Sneaker collaborations with musicians and fashion brands have long become the industry gold standard; the athletes who actually endorse the product, now only play a middling role. Bernard Koomson and his Berlin collective deadHYPE are not professional athletes, yet they are gearing up for the global release of their collaborative adidas Originals ZX 8000. The relative unknowns (on a global scale, at least) represent a shift in sneaker culture and bring a fresh new perspective to footwear collaborations.
deadHYPE's ethos is to establish an authentic connection with its followers and to enable young creators to harness the power of their creativity. deadHYPE helps brands and talent come together, and facilitates conversations that stretch beyond the corporate PowerPoint meeting.
Highsnobiety sat down with Koomson to discuss his upcoming sneaker, the modern sneaker game, and how deadHYPE’s mission plays a role in the changing landscape.
What is deadHYPE?
deadHYPE is a collective based in Berlin, but we have contributors all over the world. We want to support the creative who wants to do something but might lack the resources to do so. For example, if someone wants to create a 3D model, but doesn't know where to go and get the actual equipment, we help by connecting them with relevant people. We have a network of individuals from different backgrounds, from the corporate world to artists.
In order to serve as a bridge between those worlds, you need to have a proper understanding of how things work on both sides. How does your experience in the corporate world help?
I've worked at adidas and at Zalando. So I've seen how money is distributed, but also how the companies are run, how and where they allocate their funds. So based on this information, I can collaborate with people and different creatives and be sure that brands give back to the community and offer possibilities for people to bring whatever they're working on to the next level.
Community and music seem to play a crucial role at deadHYPE.
I always try to encourage people to reach out to friends to try and find projects that we can be involved with. Music is a big thing for us because we're all very passionate about it. We use music as a basis to work with people on projects, and through that, we start to consult with brands and people from the corporate world.
Your work requires a vast array of experience and knowledge. What inspired you in the first place?
deadHYPE was initially just a name used to sell trainers. I would go to Offspring, where they would have drops from a wide selection of brands, from upscale labels like Raf Simons to workwear staples like Red Wings.
When it came to premium releases, I would just buy shoes that would go on sale, and most of them would be silhouettes that are slept on. If people slept on a certain shoe, but I considered it hot, I called it "dead hype." It's a product that's not appreciated at the time, but you're going to want it later on.
[Before sneakers blew up, the industry] wasn't as flustered with interest and participation, which is definitely not a bad thing. If you were into trainers, we could just go to another store and say, "Yo, these are coming out. Can you hold them for me?" You could just have any trainer, if you knew when and where it's releasing.
It’s completely different nowadays, with the influx of collaborations and colorways.
It just goes on sale, man. Most sneakers are out for a certain price, and they just go on sale or to an outlet. Why not reduce the quantity and work with skill-based people? There are a lot of people out there doing cool stuff, that speaks to their community.
I like to spend time reading and researching about how factories work. You don't need to mass-produce sneakers. If we look at the retail industry, there are many buyers, some of whom are out of touch, and they just put stuff in stores. They're not even trying to engage with the community. Rather, they're just putting products in a store based on a PowerPoint presentation of different sneakers on a page. They don't have the same passion as the people who make a certain product. It's worth way more than shitty roll-outs.
Just spend the money on the people and let them do cool stuff. Collaborate. You don't have to be so exclusive with what you're doing. You can really try to include people, be representative, and be open for ideas and for people that have a different way of thinking. This is very basic shit.
Brands need coaching and mentoring on how to work with the people they're trying to sell their products to, because there's a disgusting disconnect.
What are the inspirations behind your upcoming sneaker
We wanted to have a sneaker that's functional. It would be great if there's a sneaker for 120 Euros that you could style with, you could use as studio shoes, you could paint, etc. The deadHYPE sneaker is made of canvas and leather. Leather keeps a great structure and the way it ages can give a shoe a second life, like a pair of Doc Martens or Clark's.
Canvas takes things like enamel paint. It's a very easy texture to work on and customize. So if you want to get experimental with your sneaker, there's room for it.
If it is a pair you want to wear for several years, you'll probably want to change the way it looks down the line, and if the sole isn't functional anymore, you can get it replaced, which is something we're currently discussing with adidas. You can love the way a sneaker looks, but you need that durability.
What was the design process like?
When I got asked to do the sneaker, I was like: "I know this guy who knows every fabric, every material." We were interns together at adidas, and he knows their entire database.
When I was younger, I thought that brands look at fabrics and fashion stuff every day. But of course, it's a corporate company, so it's more organized in terms of systems, and it's more about the computer work and spreadsheet work than real offline stuff in the field.
I'm more interested in overseeing 100 percent of the process, but this guy knew all the patterns, all the materials, so I told him about my influences and references I wanted to include, and then he just came back with the design. We wanted to have three colors; this purple, just because I just watched the Avengers, and I felt like Thanos. I'm really into mainstream references. I don't try and shun it.
Also, it's a deeper blend of the color that you have when you try to make a 3D model. So we just tried to connect the dots, aggregate these references to make a product.
You mentioned that there are three pairs...
There's the purple pair, and the black pair with Gore-Tex. The purple pair is like a work shoe, something that you can apply to your day-to-day working sense. And the black shoe is more like your heavy-duty wear.
We made the black pair heavy-duty so it could last for a long time. Even in the sense of not having a lot of money to spend on shoes — you need something plain to live your life and do the things that you're going to do with your day. So we took a black pair with Gore-Tex, and another with suede for its texture, so it could age well.
You can of course bleach it if you want, and do whatever you feel like to get more of your essence. Just an easy way to help the person connect with their sneaker. The white pair, that was actually for our team. It's like white canvas you can work on.
What's next for deadHYPE?
The final evolution, the super goal for deadHYPE would be something like Key Stage — informative reading material for 14- to 17-year olds. Something that would include exercises, as well as historical information to explain; also, how you can use your creativity and your mind to work for yourself and do whatever you want. It is great to encourage that mentality at that age, so they have the possibility to dream or to enact their vision.
Is there anything else that you want people to know?
We are underground, so we're going to stay underground.
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