Ronnie Fieg blew up the sneaker-collecting scene with his debut collaboration with Asics in 2007 and since then it seems like there’s nothing that can stop his ascension into the pantheon of streetwear legends. In an era where sneaker culture is under assault from the #menswear crowd, Fieg manages to generate massive hype for his collaborations with the likes of New Balance, Puma and Adidas. Kicking off his style career as a stock boy at the SoHo footwear boutique David Z in the mid-90s, Fieg took the plunge and opened up his own store, Kith, in 2011 and has since expanded his offering to a full line of apparel. People speak about the ‘New York Hustle’, but Ronnie Fieg embodies it.
I remember you saying that when you were a kid growing up you always wanted to own your own store. Most kids would dream about being an astronaut rather than selling clothes…
The minute I started working in [David Z] as a stock boy when I was 15, I knew that what I wanted to do was different from everyone else. I learnt from a young age that if you work hard at something that you absolutely love and that you’re passionate about, those things can come true.
When I was younger I used to always sketch this shop that I had in my head, this futuristic black spaceship looking store with all black walls and lit up LEDs. My mom actually showed me the notebooks after we started building Kith. It has always been in my head, always something that I’ve wanted to do. It finally became a reality when Kith opened its doors in 2011.
You have a lot of experience with retail, but did you ever have any formal design training?
The design thing is very hands-on. Ever since a young age I’ve been involved with these brands. I got to see and got to hear about how certain things were made. Having taken trips to the Red Wing and the Sebago factories I got to learn first-hand how things are made and the necessary things to actually create a shoe. The pattern makers in these factories never went to school for that. Those are the people who are most talented, the people who have gone through the steps of creating a shoe rather than sitting down and trying to draw up a shoe.
The concept is a fraction of what it takes to actually make the shoe appear, the shoe sitting in front of you is actually a lot greater of an accomplishment than actually just sitting down and drawing one, it’s not as easy as people think. Converse and Vans are one thing but when you’re talking about tech product, it’s a whole other story you know?
When it came to releasing your first range of clothing, was it harder than you thought?
The clothing is actually a learning curve. It’s something that I’m not extremely familiar with. I’m not a master of my craft but I’m learning quickly. A lot of the same rules apply to apparel as they do to footwear – but it’s a lot more detail oriented. The way things need to fit at the shoulders, how long the torso is, how big the openings are depending on if it’s the neck or the sleeve… It’s definitely a learning experience for me but I’m always excited to tackle new projects.
What are the core values that you try to instil in each of your collections and what direction do you wish to see the brand head in?
The motto of the brand is ‘Just Us’ because I try to put together pieces that can differentiate you from the rest of the world. I’m trying to create pieces that you cannot find from other brands, and as the seasons come along you will see the brand evolve into its own unique form. I feel like a lot of cuts out there are too short, there is a void in the market for better fitting goods that are comfortable yet fashionable at the same time.
You’re a big fan of tailored sweat pants. Why do you think men are slowly accepting that it’s okay to wear sweat pants as a fashion statement?
Skinny jeans became very popular a few years back and I know it was uncomfortable for me. I was a fan of how it looked but not a fan of how it fit. Then after the skinny pants craze it went to cargo and that military feel that was a little baggier and little looser for comfort. I feel like that’s where it came from. They went to cargo and then they said, “You know what? We’re going to go with extreme comfort and go into sweats.”
And sweats, believe it or not, are made to fit correctly. It can look nicer than a dress pant or a pair of denim you know? It’s all about the cut, and if the cut is nice then it amplifies your footwear. Which is why I think sweats got so big in the sneaker community. What I’m trying to do is combine the dress pant with the sweat pant in Kith’s Mercer pants. To me, that has been as much of an accomplishment as any one of my sneaker collaborations. I feel like that pant is perfect.
You pride yourself on working with manufacturers in NYC. Why is that such an important thing for you?
New York is my hometown first and foremost. In New York, [the fashion district is] right around the block from me and I could stay closer to the seasons so I don’t have to order things 120 days out. If I want a specific fabric right now that I feel is right for the marketplace, I will go to my sourcing guy and then I’ll get it to my tailor and I can have things ready in three to four weeks. Obviously the prices are a lot higher here but you can create minimum quantities to create a demand.
Do you think it’s important to keep collaborating with people rather than staying insular and working solo?
Well, the way I look at collaborations is to [work] with those who can do things that you cannot do yourself. If I can, then I would rather create it by myself. But if I want to create something that looks similar to what somebody else is doing, I’d rather create it with them because I respect their goods.
The line between menswear and streetwear is continuing to blur. Why do you think these traditionally separate styles are now starting to merge?
I feel like things got very boring. The menswear guys didn’t have enough options at a particular time and at the same time, every season you saw the same pieces in streetwear. Streetwear learned from menswear, menswear learned from streetwear and I feel like both have evolved with each other and that’s where they start to blend.
It’s all about how you wear something. Personally I haven’t worn oversized apparel since high school 15 years ago, now I wear more of the tailored fit. I always wished that the streetwear brands that I really love had made garments that fit tailored with the looks and prints that I was feeling. I’m happy to see the two merge, and I want to be a part of that merger.
Who is a designer or label that you think is keeping menswear exciting right now?
I’m excited for a few brands that are coming up. BWGH (Brooklyn We Go Hard) is definitely an up-and-coming brand that I respect heavily. They’re bringing street elements into high fashion garments, which sit amazing and are made with very high quality fabrics. Their wool and terry cloth blend is something I’ve never seen before. The feel and the fit is so great I would wear any colour, any day. [They’re] just taking a different approach with tailored comfort goods.
What are your thoughts about high-end fashion labels looking to streetwear now?
I see Givenchy and the like getting involved in streetwear more because that’s where high fashion is going. The high fashion houses were pigeonholed into a specific category. They were always talking to the same consumer over and over again. I know that the younger generation, and when I say younger I mean twenties and thirties, can adapt more to these new designs that these fashion houses are taking from streetwear. Every kid wants to be different, how can you be different? You put yourself in a higher price-point where a lot of other people cannot afford [to be].
Streetwear has always knocked off high fashion so now I think it’s time to turn the tables around a bit and have fashion houses looking at streetwear and going, “You know what? We’re going for the same kid that you’re talking to, but we’re going to show him some stuff and see if he has the balls and the money to get into it.” I mean my Grandmother has a Givenchy bag, my mum has Givenchy pieces but so do a few of my homies. Every demographic has money, you just got to get the cream of the crop from every demographic and have things that gear towards your different segments.
Your brand relies heavily on the support of online blogs and forums but the downside is how quickly brands and releases become old news. How do you think brands can stay relevant?
Blogs have changed the way people look at things. I know there are many instances where things become old news very quickly but substance is substance, quality is quality, regardless of what page it ends. If you have goods that are worth the money, then you will build a real following.
What do you have to say to aspiring designers who could be working in the stock room, exactly where you started 15 years ago?
Don’t be motivated by money. Be motivated by an idea, a concept. Create something real, something that you know people can admire, cherish and appreciate and not things that are disposable and trendy and are only there for the minute. You can have short-term success with that, but that’s not why we’re in this business. Think longevity, think how each product that you create can help build your following and help make you better as a brand and as a person. That’s basically what I tried to do with all of the projects that I’ve worked on. I’ve tried to better myself with each one that comes my way.
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