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Much like everything else in the U.S. (and moreover the modern world) while black people may be the target market and demo for commerce, there is an amazing lack of ownership in the products that we consume. The sneaker game, is no different than modern fashion in general in that regard. While there have been plenty of opportunity to become ambassadors and spokespeople, the truth is, true, successful ownership is elusive. For a variety of reasons, there has not been a lot of success when it comes to black owned sneaker brands when you look at sales and longevity. Much of this is probably due to the lack of respect and cool factor that Sneaker Heads and SneakHer Heads bestow upon them. Let’s take a look back at some of the black owned brands that tried to make it in the sneaker game.
Dada Supreme has its origins as an urban wear line that debuted in the mid-90s. The Urban gear boom was on and the brand decided to go into the shoe game and when it did, it brought a decidedly 90’s hip-hop aesthetic with it. From the Dada Spinners, which have been brought back multiple times, and saw time on the court with Latrell Sprewell (who also had an actual line of car rims as well), to the multiple awful iterations of Chris Webber endorsed sneakers, Dada came in with a look. This is probably part of the reason the brand really fell off, though i never personally saw these anywhere other than in DTLR. I think a lot of the reasons this brand failed to translate was because of the design choices.
P. Miller/ No Limit/ Moneyatti
Master P has been the exemplar of everything hip-hop for decades. If there was an EGOT for “Hood excellence” he would have it. Not the first rapper to have a sneaker collaboration, he was one of the first of his era to bring the team up to new heights. His No Limit sneakers by Converse made waves early on. After that ended, Master p took matters into his own hands and decided to partner with Wal-Mart and bring a line of affordable sneakers to the masses. In fact, that is also a common theme that has plagued the black owned sneaker brands. Often the sneaker community takes the idea of scarcity into account when promoting and desiring new shoes. When the sneakers are super accessible, the value drops as does the cultural cool factor. Now, Master P is taking the opposite tack with his new sneaker line, Moneyatti.
The Stephon Marbury story has and will continue be told for years as it is one of the more compelling basketball tales ever. As far as sneakers go, the Starbury line will always be remembered because it was so widely seen (as was his involvement in the AND1 brand). As mentioned before, plenty of black creators believe that there should be a cool and affordable option for kids. Partnering with an even less expensive version of Old Navy with the short lived retailer Steve & Barry’s, the Starbury brand benefited the most from the street cred of Stephon. The first iteration garnered a huge amount of press but the retailers eventual demise derailed the plans for the brand. It was revived recently in China and it is still a low cost option, but that will forever be an issue until we as people get to a point where culturally we don’t respect exclusivity as much.
It could be possible that the Ewing line is the most successful brand that was black owned. Launched in 1989 originally, Patrick Ewing made an affordable sneaker that was also culturally cool. The style isn’t bad although you can see from the more recent relaunch, there is still a huge 90’s aesthetic with the chunkiness of the sneaker. Distribution problems cratered the line in the 90’s but the retro boom of the past decade allowed the New York Knicks Icon to rebirth the brand.
Brandblack is a recent example of success. Founder David Raysse previously designed at Fila and Adidas. In 2012 he founded Brandblack as a fashion brand and has been working ever since, continuing to grow his brand slowly and steadily. Ironically, he also worked with the Big Baller Brand on sneaker design as well. After that project ended, focus came back entirely to Brandblack and they currently sell a variety of silhouettes that are in the sub-luxury, upscale price range.
Currently, there are a few boutique brands that are finding some success in the sneaker game. One of those is SIA collective which offers up weekly new drops that are highly anticipated and sell out regularly. Not to be taken onto the court, SIA has focused on the luxury market, however when compared to the likes of Jordans and Yeezys, their prices aren’t out of line. The company has been getting so many requests that they had to institute a membership system to be able to deliver at the highest quality. The other great thing is that most of their sales are through pre-orders, and while it can be somewhat limiting, most of the people who really want to and are invested in getting a pair of SIA’s can do so.
Chasing the history of Black owned Sneaker brands is hard, and while this was initially going to be a chronicle of the legacy and a timeline, in short, wasn’t the simple task of a google search or two I was expecting. All of this leads me to think that someone needs to truly take the time and chronicle this history and create the table-top book, full non-fiction history and documentary on these brands so they aren’t forever lost to time. It also leads to a question, have things truly changed and is it possible to create black owned brands that can be just as accepted and respected as any of the big majors? Can they successfully thrive as boutique brands? Let me know what you think below.
I would be remiss if i didn’t take a minute to also ask if you could take the time to check out my own Website, Buy Black main Street and support these growing black brands of all types.