Black History Month - Celebrating Black Design

October 05, 2022 by Joey Birch

Black History Month - Celebrating Black Design

Virgil AblohVirgil Abloh - 

DOB: 30th September 1980

Location of Origin: Chicago, USA

Brand: OFF-White

Bio: The late Virgil Abloh is, simply put, one of the greatest designers and cultural leaders of a generation. His roots have always laid in design, after graduating with a master's degree in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2006.

Soon after, the following events leading Abloh to the heights he reached occurred in quick succession. From interning at Fendi in 2009 with his close friend Kanye West, to launching his first brand ‘PYREX Vision’ in 2012, reworking vintage Ralph Lauren pieces with the inclusion of brutalist-inspired design - PYREX was the beginning of a wave that developed into something far bigger.

In 2013, PYREX was officially scrapped in favour of OFF-White. Continuing much of the same iconography seen within his previous venture, Abloh took OFF-White to unprecedented places, quickly becoming the lead tastemaker within fashion. 

2017 saw the release of a collection that sent OFF-White and Nike on a brand new trajectory - ‘The Ten’. Featuring 10 of the greatest Nike silhouettes in history, the collection remains a cornerstone of sneaker design.

Just a year later, the Chicago-based designer went on to become the Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, a move that cemented him as one of the greatest minds of a generation.

Joe Freshgoods -

DOB: 7th October 1986

Location of Origin: Chicago, USA

Brand: Joe Freshgoods, Don’t Be Mad, Fat Tiger

Bio: The master of collaborations; you give Joe Robinson (AKA Joe Freshgoods) a sneaker and he’ll elevate it. An industry veteran, Freshgoods has diligently made his way to stardom with laser focus. Following on from working as a shop assistant in Fashion Geek in 2005, as well as Niketown, Freshgoods then went on to intern at Leaders in 2006 where he’d meet and create friendships with the likes of Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa, amongst others. 

Soon after, Freshgoods, along with some friends, went on to open their store named ‘Fat Tiger Workshop’ which provided a cultural hub for parties, pop-ups and other events.

Freshgoods made his sneaker debut in 2017 when he collaborated with Converse on the Chuck Taylor 70. However, his name hit the headlines and caught the attention of many in 2020 when he worked alongside New Balance on the 992. Named ‘No Emotions Are Emotions’, the sneaker hit several ‘sneakers of the year’ lists, with the multi-faceted designer becoming widely acknowledged as one of the key figures in NB’s resurgence. 

Since his initial collaboration with New Balance, Freshgoods has cemented himself as a leading designer and collaborator, creating many projects with New Balance as well as recently teasing a Vans collaboration. JFG’s influence on the sneaker industry has been monumental, and this is just the beginning.   

Kanye West - 

DOB: 8th June 1977

Location of Origin: Chicago, USA

Brand: YEEZY

Bio: Producer, artist, designer, entrepreneur. Is there anything Kanye West can’t do? While initially known for his production genius, working with the likes of Jay Z on ‘The Blueprint’, West burst onto the charts in 2004 with his debut album ‘College Dropout’ which reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 200 chart, with West receiving 10 Grammy nominations and three awards including Best Rap Song for ‘Jesus Walks’ and Best Rap Album. 

Between 2005-2008, West began to work within the sneaker industry, creating College Dropout-inspired designs of the Nike Air Max 180, Reebok S.Carter Classic Low and BAPESTA, as well as working on a ‘Donda’ Air Jordan 6.

During 2009, Kanye released the first set of Nike Air YEEZYs - a completely original design, and one of the most sought-after silhouettes in history. During this time, West worked alongside Louis Vuitton as well as creating the studio album 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy', which pushed him further towards superstardom. 

Fast forward to 2013, and the relationship between Ye and Nike had begun to break down over the release of the second iteration of their collaborative line - the infamous Air YEEZY 2. While the legendary Red October was released in February of 2014, against Kanye’s will, the artist had already penned a new deal with adidas which is due to run until 2026, despite recent contention. 

