the guy who looks like another bad B-version of that.