With a proprietary eponym for a name that is so catchy it almost defines an entire generation, Hong Kong's own HYPEBEAST has finally delved into a world they have covered so many times before - the sneaker collaboration. Partnering with adidas was only half the puzzle as the duo duly added Berlin's own Solebox to the equation. Not content with an international production, all three partners then added ace bike-maker Bianchi as the cherry on top. The Zeitfrei is a nice piece of retro-futurism, with some well placed details and restrained colours, but it's the shoe itself that seems to be the star attraction – applause please for a wonderfully timed addition to the footwear scene! We caught up with Eugene Kan and fixed our ears as he rapped about fixed gears, adidas and stiff soles.
We've never really gotten all that much of an opportunity to put our mark on a shoe. But in retrospect, I think that media outlets collaborating with brands on product is in itself a rarity. I can probably count on my fingers the name of media sneaker collaborations. Blogs are arguably the way of the future but they're at the crossroads of becoming a more legitimate form of communication. Not sure if this will translate into more of these types of product collaborations in general down the line but despite all the hardwork, of course we'd do it all over again.
What finally sold you on the idea?
At first I personally was a bit apprehensive in fully committing to the project. I'm not fully entrenched in the fixed gear world, yet there is definitely an inherent respect for what I would largely consider an artform. The ability to foresee and predict alongside split second reactions are no different from any other sport. While a lack of authenticity was sort of lingering in the back of my mind, I sort of equated this as no different from James Jebbia starting Supreme with no background in skating or Martha Cooper finding herself capturing something that truly interested her (I think might draw some hate for those two comparisons). Essentially, I personally as well as the rest of the crew just wanted to put together a solid project which included everything from product to communications. It was a great challenge in itself and one I think we've fully accomplished.
Initially, who was it who came up with the idea for all four companies (Hypebeast, Solebox, Adidas and Bianchi) to work on this project together?
That honor would go down to Andy Chiu of adidas. Dude has become my brother from a different mother for real. I think in the corporate world, many people have the intellectual sense but that is often only half the equation. You need to develop a different sort of relationship with your market especially in the lifestyle segment which I think Andy has a good grasp of.
How long ago were you nutting it all out?
I think he hit us up back in June of 2008. Had I known the work involved, I would have gotten our shit together much earlier. Deadlines for some things are tight, but I have a good feeling everything will sort themselves out. We have some complimentary items to go alongside the shoes including a special modified messenger/shoe bag where we worked closely with a friend in Eric Yang who's family has had a ton of experience manufacturing bags for brands such as Coach, Tumi and other high-fashion labels. The bag is something I think we're particularly happy about cause it's basically built from scratch and offers somewhat of an innovation to the bag market.
Just how closely did you all work together to pull it off – it’s a very intercontinental concept with adidas and Solebox in Germany, Bianchi in Europe and Hypebeast in Hong Kong…
To be frank, we all sort of did things on our own. I didn't really want things to be too interconnected so our focus could be clear and precise rather than worrying about what Solebox was doing for their shoe or inadvertently having some of their ideas cross-over into our patterns of thought.
Structurally and theoretically – how did that hinder the longevity of the process with you being so far away from the rest of the brands?
Sort of what I touched upon, being out in the dark wasn't necessarily a problem, if anything it allowed us to really pump out some ideas that we felt would work for ourselves and were a reflection of what we wanted to do.
Let’s talk about the product – we’ve never seen this style from adidas before! What style is it and was it built from scratch for the collaboration?
The Zeitfrei is an entirely new model from adidas Performance. The last is the same as the Stan Smith and its ultimately a pretty comfortable and low-profile shoe. The thing I like about the shoe is that despite it falling under the Performance umbrella, the shoe presents itself as something simple and clean. The technology isn't really visible but it works and presents itself subtly.
Obviously it is a silhouette designed for bike riding – what are some of the stand out features that make it the ultimate riding sneaker?
Some of the elements incorporated into the design including extensive use of 3M. However, much of the 3M is concealed beneath the perforations so it's rather subtle. 3M is seen across the toebox, 3 Stripes on the side and through mesh on the heel. There's also a strip of 3M around the foxing band. The shoe's outsole construction features a special tread along the forefoot which allows for better pedal traction. A new construction method creates a special flange around the outer edges of the outsole to maintain shape and durability. The sole isn't as stiff as you'd normally expect from a riding shoe but that way a compromise between off-bike and on-bike usage. The neoprene lace pocket (where the logos are placed) allow for you to neatly stow your laces. As well we've included 3M laces as well for some added touches.
