UPDATE: Our mate Rick from Burn Rubber just informed us that they just received a small restock of the Boblo Boat Ventilators. Get in quick here!
Successful independent retailers play a crucial role in galvanising disparate scenes in their local communities. This is certainly true of Burn Rubber, who have laid the essential groundwork for sneaker culture in their hometown of Detroit, Michigan. We caught up with owners, Rick Williams and Roland Coit, to chat about Motor City and how their Reebok Ventilator collaboration is derived from their childhood memories.
What was happening in Detroit before Burn Rubber got rolling?
Rick: Actually there were a lot of guys into sneakers here, but there wasn't really an active community per se. There were guys that kind of knew what was going on, but other than that, you just wore what you wore. You weren't really a sneaker collector, you know what I mean? Then when Burn Rubber arrived, it became the place for us all to meet up.
Ro: That’s when you started seeing sneaker battles and things like that. For a place where like-minded people are doing positive things and are into something as good as sneakers, what better city for a place like Burn Rubber than Detroit?
Some boutique store owners like to stand in the background, while others like being front and centre. Are you still involved in the business by being on the floor talking to your customers?
Rick: Yeah, we do everything. Ro and I are very big parts of the Burn Rubber brand. People know us for what we've done and what we've brought to the city. I guess in our later years, we don't assist as many customers directly, but we're still hands on with everything. We're there every day.
You're also in Reebok’s Certified Network. What does that mean to you?
Ro: I like it because it allows us to do what we love to do – create culture. Having that platform and being in the same group with stores like Sneaker Politics and Concepts is amazing.
Rick: The best part of being in the Certified Network is being able to express ourselves and tell stories about where we're from. It's a great platform and it's a great opportunity for us to give the world a little piece of Burn Rubber, and a piece of Detroit.
Let's talk about your Ventilator. There's a fair bit going on there, what's the background?
Ro: When we were growing up, there was this theme park called Boblo on an island between Detroit and Windsor, right between Canada and Michigan. The best part of visiting the amusement park was riding the ferryboat to get over there. We were kids, but our parents were kind of doing their own thing, so we were running around chasing girls, cracking jokes, playing games in arcades and stuff like that. As we got older, it was more about meeting your girl on the ferryboat and trying to bring the families together to make sure you're on there at the same time. That 45-minute boat ride was "the thing".
Rick: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so Boblo was already done by the time I got to Michigan. But when Ro would tell me these stories, I'm like, "Yo, we should do a story about that! We should do a shoe based on the Boblo boat." Runners are obviously one of our favourite styles and the Ventilator is a Reebok classic, so it's an honour to work on this project. The shoe is a literal take on the boat. We looked at a picture and took the tones that we saw in the boat and applied them to the sneaker. There was yellow on the tip of the smokestack and the rest of the boat was basically grey and white with some pops of blue. One of the most telling features of the shoe is the hangtag and the branding on the heel. I took a photo of the actual dock area and redesigned the logo and just made it say ‘Burn Rubber’. So everything that we put into the shoe was true to Boblo.
Ro: The icey soles reference the water, so it’s like the shoe is sitting on the water!
That level of storytelling, does it make you feel prouder of where you're from or do you think it's just neat to tell a local story on an international level?
Rick: We're from Detroit, so we kind of have a chip on our shoulder because everything that's said about Detroit is usually negative. We feel like we bring something to the table for people to be proud of. We have a voice and it's up to us to use that that voice to show our city in a positive light.
The Burn Rubber x Reebok Ventilator will be releasing at Reebok Certified Network accounts worldwide on the 16th of May. Stay tuned to Sneaker Freaker for the latest Ventilator news and stories!
- Originally Published May 4th, 2015