In 2015, the adidas x YEEZY empire was officially launched, showcasing Ye’s eye for clothing and sneaker design. The adidas x YEEZY range now spans over 20 models in more than 200 colourways, and Ye’s list of collaborators has grown to include more of the biggest fashion entities in the world, including Balenciaga and The Gap. 

What the future holds for West is uncertain. But one thing is for sure, his impact and influence will be remembered for many years to come.

Chris Gibbs - 

Location of Origin: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Brand: Union LA

Bio: Originally born in Ottawa, Chris Gibbs made the transition to the USA to study for a teaching degree in New York City. It was in NYC that Gibbs met James Jebbia, founder and owner of Supreme which, at the time, still had a fairly cult following. 

NYC was originally the home of Union, which opened its doors in 1989 before the second store in LA was opened, and subsequently became the only location for the brand in 2010. Jebbia had opened Union during its time in NYC when Chris Gibbs was employed as a sales assistant in a move that, unbeknownst to Gibbs at the time, would be where he remained.

Upon graduating, Gibbs became the store manager of Union NYC and was soon promoted to be a buyer at Union LA. In 2009, Stüssy and Union LA’s joint store became their own entity with the current store owner at the time, Eddie Cruz, allowing Gibbs to become the owner of the store and subsequently, the brand. 

Since taking ownership of the brand, Gibbs has nurtured Union LA into one of the most beloved streetwear brands in the industry, with high-calibre projects including  the Nike Air Jordan 1 in 2018 and Air Jordan 4 in 2020, as well as the more recent ‘Passport Pack’ Nike Dunk Lows in 2022, each of which encapsulates its own story and signature details that fans of Union LA have come to love. 

Salehe Bembury - 

DOB: 10th March 1986

Location of Origin: New York City, USA

Brand: Salehe Bembury, Spunge 

Bio: A New Yorker by heart and by nature, Salehe Bembury has always had his roots firmly within sneaker culture and design. Taking the Industrial and Interaction Design Program at Syracuse University, Bembury followed up his studies by designing men's and women's footwear at PayLess. 

After designing footwear for a range of brands, Bembury got the opportunity that would set his career trajectory on a huge boost. After reaching out to the YEEZY Design team over a simple email, he was invited by Kanye West to visit them in LA to assist with the design process of the adidas YEEZY Boost 350 V2 and the Boost 750. 

Following the success of the two aforementioned silhouettes, Bembury soon secured himself a role as footwear designer at fashion house Versace, where he soon rose up to become Senior Director of Sneakers and Men’s Footwear, being described by Donatella Versace herself as “the best sneaker designer in the world”. 

Following his three-and-a-half-year tenure at Versace, Bembury founded his own brand ‘Spunge’, which allowed him to not only become a designer and collaborator in his own right, but also explore ventures outside of sneakers. Today, Bembury has collaborated with and elevated a variety of brands, including New Balance - bringing back the 2002R, which has since seen mass acclaim, and Crocs - playing a pivotal role in making Crocs a widely respected and coveted brand within footwear once again. 

James Whitner -

DOB: 1980

Location of Origin: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Brand: A Ma Maniére, Social Status, A.P.B

Bio: From difficult beginnings, came one of the greatest entrepreneurs within the sneaker industry. Before leaving his hometown Pennsylvania, due to a magnitude of difficult situations, Whitner studied Business Administration at Edinboro University between 1997 - 2001, which set him up for success in his dream of opening his streetwear store.

The first store arrived in 2005, named Flava Factory. After having two locations in Charlotte, North Carolina where Whitner had relocated, the stores were closed with the founder turning his attention to investing into a new venture - Social Status. Originally beginning as a denim brand, Social Status now holds a variety of renowned streetwear labels including Billionaire Boys Club and Comme Des Garçon. 

Since then, Whitner has opened further stores across the US including two additional interlinking brands: A Ma Maniére and A.P.B. 

Whitner’s past has influenced his present. With a myriad of initiatives including AMM EATS which partners with a local foodbank as well as the beSOCIAL community platform, all of which aim to give back to the communities of each store location and the culture that they’re a part of. 

