With the release of the Converse x Reigning Champ sneaker right around the corner, we took the opportunity to speak with the creatives from both sides of the table, to find out first hand how this collaboration came to fruition.
The small and subtle details generally go unnoticed, but in the case of Converse and Reigning Champ, those exact details are the reasons why they have garnered praise from both of their respective industries. Although each brand is separated by more than a few decades, their thinking and belief are one and the same.
For Converse, their humble beginnings date back more than 100 years. To a time when the sport of basketball was still in its infancy, and a player by the name of Chuck Taylor, whom not only loved the sport, also loved the shoe that we all know today as the "Chuck Taylor All Star." For Converse, their timeless style has enabled them to create a product that has successfully reinvented itself time and time again. Fittingly enough, Reigning Champs' DNA is very similar. Through their choice of quality fabrics and penchant eye for detail, the young brand [only five years old] has managed to build a strong product offering, based on their purposely understated design and craftsmanship.
In an effort to mark the forthcoming release of the Chuck Taylor All Star collaboration, we spoke with the creative minds behind this project, Matt Sleep and Kenta Goto, from Converse and Reigning Champ respectively, for more insight behind the project.
Words & Interview by Michael Bercasio
Photography by Greg Washington
Converse has been producing some high-level collaborations for quite some time now. But with the introduction of the Converse First String line, we have seen more highly sought-after products since it first came out, a little over two years ago. What sparked the idea to develop First String?
Matt There was an interest in creating a platform that celebrates craftsmanship and amazing product with occasional collaborations with inspiring people in art, design, music, culture etc. It's not a new concept by any means, but one that is truly fitting for Converse.
With such a deep history, Converse is one of today's iconic footwear brands. How does Converse determine what brands to collaborate with?
Matt As you mention, Converse is super iconic. It became such an icon because so many different groups and cultures, over time, have adopted the brand and used it as a way to express their own creativity. That said, we are fortunate to have a wide range of the most innovative and creative people on the planet who want to collaborate with us. Additionally, we are constantly inspired by art, design, music, fashion and culture of all types and are always open to partnering with people who inspire us whether they are known or unknown.
"Converse became such an icon because so many different groups and cultures, over time, have adopted the brand and used it as a way to express their own creativity." MATT SLEEP
In a nutshell, how did the initial idea to collaborate with Converse happen?
Kenta The conversation about a collaboration between Converse and Reigning Champ was initially sparked by our good friend Ian [Ginoza], who at the time, was heading special projects for Converse First String.
The Converse brand is not only historical, but is simple and timeless. While Reigning Champ, similarly, is less about graphics and is more about its quality of fabrics; why did this collaboration make sense for you guys?
Kenta [To work with Converse made sense] exactly for those reasons. Coming from opposite coasts of the continent we are very similar and like-minded in brand concept and product.
Matt [It was about] mutual respect, quite honestly. Additionally, through Converse First String, it is our intention to always create product that champions quality, craftsmanship and design with a focus on great materials. Reigning Champ & CYC [Ed. Note: CYC is the parent company of Reigning Champ and Wings & Horn] were a natural fit.
There are a number of silhouettes that Converse has in the archives, you guys honed in on the classic low cut, what was the reason behind it?
Matt The Chuck Taylor All Star is a great American classic. The guys at Reigning Champ are big fans of the shoe and the timeless nature of their materials just seemed like a great fit.
Kenta We didn't want to take this working opportunity lightly and picked the most iconic silhouette, which is the Chuck Taylor All Star. Quite often, we take influence and inspiration from vintage sportswear, we also wanted to use the vintage Chuck Taylor All Star and add to the details to make it our own. [And because it's] a summer release we went with the low cut version.
And you guys made two colourways to choose from [Navy and Grey] and I must admit, both of you nailed it. The end product seamlessly represents both brands...
