How UNKNWN are Owning ‘The Sport of Fashion’
The heat continues to emanate from Miami boutique UNKNWN. With their roots in Akron, Ohio, UNKNWN’s identity initially took shape on the basketball court, with childhood friends and ballers LeBron James, Jaron Kanfer and Frankie Walker Jr. all linking up to pursue ‘The Sport of Fashion’. Now set to reveal their concept store in December during Art Basel (a 10,000-square-foot space designed by the installation team New York Sunshine), we linked up with UNKNWN to chat childhood Grails, South Beach style, and how the Miami outlet are evolving beyond the retail experience.
Tell us about the story of UNKNWN.
Jaron Kanfer: LeBron, Frankie and I are all from Akron, Ohio. We were always into fashion. Coming from a small town, we travelled a lot. We all played youth basketball, so we were exposed to New York, Los Angeles and Florida early on. Travel was our introduction to the fashion world. We wanted to develop a cool idea and bring it to our hometown of Akron. However, honestly, with LeBron James being part of our team, when he made the move to the Heat, it made more sense for us to do the project in Miami. That's initially how we ended up opening the business in Miami, but the idea for UNKNWN came to life in Akron.
Frankie Walker Jr.: When we were kids, I was the guy that took it all a little more seriously than others. Not only the footwear component, but the complete look. I always made sure that my sneakers were a certain way; that my socks were a certain way. Even the way my shorts or jersey was tucked in. I was always that guy. Fashion and sneakers were always a passion.
At what point did you realise LeBron James had something 'special' on the court?
FW: Probably around the sophomore year we started to see it, started to see that he was a little bit different. I think around the same time that he really started carrying his national case – you could really see him just kind of building off of it.
JK: LeBron was obviously also a key to our sneaker passion and just taking it to another level. Obviously, everyone's coming at him. So a lot of the products that people didn't get to see, we did. It just fed the fire for our love of sneakers.
What sneakers were you guys wearing back then?
JK: Our high school was sponsored by adidas, so we wore a lot of Kobes and Tracy McGrady pro models. Off the court, I was big on the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Raid.
FW: If I had to step out there and say the Grail that I have in my collection, it would be the Nike Zoom Generation prototype.
JK: Not to speak for Frankie, but he also has one of the original Nike LeBron ‘Watch the Throne’ drops.
How did your relationship with basketball inform the ‘The Sport of Fashion’ concept?
JK: Fashion has always been part of our lives, even through sport. It’s what we wear to the games, what we wear on court – it’s what LeBron exposed us to. In 2011, we saw all these worlds coming together: sports, music and fashion. We saw the opportunity to bring all these ideas together under one setting in Miami with UNKNWN. When you think of a mall, you don't think of a top-tier designer boutique that has comfortable sneakers. We wanted to bring something new to the industry and do it at such a large scale like Aventura and prove our concept of these worlds coming together.
'If I had to step out there and say the Grail that I have in my collection, it would be the Nike Zoom Generation prototype.'
Is there a distinct sense of style in Miami?
JK: We’ve really seen Miami grow as a city and culture from what it was originally – that South Beach vibe and nightlife. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen areas really start to grow and create these little subcultures outside of the beach. Fashion has changed. Everything is evolving. It’s really allowed UNKNWN to be at the forefront and push the culture forward. When we did this back in 2011, there were really no stores in Miami bringing designer clothes and sportswear to the scene.
Where do you look for inspiration when you’re curating the look for UNKNWN, and brands you’re looking to stock?
FW: For me personally, I love going to Tokyo. It gives me a chance to see a different side of the retail world. It’s different to the States. It’s just always a breath of fresh air when I go over there.
Which sneaker generated the most hype for UNKNWN this year?
FW: The sacai x Nike LDWaffle was a big one for us, and also the Air Fear of God 1. There were some nostalgic LeBron retro releases that caught a lot of energy. Some of the shoes that were initially PEs dropped. The Nike LeBron 3 ‘SVSM’, the LeBron 3 and 16 ‘Superman’ all generated lots of hype. The LeBron Championship Pack back in 2012 was probably the craziest for us.
You now have this huge space that’s allowed you to link up with New York Sunshine. What kind of potential does this open up in the future?
JK: The move was huge for us. The new space allows us to see the full evolution of the UNKNWN identity – to grow into what we always wanted to be. The new store allows us to connect consumers to brands through its spirit. Having the courtyard was one of the central concepts for the new store. It allows us to build the worlds of art, fashion and music. The new space allows UNKNWN to become a brand outside of retail – to really evolve. Obviously, working with LeBron and having Virgil Abloh (a friend of the brand) stop by was incredible.
FW: We’re really interested in creating global impact whilst also finding ways to support the local community through offering our resources and platforms.
We couldn’t jump off the line without asking – what are your thoughts about Anthony Davis joining LeBron in LA?
FW: Man, I think it’s great. It’s a match made in heaven for both parties. They’re going to be one hell of a pick and roll that’s for sure.
The latest John Elliott x Nike LeBron Icon is available right now from UNKNWN.
The UNKNWN Wynwood concept store will open in December, and will hold a series of events during Miami Art Week.