D'WAYNE EDWARDS // Footwear Designer
By Dionte' Johnson -
From the heart of South Central Los Angeles to your closet, D'Wayne Edwards' story is one of vision and perseverance. His journey began like many of ours, with an interest. That interest would eventually grow into a well-oiled discipline that would go on to help generate well over a billion dollars in business.
As a youth, Mr. Edwards would sketch shoe designs with nothing more than a piece of paper and a No. 2 pencil. His teenage years were just as humble, working in the fast food industry helped make up his mind that climbing up a ladder and becoming just another piece to the puzzle was not the life he had envisioned for himself.
"As a teenager I worked at McDonald’s and my managers often told me that if I stayed at McDonald’s I could work my way up to a managerial position myself and make $40,000 a year one day. I told them my dreams were bigger than that: I wanted to be a footwear designer." - D'Wayne Edwards. Pensole.com
After graduating High School, and struggling to not only find money for college, but an actual college program that fit his dream of becoming a footwear designer, Mr. Edwards would eventually settle on studying business marketing at a community college, paid for by his newly acquired job as a file clerk at L.A. Gear. At that time the footwear and apparel company had a suggestion box in which they encouraged staff to leave notes on ways to make the company better, and every day for six months straight, Mr. Edwards would drop a sketch into the box.
Six months and 180 sketches later, D'Wayne Edwards was offered his first job as a designer, he was only 19 years old. Mr. Edwards was also only the second African-American footwear designers in the entire industry. This is just the beginning of a budding story that would eventually lead to a position with Nike, designing for Jordan Brand and a eventually ending up with Under Armour. In his two decades as a designer, Mr. Edwards has been responsible for over 500 men's and women's designs, he is one of only 7 people tto ever design an Air Jordan sneaker, his designed have sold well over $1 billion worldwide along with numerous awards and patents.
Mr. D'Wayne Edwards currently focuses his attention on building the next generation of designers through his program Pensole Footwear Design Academy. Find out more about Mr. Edwards and his endeavors by CLICKING HERE.
DREW GREER // Brand Architect
By Dionte' Johnson -
As a former undersized Division 1 running back, Drew Greer has found a way to approach each area in life with a chip on his shoulder, embracing the feeling of being an underdog. While he may look at himself through the eyes of an overlooked contender set to challenge the storied prize fighter, his accomplishments to date are anything but that.
A product of Los Angeles' storied East Side, Mr. Greer would eventually become an Ohio University Bobcat, and go on to become the first male in his family to graduate college. He would then go on to work with the likes of Supra, Ralph Lauren, Under Armour and Nike. While at Nike, Mr. Greer is credited with leading the brand's Limited Edition Footwear Department (today known as Nike Sportswear) from an eight-figure business to a half-a-billion dollar business during his tenure. These same practices would eventually lead to a multi billion-dollar machine after his departure.
"In the sneaker industry, I am credited with creating the current limited supply sneaker model for coveted products, the sneaker collaboration strategy with music artists, and mastering the art of market travel, plus mining insights" - Drew Greer. BlackEnterprise.com
Referring to himself as a "brand disruptor" or "brand arsonist", Drew Greer has built a career and reputation for having a vision, and achieving that vision with relentless pursuit. That passion has been the DNA of his life's work, and translate through his work as a professional, and as a father. Currently Mr. Greer can be found working as a consultant, writer and key-note speaker. To enter the mind of Mr. Drew L. Greer, please CLICK HERE
VA$HTIE KOLA // Downtown's Sweetheart
By Briana Holmes -
“I’m a good representation of the culture in this strange digital era.” Downtown’s sweetheart rocked baggy clothes and sneakers before it was a cool trend. Growing up in Albany, NY, she hung out with the guys and experienced bullying from other girls around her for style and interests.
She landed in New York City in 1999 and studied film at the School of Visual Arts and also began working at the Supreme skate shop in East Village. Landing a job at Stussy a few years later, Vashtie was connecting with the right people and gaining key experience that would help shape her distinct artistry.
