That sort of freedom, however, doesn’t come without an enormous amount of risk. Working for a bigger institution with an established reputation brings its share of frustrations, but it also features an inherent sense of security. Nothing is too big to fail, per se, but things are a lot more difficult for an upstart than for a company that has developed a following over time.
That said, for designer extraordinaire David Raysse, the positives behind controlling one’s own destiny far outweigh the potential negatives. As such, frustrated with having been forced to sacrifice artistic integrity and premium quality for the sake of marketing, Raysse launched Brandblack, a fusion of basketball culture and high-fashion sensibility.
“I felt like I had gotten to a point where I could not design the kinds of products that I wanted to for one reason or another at other companies,” Raysse told Dime in a recent conversation. “There were always layers of bureaucracy and decisions that make it really challenging for new ideas to cut through because there’s a lot at stake.
“I think for me, I care very deeply about what it is I’m designing. I really care about the culture, and I care about good design, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Long a significant presence within the sneaker community, Raysse created the legendary Grant Hill II for Fila at just 22 years old. Later in his career, after studying under revered designer and architect Philippe Starck, Raysse developed the Go Run line for Skechers that Meb Keflezghi wore in the Olympics and while winning the 2014 Boston Marathon. In effect, he took a product that was a non-entity in running and helped shape it into a rising star in the industry.
You can easily see parallels with Brandblack, as Raysse attempts to carve out a niche in a basketball market nearly completely dominated by super-power Nike.
“We know deep inside,” Raysse said, “that what people have been offered so far is not what they actually want.”
Brandblack started small, available primarily online and in select boutiques. Over time, the brand’s physical presence and buzz have steadily begun to gain traction, helped by its partnership with Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. Events like this Thursday’s exclusive release of the FutureLegends J. Crossover sneaker at the Grove in Los Angeles will help to further build the brand’s cache.
Raysse doesn’t view what he’s doing as simply designing basketball sneakers. To him, it’s a “movement” — a new way of thinking for a generation that has grown up wearing the same thing as everyone else. With a line of performance-wear already on the market and plans to expand into running shoes in the future, his vision is starting to bear fruit.
“Nike started to do things their own way, then they kind of bent people’s will — they changed people’s idea of what is aesthetically right, how to market, what is cool,” Raysse said. “All of a sudden, the world is basically theirs in terms of the footwear game.
“If I may be so bold, we want nothing less than people’s wills in our direction, and to change everything. To have a new movement, a new type of philosophy. It sounds crazy, but I think it’s what we try to do. It’s why we hold ourselves to such a high level.”