Perhaps no category of sportswear is so thoroughly dominated by a single company as basketball footwear. In 2012, Nike and its subsidiary, Jordan Brand, accounted for over 90 percent of all basketball sneakers sold. Brands like adidas, Under Armour and Reebok have to duke it out for the remaining fraction. You would think that trying to enter this market would be calamitous, a long shot, perhaps even foolish. But that's precisely what David Raysse aims to do with his company, Brandblack.
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A former director of basketball at adidas, Raysse, whose background also includes design work at FILA (where he designed the recently retroed Grant Hill II), FUBU, Sean John, Skechers and Rocawear, acknowledges the challenge. "You see so many brands go head to head with Nike and adidas, and they just get body slammed," he says. "We're in our own lane, that gives us a real shot of getting a following."
That lane, according to Raysse, is one where high fashion meets highly functional athletic wear. Raysse says he launched Brandblack in November of 2013 in response to what he saw as a growing awareness about fashion and style among athletes.
"I was seeing pro athletes having stylists and attending Fashion Week," Raysse says. "There was a real radical shift in how these [athletes] are looking and dressing. We wanted to do some things that were a little bit more fashionable."
So he launched Brandblack, aiming to appeal to athletes who want to make a statement about how they look as well as how they play the game—but in a way that would resonate with the new-school athlete. He's looking to reach players who relate more to Dwyane Wade off the court than to Allen Iverson or Tim Duncan. But although the new brand places a premium on looking good, Raysse knows looks won't matter if the product doesn't perform.
"Brandblack is 'look good winning'—if you're not winning, then there's no point," he says. "It's really important that these shoes function at the highest level."
Brandblack has produced shoes for less than a year, but the company has already scored its first high-profile athlete, signing Sixth Man Of The Year Jamal Crawford to a multi-year endorsement deal in 2013. The company built him his first signature sneaker, the J.Crossover, a smoothly designed shoe that still manages to look technical. It's as apt a representation of a player as you'll find in a shoe, and Raysse says the crafty scorer was the perfect fit for the brand.
"We wanted to get someone who seemed like an appropriate fit for the brand, not one of those partnerships where a guy is signed to a brand because he's famous," Raysse explains. "Jamal's game felt like it."
Raysse says Crawford's playing style was the embodiment of Brandblack's "Look Good Winning" mantra. "He plays with such flair and swagger, yet he's devastatingly effective on the court," Raysse says.
Raysse drew upon both his time as an athlete (he played basketball in high school and for a year in college) and his experience as a designer for other companies to focus on things that make a shoe perform well, rather than appear to perform well. "[The things we focused on] don't sound great in marketing bullet points, but they're the difference between a good shoe and [bad] shoe," he says.
For example, the J.Crossover features "super-tacky micro-fiber mesh," designed to wick moisture away from the foot while keeping it firmly planted. That "super-tacky" design keeps your toes from jamming into the front of the shoe during a particularly aggressive jump stop.
Right now, you can find these sneakers and gear only in high-end sneaker boutiques and on the Brandblack website, but Raysse says mass distribution will happen as the brand evolves. "You will eventually [see Brandblack at large retailers]," he says. "It was really important for us to establish with the right retailers and the right kind of people wearing the brand before it got broad."
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