Named “Downtown’s Sweetheart” by the Avante garde press, Vashtie was working under various disciplines of art and even working with some of your favorite music artists. Vashtie launched her own brand “Violette” in fall 2008 and in 2010, she became the first woman to design a Jordan brand sneaker and doing so under her own brand. The campaign was very empowering, holding the tagline “sometimes the King is a woman.”
“I don’t rap and I don’t play sports, but here I am, the first girl to have a Brand Jordan deal.” Vashtie’s collaboration with Jordan brand was culture shifting and her path has not only inspired women, but men as well.
KRIS WRIGHT // Senior Director
By Dionte' Johnson
It is not often that you hear about an intern who transitions into a marketing manager, who then creates and develops his own brand before finally landing a Senior Director role with the leading footwear brand in the world. Enter Kris Wright, the Clark Atlanta graduate with exceptional vision and design skills who has experience both managing some of the top brands in the world and founding his own.
In business, a great internship can often determine how far a person will be able to climb up a ladder. Being able to work diligently on the grunt work of assignments takes humility and laser-focus. Mr. Wright began his journey as a hard-working intern for Reebok where, in his eight years with the company, he was able to rise from intern to global marketing manager, and working side by side with the likes of musical icons Jay-Z and 50 Cent on collaborative projects.
After his run with Reebok, Mr. Wright would go on to found his own footwear company, Jhung Yuro (pronounced Young Euro), and for the next six and a half years he would serve as the Vice President in footwear.
"Jhung Yuro surpassed $1.5 million in sales within the first 14 months of it’s founding. In May of 2008, I formed a distribution partnership between Jhung Yuro and Headgear Inc. (The owners of Blac Label Premium, Blac Label Pink, Antik Denim and Taverniti So Jeans), after which Headgear acquired a 50% stake in the Jhung Yuro Footwear brand." - Kris Wright. Linkedin.com
After a successful stint as an entrepreneur, Mr. Wright would then take on the opportunity that most people only dream about; in June of 2011 Kris Wright took on a position with Jordan Brand, and hasn't looked back, working in every field from Product Management to Senior Director over a wide array of product categories.
Mr. Wright is a true example of focus and determination. Do not be surprised to see him continue to climb the ranks as he advances in his journey.
COREY GILKEY // Brand & Boutique Owner
By Dionte' Johnson
Without people like Corey Gilkey, there is no Sole Classics as we know it. Let me explain to you why. Hailing from Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Mr. Gilkey's early imprint in the streetwear slash sneaker community came as a sales manager for VarCity Clothing. During his near 4 years with the brand, Corey would travel from state to state, shop to shop, learning from the buyers and owners. It would be these same interactions that would strike him like a lightning bolt and lead him into the world of entrepreneurship. In October of 2002, before most of your favorite shops had even dreamed of opening a storefront, Corey would see a void in the industry, and an opportunity to fill that space, and just like that, Leaders was born.
"We saw a need for an independent streetwear brand at a time where retailers were focused on larger, mainstream brands. I worked in sales for Varcity Sportswear at that time and traveled the country to different retailers who just wanted to put big brands in their stores because that’s what they thought the customer wanted. Retailers simply didn’t understand the streetwear customer, but I knew what the customer wanted. We then decided to open our own store and develop our own brand, Leaders 1354." - Corey Gilkey. Rollingout.com
To most, Leaders, aka LDRS, bka Leaders 1354, is not just another sneaker boutique, it isn't even credited as one of the first, however, if you are from the Midwest, the chances are that the roots of your experience in the streetwear/sneaker world somehow tie back to the brand. Leaders has served as the epicenter of the culture in Chicago for over 15 years, and in The Chi, the brand has influenced so many that it would be nearly impossible to name those who do not have ties back in some way to Mr. Gilkey and his shop. From musicians, to athletes to artists and politicians, the reach of the brand stretches beyond the average imagination.
But how? How was this little shop from 53rd St in Hyde Park able to grow its brand to a global market? Mr. Gilkey credits all of his success and longevity to the relationships that he was able to establish over the span of nearly 20 years in the industry.