Kenta The fine details give the shoe much of the Reigning Champ character but still keeps a simple aesthetic which stays true to both brands. The eyelets are matte black to match the black hardware found on Reigning Champ garments. The interior is lined with an oxford fabric. Laces come in natural and in matching colors to the uppers. The outsole is kept in the original Chuck Taylor gum rubber. The double branded label is printed on natural, edge stitched down on the tongue.
What were some of the other design iterations that you guys looked at, but didn't end up doing?
Matt Honestly, there's no [other] answer here. There was never any question about going with the Chuck [Taylor model]. [By doing so] we decided to combine two of the most iconic elements of both brands. How can you go wrong?
Matt, how important was it to maintain the Canadian angle, all the while keeping the Converse identity in check.
Matt We obviously celebrate the fact we're an American company, but Converse is a diverse brand with roots in culture from around the world. Reigning Champ and CYC are great contemporary Canadian companies and have natural ties to Converse though their vintage inspired fabrics that pay homage to the same era in sportswear as when the Chuck Taylor All Star was born, so it all made perfect sense.
Talking specifically about the choice of materials, can you describe the angle behind the design?
Kenta Reigning Champ takes pride in the brand being Canadian and their garments being produced in Canada. Globally, Canada is being recognized for having great quality product and we do our best to reinforce that. With that [in mind], we wanted to use our signature heavyweight fabric known for its rugged, dense and unique characteristics.
Speaking of which, the choice of fabrics was a beautiful touch...
Kenta We went with our signature heavyweight terry fabric and [used] an oxford fabric for the interior. The whole concept was based around using our signature heavyweight fabric that Reigning Champ is well known for, [but this time] on a sneaker. We love the way this fabric is stiff and tough. We thought if this fabric could be used on the sneaker it would hold its shape and wear [out] very well [over time]. The fabrics used on our sweatshirts wear [out] and discolour beautifully and we hope the shoe yield the same results.
What was the process like to work with each other?
Matt Fantastic and very unforced — that's a key thing. This working process can get quite complicated at times, but when you slip into a 'natural stride' you know you're onto a good thing. Kenta and myself had crossed paths years before and it was great for us to touch base again within a different context, yet still both in creative capacities.
Kenta Matt and the Converse team were super receptive regarding our concept and they consulted us through fabric issues with results from their intensive wear tests. This was important, as the concept was to use our signature fabric.
Kenta, considering the rich history behind Converse, what was the thinking process going into this collaboration, in comparison to past partnerships?
Kenta We have been extremely fortunate with the partnerships we created to date. Although we try to be strategic with our partners, most times they are born out of mutual respect and friendship. We believe that a true collaboration brings together two or more brands to create a product that could not be possible if it were only one of the brands or individuals.
The launch of the shoe is exclusively at Haven, describe the relationship between the two parties.
Kenta Converse approached us with the idea of a launch event for the shoe and let us weigh in on where we would like to hold the event. Haven, being one of our best retail partners and a Converse First String retailer, had recently opened a beautiful space in Toronto so we approached them on the idea about the launch. Haven has been one of, if not, the biggest supporters of Reigning Champ. Season-after-season, Haven has given a full representation of our line at their stores from the beginning. Arthur & Daniel from Haven are great to bounce ideas off of and we always seem to pull off great collaborations together.
"We believe that a true collaboration brings together two or more brands to create a product that could not be possible if it were only one of the brands or individuals." KENTA GOTO
What are in the cards for the Reigning Champ brand?
Kenta We've worked hard to organically grow the Reigning Champ brand by continually developing different fabrics and producing quality product. We have done well in selectively connecting and partnering with the right retailers and distributors that understand [the brand] and back our product. We are reaching another milestone in the brand's development as we are getting set to launch a full website and online store. Once we launch the site we will have the ability to share more about the brand, inside & out.
Converse is a brand that breed's simplicity, that being said, how does the brand look to re-invent itself moving forward?
Matt With respect to our heritage and those who wear our products. As cliche as it sounds, it's truly important to know where you've been, to know where you're going.
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