This sentiment is also reflected in his collaborative work. Whitner tells stories through meticulous detail and carefully thought out releases, the most notable of which was his 2021 collaboration with Jordan Brand on the Air Jordan 3 titled ‘Raised By Women’. Marking Whitner's first Air Jordan collaboration, the 3 was released in extended women’s sizing and inspired by his mother buying him his first pair of Jordans - the 3. 

Since the release, both A Ma Maniére and Social Status have released a selection of incredible products including an AMM Air Jordan 1 and 2, in addition to a Social Status Nike Dunk Mid, all of which were released with their own narrative intertwined in the finer details. 

Whitner’s ability to project stories that can be worn to add to the sense of expression that sneakers bring is unrivalled. 

Don C -

Location of Origin: Chicago, USA

Brand: Just Don

Bio: A close friend, and once manager of Kanye West, Don Crawley (AKA Don C) and Chicago go hand in hand. His brand, Just Don, was founded in 2011 after Don decided to focus on his career in fashion in which he and Kanye were heavily entrenched. However before his brand, Don worked alongside Virgil Abloh to create the RSVP Gallery in 2009. Standing as the home of pop art, streetwear and luxury goods, the store remains in Chicago.

Initially, his brand began to get acclaim for his range of premium caps seen worn by the biggest stars in the industry from Rihanna to Jay Z, with his signature feature being faux snakeskin detailing. 

With C being heavily linked with basketball culture, it only seemed right that the Chicago native received his own pair of Air Jordans. In 2013, he received just that. In a lesser-known charity release with Jordan Brand, Don worked on the Air Jordan 1. In celebration of Black History Month, with just 37 pairs made, the AJ1 arrived in a sleek black colourway with snakeskin detailing as well as Nike’s BHM print, a strap around the ankle and orange hints around the sock liner. The sneaker also came with a matching cap.

In 2015 the duo released a second pair in aid of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America charity in a white colourway.

In the same year, around a month departed from the BHM AJ1 release, while sneakers such as the OG Air Jordan 1 ‘Chicago’, Supreme Air Jordan 5 and Air Jordan 4 ‘Oreo’ were released, Don C decided to work on the lesser appreciated Air Jordan 2 as his first officially released project.

Continuing what has become a signature feature of his work, Don released his first collaboration with a deep royal blue quilted leather upper in a gold and red shoebox. And yes, the pair was also released with a snapback. 

Putting Don C on the map as an independent designer more than ever before, he went on to create a second set of Air Jordan 2s in May 2017 - the ‘Arctic Orange’ under the theme of Family First with the sneaker released first in women’s, children's and baby sizing. 

In addition to working with the likes of Moët & Chandon, the official champagne of the NBA, amongst additional collaborations and projects, Don C was announced as the Creative Strategy and Design Advisor for the Chicago Bulls in February of 2022 further cementing his roots within the Windy City’s culture and history. 

Aleali May - 

DOB: 10th July 1992

Location of Origin: Los Angeles, USA

Brand: Aleali May

Bio: Aleali May’s history in sneakers and streetwear runs deep. While working as a shop assistant in a Louis Vuitton store in Chicago during her studies in marketing at Columbia College, she also became a Brand and Sales representative for Don C and Virgil Abloh’s RSVP Gallery. 

May’s talent and connections to the industry allowed her to take on several styling roles for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Jaden Smith, amongst others, and led her to become a prominent tastemaker and icon in women’s streetwear. 

A key driver of this was her love of sneakers. Harbouring what is said to be a vast collection, May’s ultimate affinity is for Jordan Brand. This admiration caught the attention of Jordan Brand and in 2017 she got her first collaboration on the Air Jordan 1. Utilising the AJ1 Shadow colour blocking, the release featured metallic silver panels overlaid on black corduroy and was inspired by her family and classic sneaker culture. 

Just a year later, May returned with a second Air Jordan 1; this time inspired by the 2013 ‘Viotech’ Nike Dunk. The sneaker featured a predominantly suede upper with the addition of a furred tongue, further showcasing the stylist's eye for materials. 

