From South Central With Love: The Story Behind Bricks & Wood’s New Balance 57/40 Collaboration

The LA brand’s first footwear collaboration is about process — and people — just as much as product.

Footwear 
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What are the elements of a good brand name? It should be sturdy in its sound, honest in its message and foundational to whatever it’s attempting to build. In the case of Bricks & Wood, founded in 2014 by South Central Los Angeles native Kacey Lynch, the moniker hits all three of these touchpoints. The name is by design: bricks and wood are often the backbones of homes, and if Lynch’s brand is his metaphorical “house,” he’s adding a whole new wing via his first footwear collaboration with New Balance: an elegant take on the 57/40.

Lynch was born, raised and still resides in South Central Los Angeles. Though the area boasts a rich footwear history, it’s not often associated with New Balance, a brand whose strongest roots in the US are located in New York, Boston and the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia).

But when it’s mentioned on a video call with Lynch that the media often focuses on the 3 C’s (Nike’s Cortez, Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Star and chancletas) when it comes to Los Angeles, he nods his head in agreement, and recalls his first pair of New Balance — a pink, women’s 993 “Breast Cancer Awareness” release that he found “for a steal” at the discount store Ross — before diving into how he’s seen footwear culture in Los Angeles shift.

“For us LA natives, it’s mostly about two things: low tops, or styles that look good with cropped pants and shorts,” he says. “Those three Cs you mentioned will always be a strong part of our footwear culture, but LA is also very receptive to different styles and I’ve seen a lot more New Balances out here as of late. People want to grow, and we’re open to adapting to whoever’s making the dopest product.”

“At Bricks & Wood, we don’t like to take the easy route. We love the challenge, and nine times out of 10 the test posed by the process is just as fulfilling as the result.”

And if you’re discussing the “dopest product” in 2021, you can’t get far without thinking of New Balance. After conquering 2020 via collaborations with the likes of Salehe Bembury, Aimé Leon Dore, Joe Freshgoods and more, plus new silhouettes like the 327 and a carefully-positioned bringback of the Steve Jobs-approved 992, the century-old footwear brand has kept its foot on the gas in the first half of 2021. Now, it’s Lynch’s turn to keep the hot streak going, and as the first person to collaborate on the 574-inspired 57/40, he relished diving into the design process. “At Bricks & Wood, we don’t like to take the easy route,” he says. “We love the challenge, and nine times out of 10 the test posed by the process is just as fulfilling as the result.”

Before even the process, however, must come the introduction. Lynch was brought into the world of New Balance in an innocuous enough fashion: a mutual friend connected him with Joe Grondin, the brand’s Senior Manager of Global Communications and Energy, in 2017.

Grondin, — who was praised by Lynch’s fellow NB collaborator Salehe Bembury as “someone who displayed a valuable quality that I’ve only seen in Kanye [West]: the ability to build a team as if he was the conductor of a symphony” — is a kingmaker in the world of collaborative footwear. Yet Lynch, displaying the amiable nature that his brand is built on, saw him as a friend first and foremost. “I don’t let brand narratives or a person’s attachment to a company dictate my relationship with you or determine how I treat you, I just treat you for who you are and how you serve your energy,” he explains. “I knew the opportunity to collaborate with New Balance would come around when the time was right.”

In the following years, Grondin and Lynch kept in touch. Lynch would occasionally send Grondin pieces from the collections he was working on, and would contact him for opinions. It was one of these conversations that led to the collaborative process starting in earnest. “I asked Joe about something I was considering working on, and, honest as always, he was like ‘why are you doing this’,” chuckles Lynch. “He said he’d been wanting to get me in the fold with New Balance and was like ‘I’m going to talk to my boss tomorrow’. The very next day, there we were starting work on the collaboration.”

Once things were officially underway, Lynch was faced with the choice many a sneakerhead dreams of: which silhouette he wanted to make his own. “I was given two options: the 57/40 and the 550,” said Lynch. “To be honest, the 550 is the kind of silhouette I’d generally wear, and at the time was a bit more my style than the 57/40. However, I was also told that Aimé Leon Dore would be launching the shoe and would be making a bunch of colors.”

