Made With Pride: Concepts' Deon Point Chats New Balance 997 Collaborations
Born and bred in Boston, Concepts originally opened their doors with a focus on skateboarding, before diversifying into global retail with stores in Dubai, New York, and Shanghai. From intricate packaging concepts to epic events that flip the script on traditional sneaker launches, Concepts is one of the few retailers that continually push the boundaries. At the helm is Deon Point, a New England—native that spent his formative years hassling store clerks for hook-ups long before he became the creative director. As the industry continues to expand exponentially, Deon’s blue-collar attitude and flair for bold design has kept Concepts at the forefront of the game.
Your career started on the shop floor at Concepts. Is that the best place to learn the footwear business?
I started in the stockroom to be exact. Personally, I wanted to know everything there was to know about the business. I didn’t mind at the time what my job at Concepts would entail, I just knew I wanted to be part of it. It wasn’t glamorous, but I saw what was coming in, what styles and brands were selling, and what wasn’t. If you don’t know who your customer is, what they gravitate towards, and how their purchase behaviour evolves, catering to them is impossible. Being at the bottom of the totem pole is good for anyone to experience, and you have to understand that everyone plays a vital role in a successful business, stock boy included. A humble beginning will always keep you grounded.
Fast forward quite a few years and you’re the creative director. What does your position involve?
My day-to-day role shifts quite a bit. I’m responsible for applying the Concepts vision on all the colabs, choosing the products we sell and the way they are presented in the shops. I have the final say, and I am a perfectionist by nature, so it’s my job to take the blame, not the credit. It’s 24/7. Some days I’m working on collaborations that aren’t due out until 2020, but some days my job is simply making sure all the stores are burning the same incense.
Convention says that ‘print is dead’ and that bricks-and-mortar retail will go the same way. What have you been doing at Concepts to counteract the shift?
As with anything, you have to be prepared to evolve. Print largely went away because the advertising business saw the growth in online ads, and that there was a faster and easier way to obtain news and information. That shift in the business model also applies to the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail shop. We are constantly evolving with what’s happening around us and foreseeing what a future Concepts shop will look like. Is there an easier and faster way to buy shoes and apparel? Yes, but we will actually be expanding our locations with the mindset of creating a unique experience and engaging with our customers in a way that you simply can’t online.
Concepts and New Balance have now worked together many times, what makes the relationship so cozy? Is it hometown pride?
I think there is a synergy there, and the Boston narrative is certainly a plus. It’s easy to work with people that live and work in the same neighbourhood. While some think Concepts put New Balance on the map, we were more appreciative of the faith they had in us. They let us put a spin on product that was already working well, so there is a certain comfort level there that has allowed us to challenge one another. We have always held our partnership in the highest regard. However, in true Boston fashion, they have no problem whatsoever telling me NO!
After all this time, do you have a guiding philosophy when it comes to designing collaborations?
While we certainly rely on instinct, there is no set formula to guide our approach. We are usually working at least 18 months out, so there has to be a bit of faith when you’re orchestrating plans. We love to take risks, so if it feels questionable, we’re happy to proceed. It’s no secret that we love to push the boundaries. It usually pays off!
The Concepts x New Balance 997 colabs set the bar very high back in 2014. What do you remember about that time?
Hands-down, the 997 is our favourite New Balance of all time. Aside from pure aesthetics, they are one of the most comfortable sneakers ever made. I think a lot of outside factors contributed to the success of those three shoes. The timing was impeccable. The 997s were Made in USA and consumers were looking for something different at that time, which makes sense because the 997 hadn’t been released for a few decades.
Whether it’s the brand matrix we offer, or the collaborations we design and release, Concepts have always remained committed to the idea of luxury, so the conceptual thread between all those 997s was powerful.
'Our confidence is always apparent; however, this plays back to our willingness to push the envelope. We are always contributing to a larger body of work that we remain conscious of at all times.'
How do you assess whether a collaboration was a success?
In my early years at Concepts, I was very conscious of the sell-through speed, traffic on the website, and even the reseller prices. These days, I’m more about seeing people wear the actual shoes. If someone is willing to forego the resale value to wear a Concepts colab, then my job is done.
I’m sure kids would love to know how a sneaker collaboration comes together. Take us through the entire process from start to finish.
Yeah, I think most people wouldn’t understand how it all happens. The first thing we start with is a discussion around the model we’ll work on. We take that away and come up with a concept that we think gels with the shoe itself. The last part of the process is figuring out the colourway and documenting the materials. It generally takes about three months after the design is submitted before the first sample arrives. Depending on how many revisions are required, it’s another 12 months at least before the finished pairs hit the stock room. So, all up, it can easily take 18 months for a project to come together, which makes the process quite speculative.
You’ve been doing this for such a long time, how do you stay inspired and avoid becoming jaded?
I approach every opportunity as a chance to grow, with the fear of a chance to fail in the back of my mind. Our confidence is always apparent; however, this plays back to our willingness to push the envelope. We are always contributing to a larger body of work that we remain conscious of at all times.
Any final words of wisdom? What is the best advice you were ever given?
Always play the long game!
Photo Credit: Tak Sakamoto
This feature was originally published in Sneaker Freaker's New Balance 997 book. For a look at the 997's history, read about its journey to cult status and our interview with designer, Steven Smith. For a look back at United Arrows' 997.5, read our interview with UA's director, Poggy, or delve into the minutiae of the 997 back catalogue with Matt Kyte. Of course, we also broke bread with Kith's Ronnie Fieg to chat about his love for the 997.