Aleali’s design collaborations continued in 2019 with the release of a friend and family Air Jordan 6 in a ‘Millenial Pink’ colourway, followed by a third Air Jordan 1 in 2021: a Zoom Comfort model named ‘Califia’. This project was named after a Black queen, known for being strong and powerful, who the Spanish named the island of California after. This project held a strong meaning for May, in relating to the women in her childhood. 

In the same year, May also released a pair of Air Jordan 14s. Released for both men and women, the theme behind the sneaker was the Jade jewellery her grandmothers had gifted her as a way of referencing two of the most influential women in her life. 

Most recently, Aleali has been named as an Ambassador for sneaker cleaning brand Jason Markk.

While Aleali May is applauded for blurring the lines between gendered footwear, it’s the messages and influences that she includes within her work that make her, as a designer, so special. 

Travis Scott - 

DOB: 30th April 1991

Location of Origin: Houston, Texas

Brand: Cactus Jack Corporation 

Bio: Jacques Webster (AKA Travis Scott), is best known for his incredibly successful music career which started during his teenage years. His first project, released in 2009 as part of a duo with Chris Holloway named ‘The Graduates’, saw Scott finding his feet within the music industry and planting the seed for what has since become a huge success for the Houston native. 

After dropping out of college to focus on music, Travis moved to LA where he linked up with Kanye West and T.I. and was soon hired by West to become an in-house producer. In 2015, the rapper released his debut album ‘Rodeo’, which featured his first platinum track ‘Antidote’ after previously releasing mixtapes and producing for the likes of Rihanna on ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’.

In the following years, 2016 - 2018, Scott released two further albums which were both met with critical acclaim: ‘Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight’ and ‘Astroworld’. It was also during this time, in 2017, that Scott had his first foray into sneakers when he worked with Helmut Lang on a sneaker named the ‘Nylon’. With a similar design to a Lanvin silhouette, the high-fashion collaboration featured a bull head on the tongue reminiscent of Travis Scott’s EP ‘Days Before Rodeo’ and ‘Rodeo’ projects. 

Additionally, in 2017, Scott and Nike formed their partnership. The release saw a friends and family pair of the Air Jordan Trunner which marked the first sneaker to include Scott’s ‘Cactus Jack’ moniker. The second sneaker, this time released to the public, was a pair of Air Force 1s which featured an interchangeable Swoosh. 2018 saw three rare colourways of the Air Jordan 4, in addition to a pair of Air Force 1s featuring a silver metallic Swoosh. 

While Scott's partnership with Nike and Jordan Brand was already pumping out numerous editions of some of the biggest silhouettes in their roster with the artist seemingly having free reign as to what he could create - it was in 2019 that the duo reached new heights. With around 8 sneakers made, with 5 being officially released, the Air Jordan 1 High and Low ‘Mocha’ instantly caught the attention of fans. Featuring a backwards Swoosh, inspired by Dennis Rodman’s Nike Air Darwin, the AJ1 remains an iconic release that is in many fans’ eyes, Scott's best project thus far. 

Since the release, we have seen a myriad of pairs between The Swoosh and Cactus Jack Corporation from Dunks to Air Max 1s, each being met with sellout releases and mass appeal. 

In his most recent project, Scott has gone back to his high fashion roots, collaborating with Dior on a full collection of clothing and footwear which, while not met with as much success as his work with Nike, continues to showcase the artist's talent whether it’s on the mic or in the design studio. 

Pharrell Williams -

DOB: 5th April 1973

Location of Origin: Virginia, USA

Brand: Billionaire Boys Club, Icecream 

Bio: Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, actor, designer. Pharrell Williams has done it all. Musically, Williams began his journey whilst in school where he was a percussionist. Moving into high school, Williams met Chad Hugo who he would work with in unison under the name ‘The Neptunes'. 

By the late 90s - early 2000s, The Neptunes were producing for some of the biggest names in the music industry at the time including Mary J Blige, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg where his signature 3-beat track opening came to fruition. The duo saw a huge amount of success leading them to be named Producers of the Year in 2004. 

During this time, in 2001, the two also joined a third artist named Shay Haley to form a new band called N.E.R.D. While the band were most active during the early 2000s, they never officially split, with their latest album ‘No One Ever Really Dies’ released in 2017.