"I didn’t have challenges like that because we had great relationships. Our relationships are everything. We developed strong relationships with small brands from the beginning and maintained them as they blew up. Brands like 10 Deep, BBC, The Hundreds, and Akomplice remember me going to their booth and supporting them when they were nothing and no one was there. So when they became $20 to $50 million dollar brands they never forgot us. We paid our dues. Our relationships saw the story we tell and the support that we give individuals and they bought into it. People simply love the quality and content we provide." - Corey Gilkey. Rollingout.com
What also makes Leaders special is not just that it set trends, or carries popular brands. What separated Mr. Gilkey vision of his brand was that he was one of the first (if not the first) shops to wholesale his shop brand into other retail shops, which is still relatively rare to this day. The Leaders brand took off, and never looked back. Fast forward to today and what you will find is countless boutique-like shops like our own (Sole Classics) spread out from Chicago to the far stretches of the United States who have expanded a vision set forth by Mr. Gilkey and the Leaders brand. So look closely, you may see your favorite rapper in a hat with an L and wings on it, or a t-shirt with 1354 across the pocket. Or maybe you will just walk into a shop that focuses on pushing the industry forward... just nod your head, and thank Mr. Corey Gilkey.
DAYMOND JOHN // Businessman
By Briana Holmes
For us, by us!!
Daymond John turned a $40 budget into $6 billion dollars by changing the fashion and streetwear game and he embodies the definition of entrepreneurship.
Before FUBU, he would go and screen print t-shirts to sell with messages about what was going on socially at the time. While doing that, he began to see that there was a certain reason people buy clothes and that is when there is an emotional slogan or connection to the specific product.
He also noticed that fashion designers were not acknowledging that they were making money off of the hip hop community and when he heard someone say “we don’t make clothes for rappers” is when it resonated completely for him.
He came up with the concept, “For us, by us” (FUBU) and he said that the message was not about color at all. It was only about culture and for people who loved hip hop. In between working two jobs, Daymond and three childhood friends worked on the brand FUBU. They didn’t have enough money or product, so one of their hustles was going to music video shoots and asking rappers to wear their product in the video and then giving it right back after the shoot was over.
As the name continued to gain buzz, they reached a point where they needed to produce mass numbers of product. Daymond took a risk and took out a second mortgage on his mother’s house and turned her home into the FUBU factory/office. Of course there were ups and downs through the process even after gaining so much popularity and money but that same process taught Daymond key lessons about entrepreneurship. Daymond built businesses in Europe and Asia, acquired other brands and was even appointed “Global Entrepreneurship Ambassador” by Barack Obama.
DJ CLARK KENT // Influencer & Creator
By Briana Holmes
DJ Clark Kent is a Crown Heights, Brooklyn native who has DJ’d since the age of 9. As a heavy sneaker junky and being heavy in the hip hop scene, he has had the title “influencer” under his belt for some time.
DJ Clark Kent recalls purposely buying a pair of the first sneakers that were over $100, which were a pair of FILAs. He bought them to impress the older guys in his neighborhood and when he wore them, one of the older guys inquired about the shoes because he wanted a pair. This opened his eyes to influence and made him love sneakers even more.
On the music side, he worked heavily with Junior M.A.F.I.A and he helped break Jay-Z into the industry. He produced tracks for Lil Kim, Notorious B.I.G, Mad Skillz, Estelle, Lil Vicious, 50 Cent, Rakim, Canibus and Slick Rick. He was a big part of “Reasonable Doubt” by Jay-Z and he produced a few tracks on that album as well.
Nike partnered with him to collaborate several times. He is most known for his signature “112” touch on Nike silhouettes. Named “112” because each Brooklyn zip code begins with 112 and the signature featured elephant print, with black, grey and volt colors. To this day DJ Clark Kent is still influencing and he recently designed an Air Force 1 that contained pony hair throughout the entire upper and was only available for family and friends.
