SOULGOODS on Bridging the Gap Between China and the World
SOULGOODS are the Beijing-based label and retailer making a splash in the scene – thanks to their megalithic Nike collaboration.
It’s a gargantuan achievement for the brand. Not only because each of their three Dunk Highs taps their favourite eras and unique interests, but because SOULGOODS is the first mainland Chinese company to colab with Nike.
With niche references and subtle easter eggs scattered throughout, this collection has more than meets the eye. Each pair of Dunks looks to SOULGOODS’ deep ties to basketball, music, style and art, representing three iconic pop-culture eras: the 80s, 90s and 00s.
We chopped it up with SOULGOODS’ creative director Wu Yue about everything from design and development to why Nike resonates with the Chinese consumer!
Congratulations! How does it feel to release a Nike collaboration?
It feels unreal – it’s a dream come true! The 18-year-old me would be happy! G Ming and I bonded years before SOULGOODS over our love for sneakers and Nike in particular.
How did the collaboration come about?
Nike China approached us almost two years ago and told us we would be the first entity from mainland China to collaborate with Nike! We were so excited, and China has been manufacturing for Nike since the 80s! We felt the mission to give China some worthy grails that we never had as mainlanders!
How involved were you with the design and development of the release?
Never been more involved. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! At first, we were given a Dunk High and three color variations as a retailer and asked to give a moodboard with local storytelling. As both a brand and a retailer, we have to give a deeper and bigger vision. We chose to pitch a ‘what if’ story: What if we had a time machine and the ability to bring three important eras, both in the Nike Dunk history and the largely unknown modern Chinese history, to Beijing? As we moved on, we had clear ideas of where we wanted to take this collaboration and designed every detail to make each of these three shoes unique and special!
We wanted to create a collection that would tell the world our story through details that speak to true sneaker connoisseurs.
Each Dunk High in the collection pays homage to a different decade. What were the specific references from each era? Did any personal experiences inform the design?
(On the ‘80s’)
G Ming and I were born in 83, and the Dunk was first released in 85, so we had to start the story there! As far as I can remember, there were always basketball courts around me growing up in Beijing! China is the second-largest basketball nation in the world! In 1980s China, the Dunk could’ve only existed if Nike sponsored a team. How can we make simple team sport blocking interesting? We went through all 80s executions, and one of the icons that Nike never retroed, which both G Ming and I love, is the Nike Mac Attack. We took the perforation, the material, and the label and added the lettering of the Nike Terminator and the wing of the Nike Convention 86! My friend Nathan VanHook showed me Terminators, which artist David Choe hand-painted, and told me we had to customize our lettering instead of using the generic ones. So I hand-drew the lettering and added the SOULGOODS identity! We wanted to tie the 80s shoe with its origins: the love between China, basketball, and sport in general.
(On the ‘90s’)
In the 90s, as China opened up economically, the influence of Western culture translated into a huge rock and punk scene in Beijing. Silhouettes from the 80s, like the Dunk and the AF-1, continued to exist in the West through the music and styles they inform, like the AF-1 and the golden era of US East Coast hip hop!
We wanted to reference the cult 90s rock album Black Dream from Dou Wei, so we used the color scheme of the album cover and the silver swoosh border as the rails you see on the cover picture. I used some 90s boot-looking Air Force 1 blocking, butter nubuck that I always loved, and details like the full-black bottom and the front toe mini Swoosh to make the shoe unmistakably 90s! Our logo is embroidered on the heel like the Wu-Tang Dunks.
Music is a huge part of SOULGOODS! G Ming knows his punk, and I grew up with hip hop. We had to make a shoe that both a rocker and a hip-hop guy would wear!
(On the ‘2000s’)
In the 2000s, China kinda caught up with the world. I immigrated to France in the 90s and started working at Starcow in early 2000, where I first fell in love with the Dunk! I remember being so excited about the first SBs I sold, and the Dunk was a canvas for brands like Supreme, Zoo York, Haze and Futura! I sold the Dunk Paris when it came out! Silkscreened nubuck with artworks haven’t been seen since the DUNKLES, and we experimented with digital print on suede. Among the many hidden images on the ‘2000s’, one that means a lot to me is Richard Mulder holding the first Supreme Dunks in a Chinese factory, featured on one of the first Nike SB catalog covers! As a Chinese mainlander, an immigrant teenager, and an artist and brand owner, we get to hold a shoe that represents us – instead of just being the manufacturers.
The Dunk High is one of the most iconic sneakers of all time. Is this a model close to you and your collection? If so, how and why?
The Dunk High started it all for me! I first met Fred from Starcow because of a co.jp Dunk High he had in the window of the shop! The ‘Goldenrod’ was my first pair of Dunks, and then I had so many iconic pairs of the Dunk Highs over the years. It’s incredible to be able to create a Dunk High today with Nike!
What makes sneaker culture in Beijing unique?
The sneaker culture in Beijing is very different. As most people weren’t able to afford Nikes before the end of the 90s, I’d say a lot of the first collectors came from basketball. There are a lot of basketball PE collectors in mainland China! Now sneaker culture is mainstream, so it’s interesting to do some products that truly mean something to us, and we always hope they mean something to more people!
Why do you think the Nike brand resonates so strongly with consumers in China?
As the Chinese people’s quality of life improved over those three decades, people were looking for the best, and I guess Nike is still considered the best brand in the world.
What’s next for SOULGOODS? Future collaborations?
With SOULGOODS, we wanna bridge the gap between China and the world, and we wanna inspire and represent Chinese and Asians around the world by doing products with a soul. You can expect more from us in the near future!