We tapped Ronnie Fieg for an interview, and got more than we could have ever asked for. Fieg gave exclusive details about an upcoming project, and detailed insight into his illustrious footwear career.
“I don’t want anybody to get the idea that they can’t do it themselves, it just takes a lot of hard work,” said Ronnie Fieg, a natural born hustler who has been a sneaker head since kindergarten. He worked his way up from a stock boy 15 years ago, in his uncle’s retailer, David Z., to one of the most recognized names and faces in streetwear today. Not to mention, this is all before his 30th birthday.
EU Kicks: You’ve been involved with shoes for over fifteen years now, what keeps you interested?
Ronnie Fieg: I’ve always had an interest for footwear since I was a little kid. My Uncle, David Zaken, David Z. is short for that, was an idol of mine. He would always slip a hundred dollar bill in my little pocket when I was a little kid. I was always a hustler and always wanted to make money and sneakers were always my thing since elementary school, back when the Deon Sanders were out. My Uncle owned a chain of stores and offered me a job in the summer when I was 13, so we’re talking about 1995. I started off as a stock boy, and then a sales associate, then assistant manager, then manager, then buyer, then general manager/buyer, and that was before I started collaborating. That’s what kept me interested; I was working for David Z. for years.
EU Kicks: Well, David Z. is one of the biggest sneaker boutiques in the country, has it always been that way?
Ronnie Fieg: A lot of people throughout the country don’t realize what kind of institution David Z. is. I call it an institution because it has been here and started many trends. Back in the day, before the whole sneaker craze, there was a hiking boot craze, and the Clark Wallabies craze. It was more brown shoes and hikers, and David Z. was the only place where you could find AKU Boots, Dolomite Boots, and Clarks, that’s where we really built our name as far as the urban, metro and indie crowd back then.
We took New York by storm; we controlled the city as far as footwear was concerned. As time progressed I started working with Asics as we started buying more athletics brands because we slowly kind of merged into athletics maybe ten or twelve years ago. As we did that my relationship grew with a lot of companies, Asics being one of them.
Timberland was actually the first collaboration I ever had, with a construction boot that was dark brown and wheat, and I made 48 pairs that were numbered and they sold out quick. They were featured in Complex, Matt from Nice Kicks came in and shot those, and that’s when I first met Matt, and then after that Asics opened up the achieves and offered me a chance to pick out a style. When I was younger I always wanted a pair of Reebok pumps, and I remember standing outside a store in Long Island and literally crying, this was 1992 maybe, so I was like ten or eleven years old. I really wanted a pair of pumps, but my mom ended up buying me a pair of Gel Lyte IIIs. So when they came and they opened up the archives, I saw the Gel Lyte IIIs and I was really excited to bring that back out. I was the first one to Collaborate on the Gel Lyte III and bring the style back out, and since then it’s been received really well and became a really big shoe States wide and internationally.
EU Kicks: Speaking of the Gel Lyte III, The Navy Aquas and Super Reds seem to be complete opposites, are they being released around the same time on purpose?
Ronnie Fieg: The Super Reds came out two weeks ago and sold out in five minutes. My next Gel Lyte III should be coming out very soon, in the next week or so, and those two shoes were designed at the same time… The Navy Aquas are one of the richest sneakers that I have designed to date, if you hold it in your hand you’ll understand. With the Super Reds it’s an action nubuck, not as rich as the Navy Aquas, even though the Super Reds are very well made, the Navy Aquas are just very premium. It’s something that you would think should cost $180-$190, but I tried to keep the cost down because I am less about logos, less about myself, and more about feeding the community good product so they get their dollars worth.
EU Kicks: When you go to do collaborations with brands like Sebago, Adidas, Timberland, or Polo, how do you decide which model to use?
Ronnie Fieg: Well, I like working on classic styles and just putting my spin on it. If you look at the in-line collection for companies like Asics or even Adidas, you will see I took the Superstar and completely dismantled the shoe and built it from the ground up with a leather wrapped midsole and a leather toe where it is supposed to be a plastic toe. Superstars usually sell for $55-$60 but mine were, I believe, $110, but I made that so it could be worn with a suit…I like taking classic silhouettes and putting my spin on it with materials and colorways. I want what I do to stand out in a way where you can go into a room, and see the general releases and my collaborations in one collection and go and pick out my shoes without knowing they were mine.
I kind of stick to more premium materials, and grey has been one of my favorite colors to use on my make ups because I was influenced by my uncle David. He came out with a Timberland grey construction boot when I was 15, in 1997, and it was the first footwear collaboration ever, in the world. We made 10,000 pairs for David Z., and people would drive from North Carolina, Virginia, and even Florida to come buy those Timberland construction boots in grey. That kind of influenced me throughout my career, working for David that grey just stuck with me.
EU Kicks: You’ve done over 50 collaborations, what are some of your favorites?
Ronnie Fieg: That’s a tough question, I don’t think I can answer that…Listen, I’m not saying this to be cheesy, or politically correct, they all are very special to me. I put a lot of heart, and I put a lot of time and effort into every project. I don’t just put it on a wall and let it sell, I put a lot of work behind it, and I put a lot of effort into the press so people can really see what I’m doing. I try to relay the message of what the shoe is all about and how it’s different from what’s out there. Each project has a piece of my heart in it. I really worked hard to get recognition for my work and each piece plays a major role in that.
EU Kicks: When you go to do collaborations, how does the creative process start for you?
Ronnie Fieg: It’s different for each company, but it’s usually like a CAD, and some companies will offer you swatches of materials and a color palette, and with any company you can pretty much use any color. Usually I would have any colorway of the style in my hand, doesn’t matter…It takes a long time, the process on one shoe can take anywhere from 3-to-5 hours on average, but some will take me a couple days, some even a couple of weeks because I am unsure about the colorway. Usually those colorways come from my scenery and what I’ve been doing.
I have a shoe coming out in August, also a Gel Lyte III, that nobody knows about, this is a little exclusive for your article. I was in the Bahamas, and the scenery around me: the sand, the water, the sky, it really influenced me…I sat down and started writing down what I was going to do on the shoe. So, you will see something in August that reflects what I saw while I was on vacation. The Super Reds were fed off of my Super Blues which came out last year, and the Super Blues were feed off of Star Wars. In Star Wars, the blue in the light sabers, you can’t describe what kind of blue it is; it’s not Carolina blue, it’s not royal blue, it’s somewhere in the middle, so I didn’t know what to call it because it doesn’t have a name, so I just called it Super Blue, because it was super nice to me. That lead me to my Super Reds, and there will be some ‘Super’ other joints coming soon.
EU Kicks: Anything else?
Ronnie Fieg: Yes, I would like to add that it is very important that people are paying less attention to logos. The consumer is very educated these days, and not just looking to pay for a stamp of a company or a collaborator…It’s just about the shoes…I do have a logo, and its actually going to be on the sock liner of my next Sebago project that releases at the end of this month, but I’ve never really wanted to use that because I don’t want that to be the reason the shoes sell. I don’t want the Ronnie Fieg logo to be the reason the shoes sell. I want the shoes to sell themselves. I try to make quality products that will speak for themselves and that’s all I can really do.
I would like to thank everybody that supported my projects. They are being received really well, everyone that bought the Super Reds are super happy about them. Other than that, I would like to thank you guys for featuring me, I check your site out all the time, and it’s a dope site.