JASON MAYDEN // Design Director
By Dionte' Johnson
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 90's, a young Jason Mayden would find himself gravitating towards the idea of flight. Both of the heroes of his youth were men who did not have superpowers, like Superman, but to him, and many of us, they could fly. Mr. Mayden would draw inspiration from both of these men and turn it into one of the most storied carriers in the sneaker world. His love for comic books, in particular Batman, would spark his interest in design, while being a fan of Michael Jordan would eventually lead him into the roll of Senior Product Designer at Jordan Brand for over 13 years.
The first of his kind, Mr. Mayden got his start in the industry as the first design intern for for Jordan Brand. During his tenure with Nike, Jason would design shoes for Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and more. His work would contribute to billions of dollars, and his gadget-like ideas have helped springboard the footwear giant into an error where sneaker technology reigns supreme. One of Mr. Mayden's more notable tech-projects at Nike would be the development of the Nike Fuelband, which sent shock waves through the industry.
"I was a very creative kid, but I was also extremely analytical and good at school in an environment that wasn’t necessarily praised all the time. Where I’m from, you get your reputation for throwing hands, not getting A's. I had to choose between being intelligent and being tough in a lot of ways. I had to fight that inner battle. That was the largest battle I fought. My own insecurities, my own inner voice that would cast doubt on my abilities, my own fears of being viewed as not adequate or good enough. That was always lurking in the back of my mind. What helped me persist was my belief that somebody had to do it, why not me? Nobody just woke up and walked into a gig. Everybody has to earn it. So I made a point to earn my spot." - Jason Mayden. SoleCollector.com
A personal decision to prioritize his family's needs would cause Mr. Mayden to leave Nike, and since his departure he has gone on expand his design portfolio beyond footwear. He designed Vessyl, a smart cup created to track hydration among other tech ventures. He now resides in Silicon Valley and holds a position at Accel Partners, a venture capitalist firm. His step away from the sneaker world would be short lived, in mid-2017 Mr. Mayden would launch a children's footwear line, Super Heroic, with a mission to inspire the power of play. You can read more on Jason Mayden by clicking HERE.
GENTRY HUMPHRY // General Manager
DANIEL "DAPPER DAN" DAY // Cultivator
JR DUPERRIER // Marketing Manager
HOWARD WHITE // Vice-President
"DON C" Crawley // Influencer
WILSON SMITH III // Design Director
By Dionte' Johnson
Anyone with nearly 35 years of security clearance at Nike would probably rank pretty high on the totem pole in the world of sneakers. It doesn't really matter who you are, to witness the growth of the industry leader in footwear in its most pivotal years would mean that at some point in your tenure you had to have brushed shoulders with some of the greatest minds and athletes of our generation. Ironically, Wilson Smith III is that guy with over 3 decades of Nike secrets, and although his face may be unfamiliar to most of us, he is anything but a fly on the wall.
Joining Nike in the 80's was like being at Apple just before the iPod was announced. Being at the right place at the right time is crucial, but it helps when you are partially responsible for the "at the right time" part. Mr. Smith III would go on to design product for some of the greatest athletes of all time, including, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Andre' Agassi and Roger Federer. Mr. Smith III's work is mostly focused in cross training footwear, as well as basketball. Some of his most notable designs include the iconic Air More Uptempo as well as the Air Jordan XVI.
A graduate from the University of Oregon's School of Architecture, Wilson Smith III has been credited with being THE FIRST African-American footwear designers in the industry: an amazing accomplishment within itself. Hired by Tinker Hatfield - who would later become the most well known sneaker designer of all time - the mild-mannered cultural giant began his tenure with Nike by designing showrooms, offices and stores, as well as publications and other graphic elements Before long he would end up in Product Design before landing as Design Director.
