Interview: Ronnie Fieg Talks New Line, New Heights for KITH

Designer dishes on new Indigo Collection

April 24, 2014
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    After years of flipping sneaker silhouettes, the footwear prodigy takes a stab at apparel

    Since his preteen days, Ronnie Fieg has been immersed in the world of sneakers. After launching his boutique and lifestyle brand KITH, he's spent recent years dipping and dabbling in apparel design while releasing coveted collabs with Asics, New Balance and most recently, Clarks. This weekend, the designer will release the first drop of the Indigo Collection– a 30-piece, denim-inspired run of jackets, button-downs, hoodies and sweatpants. Today, we picked Fieg's brain about the work he's done, the team he's assembled and which sneaker designers he doesn't consider competition.

    The Kildare Clarks you recently announced have an interesting silhouette, kind of like a Wallabee running shoe. What was the insight behind that design? I’m a huge fan of Clarks since back in the day. I’ve been selling Clarks and buying Clarks for a very long time, actually since the age of 13. I used to help Wu-Tang with their Wallabees when they used to shop David Z back in the day.

    Like picking out pairs for them? Yeah, I was a sales person. They used to come in, I used to help them out, it was pretty crazy. They were the ones who really set that trend. Back in the 90’s– I guess it was like ’95, ’96, they really set the tone. When I was like 14 or 15-years-old, I lived in Jamaica, Queens and wore Wallabees. People laughed at me in school, nobody knew really what they were. They looked like an old man shoe that they'd carry in the specialty walking stores in the mall. But I grew to really love that silhouette, the Wallabee, and I always have two pairs of fresh Wallabees in my closet at all times. It’s like, a summer essential.

    When the opportunity to design a Clark shoe came up, did you know you wanted to take it to a more athletic space? Our shop is split into two rooms. One room is more avant-garde, and more futuristic and athletic wear. So sneakers, runners, stuff like that. The other room is alternative footwear, so it’s more brown shoe boots, boat shoes. The idea was to create a new silhouette that would merge the two rooms together and entertain the consumer on both ends—I think the idea was to bring a new consumer to the brand. When you look at a Clark's shoe, you see the crepe sole, which is the DNA that really represents the shoe. So I wanted to keep the crepe sole, and put a nice running twist on an upper that I think really executed perfectly. They’re extremely comfortable, which is what Clarks is known for, so we kept all of the elements that makes Clarks such an amazing brand.

    It’s interesting to compare the traditional iconic Clarks sole to the more progressive upper that you’ve put together here, and even the physical layout of the shop having two different stations that show two different sides of this coin. Is that duality something that you’ve always tried to maintain as a designer? That’s a great question. The number one goal is to bring something different to the table. Obviously I have my own aesthetic. People know me for a couple of different color palettes I believe are really strong but are really different. It’s not for everybody. I don’t want to create something that everybody will like. Some of these kids are in college or in high school, and I don’t want everybody in the class wearing the same stuff. The new apparel line is basically a labor of love for me. The project is something that I’ve always wanted to do in terms of indigo washes. I like denim but I haven’t worn denim in two years.

    Your biggest hit in apparel has been the Mercer Pants. They're all about softness and comfort, and arguably started the men’s sweatpants trend. So it was interesting to see that this upcoming Indigo line was really inspired by denim. I always liked denim. Denim heads get obsessed with different types of washes: raw denim, or a medium wash, or a stone wash, or a vintage wash. I’m a big sweats fan. And the Mercer is not a sweatpant, the Mercer is more of a dress pant that feels like a sweatpant, but the Bleeker is a sweatpant that we created, it took about a year to get it right. I feel like I have the same obsession with sweats that denim heads have with denim. To give the denim head the opportunity to get the same kind of finishes and characteristics in sweats, I might be able to pull him in my direction, and give him a pair of sweats that will make him just as happy as when he’s wearing his favorite pair of denim.

    It’s crazy to see a denim-inspired pant with a cinched ankle. Yeah, people see the product and think that it’s denim. If they do some reading, they’ll see that it’s a 380 GSM, very dense, French terry. It’s soft, it’s very comfortable, but it gives the same appeal as denim. You can still wear these sweats with a nice crisp button down and still look good. It’s the evolution of the Bleeker pant.

    "I don’t really see celebrities as competition. This is the only thing I do. For them, it's like a secondary gig."

    You’ve been designing footwear for years, and this is KITH’s first foray into a full apparel line. What’s the main difference between designing shoes and designing clothes? The apparel business is completely different, and for the first two years, honestly I was winging it. I had no idea what I was doing, I just knew that I wanted a pair of pants for myself that were custom tailored fit. I built this one pant for myself that everybody kept asking me about, and that turned into the Mercer craze, but the way it's evolved is crazy. I hired Mikol Stambaugh, a very talented production manager, and under him there are a few designers, one is Jared Liner and he’s amazing as well, so I have people in place that can put my ideas on paper. The first two years were rough. I know that I have a long way to go, but this for me is a game changer in terms of what Kith represents as a brand. I think that we are offering some of the best product out there in this market, in this category.

    There have been more and more celebrities, entertainers, and public figures lending their name and their aesthetic to apparel, and there are debates about whether people who attach their names to products are actually involved in the creative process. What’s your opinion, as a guy who’s been drawing sneakers for years? It’s all about what people are most passionate about. Product is the first and foremost when it comes to what I am passionate about. When celebrities get endorsements with brands, there are very talented product people that are working with them to put their ideas on paper—not to take anything away from what they do, they might have some great ideas, and they might have a high taste level, but this is the reason why I don’t really see that as competition. This is the only thing I do. For them, it's like a secondary gig. This is my life. I don’t know how seriously to take anyone when it comes to celebrities working on product and things like that, because if they are working on a brand then [the brand is] bringing something to the table. Obviously, with Jordan you are going to get great design, you're going to get some great materials, and you can get great storytelling. I’m a Drake fan, for example, and I like what he did with the Jordan XIIs. Some things will be hits, some will be misses.

    Have you seen the Mackelemore Jordans? Actually I have not. I just really don’t have that much time to read and to see as much as I used to. I’m a lot more focused on what we are doing. That’s important because the product needs to come from a place where the inspiration isn’t off of other pieces and other designs, it's off of the market and off of the feel for the brand, and where the brand can go.

    I can only assume now that spring is out, you guys are thinking fall. No, no, no, no, no. For us this is the beginning of spring, today. Last night it was 44 degrees and felt like 36. When people look at it they are like, “Oh, there's no shorts, Summer is coming.” Yeah, Summer is coming but it's not here, so why would I give you shorts now? I have something coming at the end of May that will shake things up a bit too. It’s a collaborative effort with one of the biggest and most respected retail shops in the world. That should be very fun.

    A new apparel drop? An extension of the Indigo Collection? It’s something completely new, it’s going to have a footwear element and an apparel element to it, and it’s the first time I am going to be collaborating with another retailer. I can’t give you too much information on that because I am trying to get through this collection first. A lot of people think I’m arrogant and that I’m an asshole because I don’t put out enough information about the process for people to understand, but there really is a lot of work that goes into this. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this line affects the future of the brand.

    Interview: Ronnie Fieg Talks New Line, New Heights for KITH