It was this band that inspired Pharrel Williams's first sneaker collaboration. In 2003, Nike began its artist series. Williams, along with his N.E.R.D bandmates, opted for the Nike Dunk High. Featuring tumbled black leather throughout the upper, in addition to red laces and a silver Swoosh, it was the Brain logo on the heel and tongue elevating the silhouette. 

The following year after the release of the Nike Dunk High, Williams created his brands Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM. Similar to the designs his friend NIGO was producing via BAPE at the time, Williams created garments with a bold logo-based design. It was ICECREAM that kick started the artist's ongoing relationship with Reebok, releasing a sneaker named ‘Flavour’. The shoe, which first debuted in the ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ music video, was a skate-ready take on the adidas Stan Smith and featured the iconography of cartoon diamonds and dollar signs around the upper. The same design was later re-released, this time with adidas on the Stan Smith in 2015.

Despite a legal dispute over quality control between Pharrell and Reebok, the duo returned in 2019 with a release of various silhouettes including the Allen Iverson Answer Vs and Instapump Fury BOOSTs. 

Continuing to showcase his multi-talented abilities with the release of his solo debut studio album ‘In My Mind’, Williams also collaborated with BAPE. Within this collaboration, the duo created three metallic pairs of the BAPE Roadsta, each of which featured Pharrell's character face on the back, in addition to releasing a patent leather pair of BAPE STAs which featured the N.E.R.D Brain logo on the heel. 

While Pharrell has continued collaborating with Timberland via his brand BEE Line, and his work with adidas that has stood the test of time. Signing a deal with the Three Stripes in 2014, a year after his huge hit single ‘Happy’, Williams almost instantly boosted adidas to new heights. 

One of the biggest releases, never before seen at the time, was the ‘Supercolour’ pack. Featuring 50 monotone colourways of the adidas Superstar, the release is rumoured to have sold around 15 million units of adidas’ classic silhouette. 

With the release of the YEEZY Boost 350, a new wave of footwear popularity ensued with the likes of the NMD and Ultraboost being popular alternatives. Pharrell and adidas followed suit with the HU NMD which has seen a variety of colourways and iterations including a BBC version and a limited Chanel collaboration.

A keen innovator, Pharrell Williams continues to create and add a plethora of projects to his already incredibly extensive portfolio. 

Edson Sabajo & Guillaume Schmidt - 

DOB: 8th March 1973 (Edson Sabajo)

Location of Origin: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Brand: Patta 

Bio: One of the most beloved grassroots brands, Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt have always been key contributors to the Dutch hip-hop and nightlife scene, with Edson being a DJ and Guillaume being an events host. 

Sneakers and streetwear have always been a huge part of their lives and in 2016, they founded Patta. What initially started as a small store being stocked with rare and alternative sneakers and streetwear the duo would find on their travels, flat packing shoeboxes and shipping them back to their Amsterdam location, it has since become a global phenomenon within streetwear culture. 

A short while after opening their store and only selling other brands, Sabajo and Schmidt created their line of t-shirts featuring the classic Patta hand-written logo. An incredibly popular item, the pair began to develop their brand further.

The impact the duo had culturally and within streetwear specifically, was picked up by Nike and led to their first collaboration in 2006 on the Air Max 90 which featured a marijuana print design around the upper, as a nod to the city of Amsterdam.

Following the collaboration, the brand increased its reach and in turn, its collaborations; their most recent being the 2021/22 Air Max 1 line named ‘The Wave’ which provided a new generation with an opportunity to get their hands on a Patta x Nike Air Max 1 release with the originals remaining some of the greatest sneakers of all time. 

Working with a wide variety of brands from ASICS to Vans to New Balance, Patta continues to push the boundaries of what a brand can provide outside of simply just clothing. 

With the inclusion of the Patta Soundsystem, Patta Running Team and, most recently, the Patta Foundation focusing on youth cultural education, Sabajo and Schmidt have been able to create a community hub that gives back. Continually innovating as well as celebrating traditions. 

To shop the full collection celebrating Black History Month, click here.