"Wilson Smith, BArch ’80, came to the company in 1983, a few years after graduating from the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, which he says instilled in him an understanding of the importance of “form following function, of really paying attention to the context of what you’re designing, and whom you’re designing it for.” In Beaverton, he found the perfect setting to implement that philosophy. Hired by Hatfield as an assistant in Nike’s corporate architecture office, he soon followed his mentor into footwear, where he had both a front-row seat and played an active role in what he calls 'a renaissance in design.'" - OregonQuarterly.com
Today, like most of the others who join him on this list, Mr. Wilson's focus is not only in design and furthering the culture himself, but to serve as a mentor to those who will one day succeed him. His designs has positively impacted us in ways that we do not even understand, and his legacy will continue to expand beyond the footwear industry.
IBN JASPER // "Barber"
SCOTT SASSO // Founder & Designer
By Dionte' Johnson
The interesting thing about streetwear is that even though a strong amount of influence comes from urban culture, it is very rare to find a major brand owned or founded by a black man, or woman for that matter. Scott Sasso is the exception to the rule, however, he did not begin his journey with the intention on defying the odds, in fact, he never even really intended to start 10 Deep; one of the largest names in the streetwear industry for over two decades. Scott, a former graffiti artist from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, has made a career off of turning an accidental-find into a profit. 10 Deep, a brand worn by countless top-name celebrities, began with no game-plan. It was a side project by Scott, and was nearly scrapped on countless occasions, even after the brand begun to see success.
"Well I quit my job in 2004. I was working at an urban brand that I helped some of my friends start. I just got totally fucking bored with it. I figured I had enough of that. I had never really planned on being a designer. I thought I was going to go back to school or build a portfolio of my work to bring to galleries and just do 10.Deep on the side, but 10.Deep ended up taking over. I got the office in this building in 2004.
At the end of 2005, I was ready to be done with it again. I drew the lines in the sand. I told josh and another guy working with me at the time, "If we don’t do this much in sales this season, we are done." I had burned through all the money I had saved from my other job through all the years of doing 10.Deep.
The chain gang sweatshirt, which was another joke to me. I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. Josh had gone to a tradeshow and we had the sweatshirt there, in February of ‘06. We had 300 in the company and we got orders for 4,000 of them. He called me and he was like, "I think things just changed." That was the big one, because I was ready to be done with it." - Scott Sasso. Vice.com
Mr. Sasso has since removed himself from the graphic t-shirt department of the company and has focused more on the thing that has made 10 Deep stand out from its competitors; its Cut and Sew program. Scott's connection with Cut and Sew runs a little deeper than most would imagine. In the beginning years of the budding brand, Scott was able to lean on a familiar face to help him learn the ins and outs of pattern making, his mother. Scott's mother, who was a fashion designer herself, had helped the brand establish a footprint in the area that would eventually become what the brand is most known for. She would eventually end up in Salt Lake City, where she connected her son to manufacturers who would go on to create most of the early 10 Deep pieces.
Not much has changed with the brand, aside from being in well over 300 stores worldwide, including our own, and generating a boat-load of cash. Scott is still very hands on with his baby, overseeing all of the cut and sew designs and planning the themes and concepts for each season. With the help of his strong team, we have seen 10 Deep endure the highs and lows of streetwear, and rise again. There are rumors that a 10 Deep flagship store is brewing in New York, we hope so. We will be somewhere near the front of the crowd in line waiting.
LARRY MILLER // President
By Demetrius Stevenson
TREVOR EDWARDS // Fortune 500 President
Trevor Edwards is corporate vice president of global brand management for Nike, Inc., a leading athletic footwear, equipment, and apparel designer, marketer, and distributor, known as much for its popular athletic shoes as it sporty celebrity ads. With a one billion dollar budget, Edwards develops and executes Nike's global strategy; he is in charge of the brand's design and its communications as well as the functioning of its advanced concepts team. Edwards' marketing genius has been instrumental in the signing of top athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams.
When Edwards was 13 years old the family moved to Jamaica, something he did not initially appreciate. Living in Kingston and the town of St. Andrews, Edwards found he was now not in the minority because of his color but because he was English. He was teased a bit because of his accent, but he came to enjoy the differences about this new culture. "It taught me to see the world from a different perspective, and I came to love Jamaica," Edwards said. "It was just the culture shock of living where people saw the world quite differently."