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Patta is just one of those brands. You know it, you respect it, you wanna be a part of it. But to judge Patta by its cool sneaker collabs and apparel releases would be missing the point. Since Edson Sabajo and Guillaume ​“Gee” Schmidt established it 16 years ago, the Dutch label has intrinsically woven community into its DNA whether that means creating a local summer school, partnering with Black Panther artist Emory Douglas, or dropping an EP with Conway The Machine and Alchemist. You might know Patta for clothes, but just making them has never been the mission.

Despite being one of the most popular streetwear brands, few people know the story of Patta and what it has contributed to the industry. So, as the brand enters our online shop for the first time, we look back on its journey so far and how two sneaker-obsessed Surinamese guys birthed what would become one of the hottest and most honest brands in the game. Join us below for a genuine chat about history and legacy with Patta co-founder Gee and Brand Director Lee Stuart.

I don’t think a lot of people know what the name Patta means.

Guillaume 'Gee' Schmidt: The Surinamese word for sneaker is “Patta.” The name comes from this kind of a flip-flop style shoe that a lot of people wear in Suriname, but it’s been adopted in the Netherlands as well as a general street term for shoes. The word is an ode to our heritage.

So you started out primarily in sneaker culture.

Gee: Yes, so we started out as a store, mainly stocking imported sneakers. From that, we grew into becoming a brand, but that took some years. The first years, Patta was just a sneaker store with sneakers from all over the world that we ourselves curated and bought in other places and in addition to that, we also sold brands from our friends.

When you started, did you envision it becoming a brand or did that just happen naturally?

Gee: No, it kind of happened organically. One thing led to another and then we were becoming a brand, it was just us claiming back our independence. We obviously started with grey parallel import and all that type of stuff, but as we grew, it came with different responsibilities. You’re kind of dependent on what other sneaker brands are delivering to you, whether it’s something that works for you or not. That dependence was not really working for us. Obviously what ended up being the best option was for us to make our own choices.

On your website, you have this motto: ‘Out of love and necessity rather than profit or novelty.’ So did you feel like there was a need for a Patta?

Gee: We definitely thought there was a need for it. We thought there was a huge gap in the market and I think a lot of the people in our community also had these same cravings. Aside from that, there was also a lot of opportunity for us to showcase and work with the talent that was surrounding us. Whether that was graphic designers or photographers or stylists or people that make music or anything like that. That's always been instilled in our DNA. For instance, Lee, who is sitting next to me, he was also an early friend that became a consumer at the store, and now he’s our brand director.

Lee Stuart: You also sold my t-shirts in the beginning.

Gee: Of course, that's just how Patta works.

Lee: The thing is, I’m sorry, I low-key hated it when Patta opened.

Gee: Haha! Of course, because you wanted to do it yourself!

Lee: No, no, no, because I was a sneakerhead. I guess this was the beginning, the new millennium of sneaker culture in Amsterdam. Because before Patta, you'd have to go to a freaking village or scour the internet, which was very rudimentary in the beginning. And now, here comes Patta and damn, all the stuff I love is in one place. You could just walk in with a big bag of money and just look like that guy. I felt protective over this thing that was so precious to us.

Gee: He was one of us. A lot of these kids, before we got mainstream customers, they had exactly the same mentality as my man right here. ‘Listen man, I got this, it's a treasure and I want to keep it for myself.’ So it took us literally three to four years to actually come out of that niche. But you know what it is? That's actually the essence of what our culture is. Obviously this is the foundation of what is now a multi-billion [dollar] huge super industry. It's the same cycle as hip hop, becoming part of pop and what is the mass.

Like hip hop and sneaker culture, is it ever worrying or scary to you, as a Black-owned brand, now being part of the commercialization of the culture?

Gee: I don't really see myself as part of the commercialization of the culture, because I am part of the culture. I am culture in that sense. Patta’s building that up to the fullest. Like when Run-DMC held up an Adidas shoe and all of a sudden they were selling 100 million pairs of the Shell Toe, that was not a marketing campaign.

Obviously we need to make money and we need to sell stuff to exist. But the thought process and the reason we do stuff always stays the same. We could have been way bigger if we took other routes. I think in that sense, our essence never really changed. That slogan that you mentioned, it stays the same. Out of love, necessity rather than profit and novelty [...] We have always followed that mission organically. But I must say that definitely when Lee joined the team, we were finally able to actualize all these ideas that we have and filter it into what's our brand DNA.

Lee, when you joined Patta what did you want to change?

Lee: Man, what did I want to change when I came in?... Well, I just thought that we could do more, even though we were already doing a lot of stuff. I think what we missed was this global stage, for us to do and talk about all these things that matter to us. Because I think it's quite unique the position Patta is in, where it’s coming from and what it represents.

I wanted it to be more clear that Patta is Black-owned, independent, and from Amsterdam. Because I feel like that's unique and very valuable. At that time too many people just knew us from having done those legendary Nike Air Maxs. There's just so much more to us and it's such a shame that people didn't know that. I haven't quite succeeded yet, but we're working on it.

Gee: It takes time, man, if you want to do it well.

Lee: Yeah. Just wait for it. I think that those were the main things that I wanted to change. But mainly to be honest, I was just very happy to finally come home. That's what it feels like.

A lot of streetwear brands get big and then stray from their community. Do you feel like you need to amplify the community to have longevity?

Lee: That would make it a strategy and it's not. Amplifying the community is just what we think is important. It's not like we sit and think about, ‘how can we have longevity?’ No, we just do what we feel basically. These are our values, we're going to move according to those values and that is one of the extensions of that. That's how it comes across. That's how we bring it to the world.

Yeah, I think it's just important to stay true to yourself and that's one thing that you could say about us. Patta is very true to Patta. All those things that you see, amplifying the community, that's all what makes up Patta. Can you tell me a bit about the Patta Foundation?

Gee: The Patta Foundation is a forum for us to do the structural work and initiatives within our commercial ecosystem. It’s part of the bigger picture where we can link products that we sell in the store to one of the foundations that we think is important and ensure that a part of the proceeds support that. What are some of the initiatives?

Gee: Like the Patta running team first started out with people that we were surrounded by [...] But then Edson thought we can do more with that ethos and mentality. So we started attaching ourselves to schools and getting kids into running and that base mentality of ‘if you set yourself a goal, you can do it.’ Linking up with schools also inspired us within the company. The people coming into our company might want to start their own businesses, whether they’re photographers or designers [...] So for us that sparked the interest of maybe we could use this opportunity to help with all the possibilities [that] can be in your life. And that's where the Patta Academy grew from.

You see, all these are linked with the mentality of ‘what's missing?’ Then, what we think is missing and what we think is important, that's what we're going to start doing. A lot of times, making money, that's an afterthought.

Looking at streetwear culture, Amsterdam is a beacon with a lot of established brands by Black people or people with immigrant backgrounds, like Daily Paper, Filling Pieces, Olaf Hussein. Do you feel like you laid the blueprint?

Lee: Yes, we did.

Gee: I don’t like to make these types of statements, but this one I cannot really deny. We had to. We were very proud of both being from Amsterdam and from Suriname and just being blessed and we're very confident in what we do, that it has a specific quality to it and it's necessary. We have a lot of naysayers till this day, but that definitely never ever stopped us from doing what we need to do. Because our mentality is: If you don't want to give it to us, we're going to come and take it.

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