Interview by Frederick Marfil
While many footwear retailers combat for showroom space and a window shopping act where shoppers browse in-store and online, GREATS aims to deviate from the traditional footwear model. The game changing brand offers luxe, quality shoes priced under $100 and made available for purchase online. Inspired by Warby Parker, founders Jon Buscemi and Ryan Babenzien offer a collection with classic silhouettes, incorporating canvas and leather materials. We caught up with Jon and Ryan to find out whats in store for the brand and how their personal style influenced the collection. Also be sure to sign up and check out the full goods on GREATS.
Frederick Marfil: It's evident that your passion for sneakers sparked this footwear revolution. Tell us about your earliest fashion influence
Ryan Babenzien: From the time I could walk, I was spending time at the high school gym where my father coached. If you wanted to have a 3 on 3 baseball game, I was the kid in the neighborhood that had all the full kit: mask, shin guards, and a chest protector. Being around a gym environment might not be considered a fashion influence, but I would argue that it may be the quintessential space to see how men dress, literally.
Jon Buscemi: My elementary school and local fashion in the suburbs of NYC were the key influences on my personal style. Growing up in that area in the 80s and on, you had a revolution in style. It was breakdancing, sports, skateboarding, and rap music all in one including foreign influences as well. My block had Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Italians, Irish, etc and all that they bring. For the shoes, our uncles wore white on white Keds so we wore those. Nike Bruins, adidas Campus or Rod Lavers and the obscure European brands had a big influence. There was a time I think I only wore foreign brands like Avia, Le Coq Sportif, Lotto and Troop. We were lucky where we are from.
Any plans to incorporate sustainable materials in the collection?
Ryan: We haven't really gotten into that yet but we're not against it. If we can use materials that are more eco-friendly that accomplish our aesthetic and price parameters, we'll consider it. Our factories have some of the highest standards in the world and we're considering using some of Vibram's eco products as well. We're already using some of Vibram's standard soles, but there are a few soles from their eco-collection we really like as well.
Jon: Straight from the jump we are using 100% cotton canvas on the Wilson model. Also we are using leathers and calf leathers from artisan tanneries in Mexico so it is somewhat sustainable. I love Pharrell's company Bionic Yarn and would love to work with them.
What's your favorite silhouette from the collection?
Ryan: Personally I like the Royale. The silhouette is so timeless and the materials we're using are insanely luxe. We're just really excited we're able to give the customer a shoe that we're going to sell for about $100 that they'd normally have to pay $300 or more for. That's exciting to us.
Jon: I love the Wilson. Early basketball and tennis shoes or plimsolls are always my favorite and the most classic to me. The Wilson incorporates everything you love in classic b-ball low tops but with a twist and at a much higher sense of quality.
As far as distribution, do you have any plans to sell in brick and mortar shops down the line?
Ryan: Jon was at Pitti and Capsule a few weeks ago and was asked by a few globally relevant retailers if they could carry GREATS. We're flattered but in order for us to do what we're doing, we just can't wholesale to other retailers. I never say never so who knows if that will change. However, we do plan on partnering with certain retailers and having GREATS in those stores, but it's more to touch, feel and try on and experience the brand. Union in LA will be one of the first stores where you can walk in and actually try on a pair, but if you want to buy it, you'll have to do so online. We think it's really important to have a physical presence for GREATS event though our main channel of distribution will be at www.greatsbrand.com. So we'll be creative with our in stores, mobile GREATS tour and eventually our own stores.
Would you consider collaborating with a forward thinking NBA player?
Jon: Good question. Anything is possible and to be honest I would love the opportunity to make a fully functional on-court shoe. Finding a player with no big contract is always a challenge.
What keeps you guys inspired?
Ryan: Inspiration comes from so many places. I just got back from my brothers wedding in Barbados and swam with sea turtles which I wasn't actually supposed to touch. I couldn't help it. I was down there gliding with them like I was Aqua Man [laughs]. Jon had this idea a while back and this aligns with it. That's all I can say.
Jon: I get this question all the time and it never changes. Trying to outdo my peers is my biggest motivation. It's like the music game or sports. I'm trying to do it better than the next team
Most common statement people make about your style?
Ryan: I was nominated for best dressed my senior year in high school and I lost to a guy that wore piano ties, parachute pants and capezios. Not really a good look if you ask me but he won, I didn't. My style hasn't really changed from then until now so that puts me in a "classic" category. However, I mix in things to make it mine and not look like I haven't evolved in my own personal style, which I have. I've been very fortunate to have traveled the world and pull ideas from different cultures and over the years I've been able to buy things that some might consider "expensive". But I'm no Nick Wooster, I'll tell you that.
Jon: I'm a stocky individual so I usually get "you're pretty fly for a fat guy".
What do you pack when travelling?
Ryan: My shave kit, which is constantly packed to go at the drop of a dime, enough clean underwear to go 2 additional days past the length of the trip, and contact lenses. I use Focus Dailies and take them out at the first sign of an itch.
Jon: Airborne, Vitamin-C, Jawbone Bluetooth speaker and Universal head shaver with 220/110 dual power.
What movie best captures your style?
Ryan: It hasn't been made yet.
Jon: The Royal Tannenbaums
You can buy GREATS online at their website, greatsbrand.com