In partnership with New Balance, our ‘One Step Ahead’ series will explore the journeys of five creatives who have blazed their own trail within the sneaker industry.
Born and bred in Boston, Concepts originally started with a focus on skateboarding, before diversifying into a globally recognised sneaker retailer with a store in Dubai and also New York. From intricate packaging concepts to epic events that flip the traditional notion of a sneaker launch on its head, Concepts is one of the few retailers that continually push the boundaries of collaboration. 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 at a surprising rate, Deon’s blue-collar attitude and flair for bold product design has kept Concepts at the creative forefront of the scene. We caught up with him to talk about his personal journey and the decisions that have helped shape his career.
How did this whole sneaker thing start for you? I didn’t really have any sneakers when I was a kid. Growing up in a single parent household with my mom working two jobs, it was really tough to convince her to buy me anything, let alone cool sneakers.
It wasn’t until high school that the sneaker thing really hit me. I’m talking late-80s, when all the designs were crazy! At 14, I got my first job as a busboy at the International House of Pancakes and I was saving every dollar to buy shoes. I wasn’t making much, but the bug bit hard and I amassed around 30 pairs during my freshman year, which was a lot at that time.
To fund my obsession I picked up odd-jobs here and there, and when school was behind me I started getting involved in things I shouldn’t have to make money – and that’s when I really started buying shoes like a maniac. By my early-20s, I was buying every cool shoe I could get hold of.
Is that how your relationship with Concepts started? By the early 2000s I was buying a lot of sneakers from Concepts, and because of that I became close with Spungie – the manager there at the time – and he really looked after me. I told him I’d buy everything he could hold in my size, and I’d go into the store every couple of weeks and take it all. But even then I was still missing out on some shoes. By that point the whole sneaker thing was gaining momentum and people were beginning to hunt for limited editions, even when it was just based on word-of-mouth hype.
That’s when I offered to work for free at Concepts on Saturdays. I didn’t need the money, but what I did need were the shoes set aside so I could purchase them at full retail. I didn’t want to mess their flow up – all I wanted was to make sure my pair was secure without dealing with the queues or any of that. So they obliged and I ended up doing that for a few years while working in construction, and hustling on the side until I gave that up. Eventually, Spungie left to start his own store and that’s when the opportunity to join Concepts arose.
What was your initial response?
At the time I was making so much money in construction, for me to work at Concepts full time was an insane pay cut and it made no sense. I had a step-daughter at the time and a baby on the way too, so it was important to make sure I was looking after my family first and foremost. But, at the same time, I hated my ‘real’ job and hated what I had to do to support them.
What made you take that leap of faith?
When they offered me the job I was at a crossroads. I knew it was an amazing opportunity to work with the company while it was still in its infancy. This was around 2006, and after seeing what some of the sneaker boutiques were doing in NY, I knew we could put Concepts on the map in our own way. There was something there, even though at the time I didn’t know what that was. And it fell in line with the only passion that I really had at the time, sneakers.
That night, I went home to my daughter’s mother and asked her what she thought I should do; I laid it all out for her. Her response was, ‘Fuck it. If you want to do it just go for it, we’ll figure it out and the kids will be fine.’
So I became store manager of Concepts shortly after. It was her support that gave me the confidence I needed to make that decision – which led me to where I am today – and I’m extremely grateful for that.
Concepts is an internationally recognized brand today, how different was it back then?
Back then, when I first took over the helm, Concepts was still a skate shop at the back of The Tannery, a Boston retailer that is an institution in every respect. We were a traditional skate store, but not in a traditional sense. We had a lot of wood on the wall – by that I mean skateboard decks on display – but alongside skate shoes we stocked sneakers and other gear. It was still very under the radar at the time; locals knew about it, but everyone else found out from word-of-mouth. Even though the whole sneaker thing was getting big in the mid-2000s and Alife was in GQ and all of that, we didn’t even have a sign out the front.