Was there an immediate decision to keep the sneakers as low-fi and as brand-free as possible?
I believe the designers at adidas went into the design process looking at what a typical fixed gear ride looks like. For the most part, cleanliness is an important aspect in the aesthetic and the fact that it's brakeless gives off a certain minamalistic mantra. I think the adidas people captured this theme quite well in their executition. Not to say we couldn't have done things crazier but that really isn't our style so to say.
Were you in talks with Solebox along the way – or was it more an isolated design process?
The dialogue amongst us two was pretty limited, everybody sort of kept to themselves and did their own thing haha. I think given we had the exact same shoe to work with, it is better to keep things sperate as is.
How hard was it to convince Bianchi to come on board to do the bikes?
I actually didn't have much to do with that and more so Andy. We did feel that there was a missing piece to the puzzle and I think it worked out great to pull on a reputable bike company to create the full circle.
What was the concept behind your creation as opposed to Hikmet’s ride?
We were given a few different choices and naturally we gravitated towards a more contemporary bike set-up as we feel it embodies what Hypebeast represents. We are in essence a modern piece of landscape we represent and that is new-age media. But I think it's great that we both settled on a different model altogether to differentiate our styles given we had the same Zeitfrei to work with.
Between getting the shoe perfected from the samples and building the bike, what ended up being the more laborious of the two?
I think for us, we're much more well-versed in the footwear aspect. Albeit in terms of design, we're totally new to it yet we've seen a lot of styles cross our path. You'd think at times it would be easy with some decent experience and exposure to lots of footwear styles but if anything it makes it much more difficult. You want to stay new and fresh but the last few years have seen so many models drop that you don't want to seem as though you're just ripping a popular colorway. It's a double edge sword being subjected to so many shoes all the time.
Were you ever worried that the bike/fixie phase would be dead and gone by the time the whole package dropped, knowing how fickle the streetwear scene can be?
I think that beyond just what the bike/fixie phase as you put it represents there's a greater and more powerful underlying societal change. Green is gaining more and more acceptance and with it came the embracing (for good I think) of bike culture once again. It's funny how cyclical it was, people would ditch cars for bikes and now bikes are returning. When it comes to mechanical power it's really unrivaled, you can traverse decent distances at a good pace.
What are the numbers on these pieces? How many shoes and bikes will be available for retail?
There's about a 100 pairs total for both Solebox and Hypebeast. The bikes are limited to two versions for Solebox and Hypebeast. The bikes will be auctioned off for charity while 50 pairs of shoes will be retailed (the other 50 are friends & family). The damage is about $150 USD for the Solebox joints and $198 USD for ours. We've included a hybrid shoe meets messenger bag we designed from scratch using some nice beefy Cordura alongside some nice detailings. As well we've got a cylcling cap and carry-all sling bag to keep everything together.
When will they see a release and where can peeps pick them up?
Both versions will be exclusive to their respective locations. Solebox will release at their store on Saturday, May 23rd and we'll release online at Hypebeast on Friday, May 29th.
Has this whet your appetite to do more collabs in the future?
I think that in general we've always wanted to do more co-branded products but of course something ultimately organic has to take shape. No point pounding a square into a round hole. I think our approach to collaborations will yield some interesting projects outside the traditional norm. We see quite a bit of different things and from a different perspective at that. But we're in no big rush to churn things out, they're more for fun than anything.
What’s up next for you guys?
This is probably our biggest project planned for this year anyways, nothing else really up our sleeves yet. Next year is our 5th anniversary, so maybe we should start getting that shit started! Thanks a lot for support and keep up the good work Sneaker Freaker!
Solebox x adidas "The Complete Ride" Zeitfrei Release Information
Date: Saturday, May 23rd, 2009
Time: 12:00 pm CEST
Location: Nuernberger Strasse 16, 10789 Berlin, DE
Price: €110 EUR
Sizes: US 8 - US 12 (full sizes only)
Includes: SKS Solebox Air Champ Pro Air Pump
Hypebeast x adidas "The Complete Ride" Zeitfrei Release Information
Date: Friday, May 29th, 2009
Time: 2 pm NYC | 11 am LA | 7 pm London | 8 pm Berlin | 2 am Hong Kong (Saturday the 30th)
Price: $198 USD
Sizes: US 6.5, US 7 - US 12 (full sizes only)
Includes: Cycling Cap, Cordura Messenger Bag, Canvas Carry-All Bag