Sole Mates: League of Their Own and Their Art Sneakers
The art collective canvases the intersection of art and sneakers, spotlighting KAWS, Murakami, Arsham, and Parra.
Sole Mates is a weekly HYPEBEAST series that asks one simple question of its participants: “why do you love shoes?” Searching for a deeper meaning beyond hype, Sole Mates uncovers each subject’s sneaker origin story, letting them wax poetic on why a particular shoe means so much to them.
The New York City and Washington-based lifestyle and art collective League of Their Own loves sneakers just as much as art. For many of them, art was a natural transition from footwear — both are collectible, coveted, and playful expressions of character as much as they are, today, a serious investor’s game.
League OTO, which comprises four members named Gambriel, Jason, Jay, and Sauce, all come from humble beginnings. They didn’t grow up with the latest-and-greatest sneakers, nor did they have access to stores selling the kind of shoes they own now. Instead, the League OTO members recall having to travel to other states for things they wanted, some were sale rack aficionados, while others had a slightly easier time by working hard on their parents.
As adults, the collective’s love for sneakers only grew stronger. They grew up during a time of Air Jordan and
Throughout the years, sneakers have become art objects within their own rights: grails to most, collectibles to others. League OTO has transitioned and sees a symbiotic relationship between sneakers and art, which is at least somewhat due to the various collaborations mentioned in this latest issue of Sole Mates.
Read on to find out how League OTO developed their love for sneakers and why the KAWS x Air Jordan 4 Retro, Takashi Murakami x Vans Vault collaboration, Parra x Nike Dunk SB Low and, for something left-field, the Daniel Arsham Snarkitecture Air Jordan 1 Cast, are the near and dear to the collective’s hearts.
Gambriel: KAWS x Air Jordan 4 Retro
What got you into sneakers?
I’ve been into sneakers for as long as I can remember. They were my way of standing out amongst the crowd. My first pair of Jordan’s were the Black Metallic 5s and I’ve never stopped since then.
I’m from DC so growing up we didn’t have the access to exclusive shoes that other big cities had, so I had to travel to New York and other places a lot to acquire everything I wanted when I was younger. Everything changed in 2006 — our first big shoe boutique opened here called Major DC. Dukki the owner is like a big brother to me, [he] took me under his wing. It’s still DC’s best spot to get the most coveted sneakers.
It is crazy to see how sneaker culture has changed over time from being such a niche community of us to how it is now, where most people consider themselves a sneakerhead.
Why did you pick the KAWS x Air Jordan 4?
I picked the KAWS x Air Jordan 4 because it was the perfect union to me of things I love which are shoes and art. The 4 model is my favorite Jordan silhouette in general, and KAWS just nailed it on these from the design to the material to the colorways — especially the “Gray” ones. I’m not sure if he could have put together a better shoe than this.
What did this collaboration do for the sneaker world?
I think while there have been plenty of collaborations between shoe companies and artists beforehand, there had never been a collaboration between the two arguably biggest entities in their respective fields — pop-culture wise. Michael Jordan being for sneakers and KAWS being for the art world. A few of us even flew to China for the release of these in 2017. If I had to say what is the ultimate grail shoe for our collective, it would be this one.
What makes KAWS’ work stand out for you, both in terms of his art and this collaboration?
KAWS’ work is just inviting to the eye. It has child-like qualities but yet it’s very refined and mature. He really is the best of both worlds where young and old can appreciate. I also think he was one of the first artists to get “it” — he makes art price points for everyone, most people may not be able to afford a $100,000 USD painting but you can afford a $350 USD sculpture.
If there were no KAWS there’d be no League OTO. We started our collective at one of his exhibitions so KAWS will always have a special place in our hearts.
Jay: Takashi Murakami x Vans Vault
What got you into sneakers?
Getting a nice pair of kicks wasn’t easy during my early teenage years due to my parents being strict when it came to materialistic things. During high school, they finally loosened up and I got my first pair of Jordans and the addiction began.
Murakami’s art is bold. Vans are simple. What are your thoughts on this comparison and subsequently this collaboration?
It’s the best of both worlds in my opinion. Vans is a classic skateboarding shoe in which I see as a blank canvas. Any artist like Takashi can make a great impact by adding their signature style, which worked out perfectly in this collaboration.
Of all of Vans’ collaborations, what makes this one your favorite?
I always loved Takashi’s work since the early 2000s and the collab dropped the same year my daughter was born. I made it a goal to get my pair and her pair signed for the collection.
Murakami plastered his signature onto these shoes. Is that a good approach for sneaker collaboration, or would you like something different?
It’s always a good approach for certain artists, especially since it’s so cohesive and Takashi’s so creative that everything just works.
Jason: Daniel Arsham, Snarkitecture Air Jordan 1 Cast
What got you into sneakers?
I share the same story as a lot of others out there. Growing up, my family couldn’t afford to buy the popular sneakers, instead, my brother and I got the more affordable models found on sale racks or outlets. I told myself that when I made my own money, I’d buy whatever sneakers I want. After college, I began to make a decent income and started seeking out pairs from my childhood. I really started to build up a collection when I moved to New York where there was an abundance of options, influence, and inspiration.
Daniel Arsham’s Jordan Casts aren’t a shoe you can wear. Why did you choose this?
I decided to go in a different direction and give some love to art forms in my collection that blur the lines between art, design, and fashion. Arsham’s trademark Artifact of the Future treatment on the Jordan 1 couldn’t be more perfect in my opinion. This silhouette is universally revered and is as relevant today as it was when it was first released 35 years ago.
I love that the sculpture carries the viewer to a fictional future when we’re all gone from this Earth, but what remains is this timeless silhouette as an important marker of our culture.
These Jordan sculptures were interior design elements that adorned the ceilings at the original NYC KITH store on Broadway. Never made for sale, few were distributed to friends and family of the retailer. I’ve been fortunate to add over a half dozen of these pieces to my collection over the years.
How does Arsham and his work explore the symbiotic relationship between footwear and art?
I think his work strikes a balance between art and popular culture so well that it challenges our perception of these worlds. His shoe collaborations are no exception. Arsham seems to translate his creative vision through the entire project — from the shoe design, to the packaging, promotion, and activation. The result feels like a cohesive artistic expression that more closely resembles art than a typical sneaker release.
What do you think of Arsham’s sneakers that you can wear?
I own his adidas collaborations and the execution of the shoes down to the drawstring tape packaging is superb. It was cool to see the full overarching shoe story arch of Past, Present, Future play out with each release. Of this set, the FUTURECRAFT 4D “Aero Green” model is the rarest of the bunch, and it’s my absolute favorite to admire and wear.
Sauce: Parra x Nike SB Dunk Low White
What got you into sneakers?
I got into sneakers when I was young. It was always a friendly way to compete with my friends and gave us a reason to hang out.
SB is having its year. What do you make of this?
For me, I think simple, basic, and classic designs will always have its place in every generation of style. Plus, it helps that a lot of famous influential people have embraced the style.
The Parra SB is a relatively simple shoe. Why does the Parra SB stand out for you?
Besides me loving the artist’s art I also love the colors. I’m a sucker for certain shades of pink. It’s a warm and happy color that brings me joy. Another thing is I love the simple design. Simple, beautiful things always draw my attention.
Do you think the Parra SB is indicative of what an SB shoe should be?
Personally, I think all SB and AF1s should be simple. In my mind, you should never overdo a classic. For me, it’s like people who put their art in very colorful or busy frames.