When I took over from the other guys, I loved everything about it but I didn’t skate, so I had to figure out what I was going to bring into the mix. At the same time, the whole street wear thing was bubbling away and I decided to incorporate that into Concepts. For example, we were one of the very first stores to stock The Hundreds, back when it was just one clothing rack at the Magic tradeshow in Vegas.
Do you remember a turning point during that period, something that drastically changed the direction of the company?
Probably around 2007 when Bodega opened up in Boston. I kept hearing all this buzz around a new store and I was heartbroken about it. We’d been steadily building the company up, and these other kids came in with an amazing store and basically stole our thunder! It took me a while to even walk into their shop because I was so pissed – they were doing everything better than us.
We’re great friends now and I love them very dearly, but back then I didn’t feel that way. I was a street kid, so I was like, ‘Fuck this, we’re going to have to figure something out or we’re not going to survive’. Bodega was the motivation for Concepts to step out of the Tannery and get our own flagship store. Once that opened in 2008, the sneaker collaborations started happening and everything changed.
You currently hold the title of creative director of Concepts. What does that role entail?
I’m not really big on titles, but I guess that’s something I’ve been doing long before it showed up on my email signature. As the company kept growing and our projects began piling up, I became more involved with our collaborative releases, and with what Concepts was as a brand. I can’t take credit for the clothing because I’m just not that talented, but I’m there every step of the way in terms of the sneaker projects.
My bread and butter is storytelling and ensuring that when we put a project out it has some substance. That we’re not just picking a colour, slapping our name on it and saying, ‘We hope you buy it!’ I love getting people to feel like they can educate others, and getting them to share in the excitement that we have for product.
Concepts and New Balance have worked together many times, what makes the relationship so special? Is it hometown pride?
We take a lot of pride in what we do and the products we create, and that’s something New Balance embrace too. Outside of them also being a Boston company, we’ve always admired how they play ball. Our first collaboration with them was back in 2009. Fast forward to today and they’re like family. They’ve done everything they can to promote Concepts and we’ve done everything we can to help them too, which is a sign of a true partnership.
Concepts have built up an impressive catalog of collaborations. What’s your secret sauce? Does it happen overnight?
Everything’s done internally, but I wouldn’t say it happens overnight. Sometimes that’s when the initial ideas come, but the majority of the time it’s simply trial and error and gruelling research to find inspiration. The team always dissects the ideas and every possible angle is explored – that’s how the whole packaging thing came about. Sometimes the sneakers aren’t a big enough canvas to completely tell the story behind the shoes and the idea spreads to a box and accessories, launch events and a party.
You’ve been doing this for a long time now. How do you stay connected to what’s happening in the sneaker world?
I generally make an effort to get onto the different sneaker sites at least once a week, doing my best to catch up. I don’t really care about all the tabloid stuff that a few of the sites have started covering, so I generally stick to the sneaker-orientated ones like Sneaker Freaker.
Thanks for the props, we owe you one. Do you pay attention to all the comments and social media chatter?
I try to stay off it. Not because I don’t have thick skin – I just don’t want it to alter who I am or what my mindset is when it comes to being creative. I’ll check it here or there, and I do love some of the comments, especially the shocking ones. I think some of these kids are super creative, and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think some of that shit was really funny, even when we’re the butt of the joke. I don’t take y’all that seriously.
Lastly, what advice would you have for kids that are hoping to get into the sneaker industry or want to be the next Deon Point?
No matter what it is in life that you approach, you have to approach it with your own unique angle. There’s so many kids hustling in different ways in the sneaker world – YouTubers, resellers, sneaker customisers and all these other different aspects – so there’s a lot of noise out there.
If you want to cut through the noise, you have to hone your approach and continually refine your unique angle. Without that, you’re just going to blend into the scenery, so you better have rich parents or rich friends because there’s really no other way to stick out.
Deon wears the New Balance 574 Sport ‘Navy’, available now from select stockists, as well as through New Balance’s online store.