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Interview: It's High Tide for Patta in 2021

Patta Nike Air Max 1

Throwing open their doors in the heart of Amsterdam in 2004, Patta have expanded to become the thumping pulse of Dutch streetwear. Instrumental in amplifying the sound of local hip hop and shaping contemporary sneaker culture, Patta are turning up the volume yet again this year with a trio of Air Max 1s. To celebrate the ‘Rush Maroon’ colourway, we linked up with creative director Vincent van de Waal and jack-of-all-trades Lee Stuart to chat Dutch hip hop, the challenges of revisiting the AM1, and the importance of black representation in the sneaker industry.

Building a strong sense of community is so important for the Patta brand. Was it difficult to stay connected during COVID-19?
LS – We’ve had to communicate a whole lot more in the last year and a half. With the new wave of activism and Black Lives Matter after George Floyd’s murder, we really made sure to stay connected with everyone. We’ve provided resources for mental health and we’ve tried to check in and show more of our personal side so people could feel connected.

VW – It’s always been very important to us, even before the pandemic. A lot of people are very loyal and it’s a beautiful thing to feel. But we still had to step up and reach out to people. There is no Patta without community. That’s the way it’s always been.

How do you guys feel about black representation and opportunity in the sneaker industry?
VW – There’s been a lot of change. It’s something that should’ve happened a lot earlier. For us, I think Patta has always taken responsibility in this matter, so it’s not new for us to give it more attention. What is new for us is the whole environment around us. I mean, there’s still a long way to go. There’s no middle ground anymore.

LS – Even as a company we had to look at our hiring practices. We really have to look at what we want to see in the world and how we can be the change we want to see. We’ve hired with affirmative action, to be honest. We’re prioritising black women because it’s important to us. It’s important that we’re showing a good example.

VW – We’ve been working a lot with film lately. If you live in the Netherlands, it’s just hard to form a black crew. That’s something that shouldn't be hard. That was a moment when we really looked at each other and said ‘we’ve got to do this differently’. Even if it’s hard, we’ll find a black crew.

Can you tell us about the ‘Waves’ project you filmed for the Air Max 1?
VW – It actually started as a relationship between Patta’s co-founder Guillaume 'Gee' Schmidt and Steve McQueen. They are both fans of each other’s work. It was sort of a moonshot: could we approach Steve McQueen? It turns out there was an opportunity. We went in with the mindset of forming an all black crew. He gave us some names and young talent to work with, and we made the decision to work with Mahaneela. She’s an amazing young creative.

LS – That was a beautiful thing to see: the film crew. The director is a black woman. Hair, makeup, DOP, everyone is black.

Talk us through the Air Max 1 collaboration. What does the model mean to Patta?
VW – The Air Max 1 means a hell of a lot to us obviously, because we’ve done it in the past. I think Patta is remembered for that. But working with the model also made things very difficult. Nike initially brought up the AM1 as they’re choosing the next models to highlight. From the start, we were thinking, ‘Okay, the Air Max 1 again. What are we going to do?’ We figured, if it’s not a really new or modern take, then we probably shouldn't do it.

That was our first thought when Nike came to us, to be honest. But we worked with a great team. We collaborated with the team that also works on the ISPA – the place for all of Nike’s new innovation. We bounced ideas back and forth. You have to understand, this is during COVID-19. Normally we’d just jump on a plane to Portland, but now we’re all doing it from our living rooms. We never met each other, so it was quite a challenge. Normally you’re just in Portland for a couple of days, and you have time to enter all the libraries for fabrics and have conversations with people. Trying out different things. It was quite a challenge, but it made us even more focused. We had to be really sharp.

The response has been insane. Did it surprise you?
VW – We knew we had something special but we didn’t expect a response like this. It can be a gamble to change something so beloved, especially because a lot of Patta fans are OG sneakerheads. We wanted to meet their expectations and strike a balance between the old-heads and new-heads.

What are the challenges of satisfying both OG sneakerheads and the new school? How have habits changed since Patta’s launch in the early 00s.
VW – A big change in the sneaker world are things like StockX. Sneakers became big business. Growing up, it was all about the love of sneakers. We collected sneakers. We wouldn't sell them or give them away. The reality is that there are now big chunks of the customer base that are seeing this as something of value. Sneakers are something that you can trade or make money from.

If something gets bigger, it gets more pop. There is more money. I mean, you can compare it to the hip hop industry 20 years ago. It wasn’t that different. If it wasn’t embraced by big money, it wouldn’t be what it is today. In that sense, sneaker culture and hip hop probably always went a little hand-in-hand. Of course, I think it’s important not to hate on something that’s new. The new generation is always as important as the old.

Hip hop is a huge part of Patta’s identity.
LS – It’s always been intertwined with the brand. In Patta’s first year in 2004, you were starting to see a distinctly Dutch hip hop scene emerge. Back in the 1990s, rapping in Dutch was considered kind of corny. But in the early 2000s, there was a whole movement of strictly Dutch rap, and the opposite became true: rapping in English would be considered corny. In 2005, Patta put out a mixtape exclusively with joints made specifically for the store. The mixtape featured all the Dutch rappers of the moment – everyone that was charting and touring. Every couple of years, we do a project like this. It’s always been us. You have to understand, even before Patta, Edson Sabajo (Patta co-founder) was known as one of the A-list DJs. Gee was always an MC. They did a radio show. It was legendary; I grew up listening to it.

VW: It’s all about the attitude and values that hip hop stands for. I’m not even talking about the music, really. I think those values and rules are what Patta lives by.

Is the Air Max 1 going to seize the throne from the Dunk?
LS – Of course, Nike have the power to make that happen. To be honest, I was always a huge fan of the Dunk over the Air Max 1. Coming towards the end of the 1990s, when I was looking for sneakers other people didn’t have, it was the Dunks. It took Nike quite a long time to bring them back, but they did it in a major way. I’m not sure if the Air Max 1 is going to overtake the Dunk, but if that’s what Nike wants to do, then that’s what will happen.

What does 2022 look like for Patta?
LS – We can say this: for us, to have a relationship with a company or brand, it’s also about having a relationship with those people. It’s never a one-off. Brands you’ve seen us collaborate with over the last couple of years – you’ll see more of that.

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