Tom Slosberg has sneakers in his blood. His family have been prominent in the footwear game for four generations. His great-grandfather founded Stride Rite back in 1919 and his father, Myles Slosberg, was the first president of PRO-Keds after the brand was acquired by Stride Rite. Decades later, the time was right for Tom to once again assume the Slosberg family mantle at the helm of PRO-Keds. Tom’s challenge in 2016 is to introduce this timeless American sneaker brand to a new generation. Time to see what’s up with the choice of champions.
You’re a classic shoe-dog and a total sports nut. I guess your two main interests fit pretty nicely together?
Yes, I’ve been with the company over 20 years, and yes, and I’ve been lucky to have seen some amazing sporting moments. I started going to every Patriots game in the late-70s with my dad, and we still go today. The PRO-Keds connection got us great Celtics tickets in the Larry Bird era. My dad and I saw so many unbelievable games with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dr. J. I vividly remember Michael Jordan scoring 63 points and the Bulls still lost in the playoffs! I love the Red Sox and the Boston Bruins too.
What’s the first PRO-Keds image that comes into your head?
The red and blue ‘power stripes’ on the side of the shoes. It’s a really strong brand identifier. I also think about George Mikan back in 1949, and the rest of the Minneapolis Lakers. The whole team were PRO-Keds sponsored athletes as they won five NBA championships.
We hear you’re known colloquially in-house as ‘the archive’, on account of your vast knowledge of PRO-Keds history.
Back when Bobbito Garcia was writing Where’d You Get Those?, I learned a lot from him about the role of PRO-Keds in the culture of New York in the 70s and 80s. Tiny Archibald, Pistol Pete Maravich and Jo Jo White were great ball players that wore PRO-Keds in that era. But the brand transcended the court and became a staple part of the uniform worn by the founders of hip hop and the culture that formed around it. Over the years I’ve been able to speak with many leading figures from that time including Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel and Kool Keith. They and many others were really passionate about the role PRO-Keds played in their lives. I did a lot of listening and schooled up.
Actually there’s a new series coming to Netflix called The Get Down, about NYC in the 70s. Baz Luhrmann is directing and his wife Catherine Martin is in charge of wardrobe. We’ve been working closely with their team and you can expect to see a whole lot of PRO-Keds in the show. Their attention to period-correct detail is fanatical.
I love the old advertising slogan, ‘We challenge any other shoe. Anytime. Anywhere.’ PRO-Keds had a feisty attitude.
It sure did. The brand always had messaging that was confident, with a real sense of who they were and what they were trying to be. They really liked to tweak the competition in clever ways. I remember one old ad, ‘Consider the PROs instead of the Cons’. I wish I had written that!
It’s a shame that cheeky aspect has been lost these days. Like all brands, PRO-Keds had ups and downs, including an interesting Japanese chapter. What do you take from that?
The reason we have a solid name and track record in Japan – and also why we played an important role in early hip hop – is because PRO-Keds represents timeless athletic style and pure Americana. In terms of ups and downs in the business, patience is key. There are no short cuts. We have a great story to tell. We’re going to stick to what we do best, and reintroduce PRO-Keds to the next generation in an authentic but contemporary context, at the right pace.
Ok, lets talk about the future. How does PRO-Keds fit into the modern sneaker world?
It’s an interesting time for sure. We believe authenticity matters, but looking forward is what has always propelled brands. That is what we did in 1949 when we formed the brand and it’s what we are committed to today. There’s a quote I love from Alber Elbaz, who ran Lanvin. He said, ‘Heritage is like a good last name, it opens doors. But, once they’re open you need to do something to be invited again.’ That’s what’s on our minds as we rejuvenate PRO-Keds.
Tell us about the new collection.
Our design philosophy is ‘simplicity as sophistication’. The product focus is singularly on the Royal, which is PRO-Keds’ most iconic style. We‘ve remastered the shoe from the last to the uppers, enhancing the look and feel but without changing its identity. The Spring 2016 collection is comprised of three stories: Classic 12 oz Canvas, Washed Camo Canvas and Cordura Ballistic Nylon. It’s a very tight and disciplined collection, as are those that will follow, and will release mid-March at Union (Los Angeles), Concepts (New York), Bodega (Boston), Colette (Paris), Foot Patrol (London) and End (Newcastle), plus a few others. Exciting times!
Check out our Complete History of PRO-Keds feature right HERE.