Then came one of the pivotal points in Bricks & Wood’s first footwear collaboration. Initially, Lynch may have been more comfortable with a retro basketball shoe than a hybrid runner, but he saw his choice in a different light: namely, that he’d have a better opportunity to build something truly unexampled if he chose the 57/40.

“I knew I’d have a lot of leverage as the first collaborator on the 57/40. There were a lot of narratives that spoke to the challenge of how I like to run Bricks & Wood — like I had mentioned to you earlier, I don’t like to take the easy route.”

“I thought to myself, ‘you know what, it’s already pretty much set in stone that [the 550] is going to be the ALD shoe’,” said Lynch with a smile. “I wanted to try something different and knew that I’d have a lot of leverage as the first collaborator on the 57/40. There were a lot of narratives that spoke to the challenge of how I like to run Bricks & Wood — like I had mentioned to you earlier, I don’t like to take the easy route.”

With the silhouette set, Lynch got to work on colorblocking and material choices. On first glance, the Bricks & Wood x New Balance 57/40 is a classic running-inspired lifestyle sneaker, with a rich, welcoming green suede and mesh upper that’s split by a gray N logo, perched atop a thick foam midsole with cream and white shades and completed by a sweet strawberry-hued rubber outsole. However, behind this bold colorblocking and premium material sits the shoe’s hidden story.

“I wasn’t going to run away from the places, people and things that make South Central Los Angeles what it is, the good, the bad and the ugly. I wanted to tell a true story and not sugarcoat it.”

“The color palette is from the Liquor Bank, a very prominent South Central liquor store that’s no longer around,” Lynch tells us. “To be honest, the Liquor Bank always had a pretty negative connotation, but when I was designing I wanted to bring some of my neighborhood’s history to the forefront, especially because I felt like I was introducing New Balance to my neighborhood and my neighborhood to New Balance.” He continued: “I wasn’t going to run away from the places, people and things that make South Central Los Angeles what it is, the good, the bad and the ugly. I wanted to tell a true story and not sugarcoat it, to show this neighborhood ‘landmark’ in a different way.”

To showcase the vibrant culture ensconced within the gritty shell of his South Central neighborhood, Lynch translated the colors of the Liquor Bank’s facade directly onto the Bricks & Wood x New Balance 57/40. “The Liquor Bank’s walls were made of red brick, and the top was predominantly green wood, hence the colorblocking,” he says. “That pastel yellow shade on the midsole was the same as the store’s signage as well.” Lynch was well aware of the serendipity between the store’s construction and his brand name too. “Yeah, I could go on all day,” he laughs when I point out that the store’s materials seem to provide a fitting inspiration.

The collaboration’s detailing extends beyond the shoe itself, as the box features a custom paisley pattern that works Bricks & Wood-centric details in. If you look closely, you’ll see illustrations of bricks, Lynch’s favorite plants and a rose, the last of which pays homage to a friend of his that passed away in 2020. It’s also accompanied by a six-minute short film dubbed Jungle to Jungle, conceptualized by Lynch and directed by Curtis Taylor Jr. that splits between live action and claymation, encapsulating Lynch’s personal growth as a creative and the “brick by brick” ethos his brand is built around.

Much like his inaugural sneaker does, Jungle to Jungle serves as a full circle moment for Lynch, who expressed disbelief that the brand’s fans stood outside Hollywood’s Fine Arts Theater for over two hours to watch it. “That kind of loyalty makes our work so fulfilling, and makes me really excited about our process and the community we’ve built,” he notes. “I haven’t even done any official pop up events in my own city — tomorrow [when the 57/40 collaboration officially releases] will be my first one.”

As our conversation winds down, I ask Lynch what the biggest lesson he learned from the collaboration is. “That anything is possible, and that — not to sound cliche — any idea can be a good one as long as it’s part of the right package,” he says. “We’re going to keep on building.”

The Bricks & Wood x New Balance 57/40 will be released via an exclusive pop-up in LA on May 27 and then hit the Bricks & Wood online shop May 28. A global release will go down on the New Balance webstore June 4. The shoe’s MSRP is set at $150 USD.

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