Brandblack is a footwear brand we’ve been following for a while now. Though still fairly new, they’ve been starting to make some very serious waves in the industry. From signing, Rainier Beach standout and current LA Clippers 6th man, Jamal Crawford, to creating super aggressive silhouettes, Brand Black is seriously coming for theirs.
You have to respect an independent brand slugging it out with the heavyweights of the sporting industry. The performance sector has to be the hardest to crack into. From brands that hold entire sport categories in a vice like grip (and run ish like a mob), to barrier entry, investor scaring development costs, you have to seriously know your shit if you want to compete at this level.
After an impromptu Instagram meeting (discussing the similarities between their ‘J Crossover 2’ and Melo’s latest sig shoe from brand Jordan), we managed to set up a quick interview. Check out what creative director, Billy Dill and brand founder, David Raysse have to say about why they started Brand Black, what their biggest challenges have been so far, how many sample rounds their shoes go through and much more, below.
David Raysse (brand founder): History and opportunity, I come from a fashion family, my parents were founding members of kenzo, I was raised in NYC & paris and have always been connected to fashion. At the same time I have always loved sport, especially basketball. I played high-school & college (for an art-school hence me designing for a paycheck not playing Ball!) I’ve tried to connect those two worlds at every company I’ve worked, but was never allowed to take it as far as I wanted, that’s the history. The opportunity was seeing how these two worlds were on a collision course, both in terms of overlap but also in terms of the consumer, looking for more hybridization. Billy (creative director) also has background in fashion and a history in the early days of street wear. When we had a chance to build Brandblack it was very obvious what it would look & feel like. This is not a fashion brand aping performance cues with no function, or a sports brand trying to put fashion twists on performance shoes. This is a brand that is a perfect hybrid of both worlds and sensibilities. It took us a while to really wrap our brains around how you can really do that in an innovative way, but its really beginning to bear fruit and we are proud of the direction.
Billy/David: Beyond the usual start up challenges, having to wear every hat, no hook-ups, little to no dough, trying to break into a very mature business filled with multi billion dollar behemoths, the biggest challenge has been to change perceptions. First we are truly in our own lane, so at first what we were doing was so different people had a hard time accepting it. When your coming from a different place and look different its easy for people to hate… Anything new is like that, hell the Jordan’s people shoot each other for now looked very weird when they first launched back in the day. So you have to stick with your point of view and keep building on it. If you try really hard people will eventually come around. This has been the hardest thing for us. People are so conditioned to one aesthetic it can be hard to win hearts and minds, but we keep trying and lucky for us there have been some similarities showing up in other established brands that legitimizes our direction in a way.
Billy: I think brands are always looking to attach themselves to endorsed athletes ,celebrities, tastemakers – whatever to help them broadcast their message to the consumer. Some do it very well and it feels authentic to their brand – some just grab at the flavor of the month or whomever has the most followers…whatever. I personally believe in building with like minded people – athletes/ celebrities that share our direction and attitude. The consumer is smart and knows when its disingenuous.
David: Ive been doing this for 20+ years at big athletic companies & thus have created relationships with the factories I’ve worked with over the years. They believe in me & what we’re trying to do at Brandblack, so I can do almost anything I can think of, within reason. None of the things you mentioned are that exotic, they cost money & the factories are willing to play ball because they think Brandblack is worth the investment. As we grow- volume grows, they are less beholden to the giants, that frankly rake them over the coals, and its a win win for everyone. I think a passionate and creative very experienced development team in both Asia and state-side can accomplish as much a multi million dollar design & development studios full of nine to fivers that are just dialing it in, or being artificially held back by large beurocracies. Its why we able to developed a knit shoe so quickly, and not just ape others knits aesthetics but really understand knitting, it’s implications and make ours our own with unique characteristics that have lead to the JC-2 receiving such high marks from ballers.
Billy: We are running at a high velocity as a new company but with very few “cooks in the kitchen” so when we discuss an idea or initiative we come to a solution fairly quickly…Its not a room full of marketers and merchandisers telling you to go after an idea. Its basically a couple go guys who are excited by design, and wanting to push an idea. Its a very pure and creative place we are coming from and we genuinely want to make the best product we can- luckily we have high level factories willing to play ball and take a chance on something new.
David: On simple designs that lean more to lifestyle we usually go through three to four before commercialization. We do about 6-7 pullovers (stitched uppers made out of whatever is laying around the factory to dial in pattern issues) and 6-7 bottoms, 2-3 real molds and 3-4 3D printed parts. The technical shoes like JC-2 went through almost 5 rounds. We spend three rounds just getting the look right, all the while adjusting performance issues. The last two rounds the design is usually 99% done aesthetically & we are just making final performance adjustments. For instance the sock-liner on JC-2 just changed 2 days before production because we were getting too much compression set (shoe geek for flattening) over time. We made a last minute material change to make sure this doesn’t happen. As we speak we are on round 2 of JC-3, which launches SS-16.
David: As I mentioned we go through as many as five rounds of shoes. 4 of those rounds are tested. We make 5 to 10 pairs of test samples (you can imagine what that costs!) per round. For basketball we make sample size wear-test shoes and extreme size 13+ for larger athletes as they are able to create forces no 5’9 guy in the world can. We start with sample size for round 1, to save cost and make sure there are no fatal flaws with a shoe before investing in two mold sets so we can test big guys. We have a a large pool of athletes in different sizes and geographical locations so we can test outdoor, indoor hot cold etc. We have similar yet running specific testing procedures for runners.
Billy: we always approach it from a performance point of view first. We ask ourselves “what is we are trying to achieve , what is the function?” then its like “ok…so now how do we make that look dope” We look at the product both aesthetically and functionally and try to push both sides. Once we’ve done that we simply ask the question “would you rock that?” Its a simple way to look at it but it works for us- build something that excites you and hope that others share your enthusiasm.
Billy: Look Good Winning
Billy: Thats a big question- Inspiration is found in so many places – and for me that changes daily. I will spare you the usual, esoteric designer answer and just say this- Its that feeling you get when you see something (could be anything a car,painting,building,child,ocean..Whatever) and your so excited by it – you know that feeling(?) like your 8 yrs old and just coming unglued- thats when you know its a good idea.
We also travel as much as we can and meeting new people with different influences is very inspiring to us.
Seeing a really great product is equally inspiring. You see a product in market and you think “wow! that is a brilliant product, I wish I would have thought of that…” and then it begins, your wheels start spinning and you start dissecting it- mentally improving or changing it and next thing you know your waking up at 3am to write down an new idea.
David: We are really starting to gain momentum, as a brand and as a movement. What we stand for and who we are trying to inspire. We really care deeply about what we do and how we get there. We only do things if they make sense for the brand and if they inspire us first and foremost. If we aren’t inspired to build the best products we can why would anyone be inspired to buy our brand. With that said we are going to keep growing and evolving basketball our way. We are making a big push into running. Our apparel collection is growing every season. We are working with some very exciting retailers on some very special collaborations. Those are the most important near future plans for brandblack.
Billy/David: Learn the business you’re in first and foremost. It’s one thing to sit in our ivory tower and design stuff, but it takes an army to do everything else a successful brand must do. Sales, marketing, merchandising, development, dealing with factories, advertising etc. it all must be one clear well executed message. Learn all that, and if you still want to start a brand, you’re just crazy enough to pull it off!
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