The tall, lean and athletic teenager that dribbled, shot and laid-up a basketball for three hours, daily, on a concrete basketball court (that doubled as a tennis court), retired in 1996 when post-education dreams and monogamous relationships pulled NBA-hoopster aspirations away into the abyss of adult responsibilities. In 2007, a framed diploma or degree towers on cubical and office walls every single day for 40 hours a week, four business quarters and 365 days per year, tying the same youthful, basketball playing soul to a desk, trade space or at-home office until a mortgage is paid, a wife is satisfied and a child is raised.
Now, two-inches shorter and 30 pounds heavier, the athletic teenager is a responsible man, but yester-decadeâ€™s basketball playing soul lives strong, sitting on $500 court-side seats, drinking $8 beers and stretching vocal cords to their outer limits when a rival basketball teamâ€™s superstar sinks the contested bucket and heads to the line â€“ yes, we, the overlooked hoopsters love this game, its culture and its style. Dustin Canalin, one of the three basketball-centric minds that founded UNDR-CRWN in 2005, explains to Format, how branding, basketball and boldness are incorporated into fashion without building walls that pidgin-hole UNDR-CRWN into a stereotype.
Format: Please explain how UNDR-CRWN formed into the business that it is today.
UNDR-CRWN: I am one of the founding three. The other two are Pete Small and Jeremy Castro. Basically, Pete and myself had been working together since `98, `99 with And One Basketball in Philly and we always kind of threw around ideas and after a few years of talking about it we presented ourselves with the idea to start something that was a little bit different then what was going on from an athletics standpoint. So, Jeremy, who is actually my cousin, was in Vancouver getting his MBA and it was a perfect fit to put it all together.
Format: What year was UNDR-CRWN created?
UNDR-CRWN: It was created in 2005. We kind of thought through the first five years already so now itâ€™s just a matter of making it all happen.
“I grew up playing basketball and the one thing that goes down is there is a lot of shit talking and a lot of manhood on the line when people are playing.”
Format: What was your position at And One Basketball?
UNDR-CRWN: When I first started there, I was in graphic design for footwear and then I left to be art director at Ecko Unlimited, and then I ended up going back to And One to be creative director.
Format: Please explain the process for creating UNDR-CRWNâ€™s Layup sneaker.
UNDR-CRWN: From the get go we first started with T-shirts and worked our way through that, but the whole time we knew we wanted to be a footwear company. The idea, basically, came from the lack of that type of shoe on the market. People still kind of donâ€™t get it. Itâ€™s a basketball buyerâ€™s shoe that is a complete lifestyle shoe. Weâ€™re trying to bring two worlds that donâ€™t really see each other and try to build it through the lifestyle element, rather than taking an Air Force One and putting a crocodile on it or taking the Jordan and putting really nice leathers on it. We wanted to take the whole idea of lifestyle so it wasnâ€™t just material, but aesthetic, too â€“ the shoe is like Louis Vuitton meets Jordan. And, the whole packaging behind the whole thing is more in-tuned with the lifestyle elements: a wood box wrapped in suede and a shoe bag â€“ all the things that people get when they buy Prada shoes or Louis Vuitton, but you never really get from buying an Air Force One or Jordan, or anything like that. We want to give people the bang for their buck if theyâ€™re spending $150 on their shoes and they never play basketball in them. We took into consideration that 50 per cent or probably more, of the people that buy Jordans, donâ€™t play basketball in them. You donâ€™t need all this technical stuff that raises the price and makes it uncomfortable to wear on a day-to-day basis. We wanted to take that out of it so people can wear the shoes every day and not feel like they have to dribble a ball up and down the court or something like that.
Format: Were there any elements of sneakers that you took into consideration while making UNDR-CRWNâ€™s Layup?
UNDR-CRWN: I grew up in the Golden Era of Jordanâ€™s, one through five or seven, so that naturally played a role. The Air Force One played a role, Louis Vuitton and Gucci footwear played a role. There is not really a single element, but the whole concept and idea came from a lot of those things â€“ like the way the shoe is full-piece and not really streamline or Euro footwear in a sense like Gucci shoes are, so theyâ€™re not low-profile, theyâ€™re bulky like an Air Force One, but the upper is all 100 percent leather, suede, the perfs are different than the regular Air Force Ones. We definitely took inspiration from all those things [sneakers] but not one in particular.
Format: What does UNDR-CRWN mean?
UNDR-CRWN: UNDR-CRWN is the king of the underground. The idea is to have something that represents the brand, like you donâ€™t have to wear a crown to be a king. We want our product to be the king, not our name or whatâ€™s on it, we want people to like the product for the quality or the craftsmanship and thought put into each thing.
“UNDR-CRWN is the king of the underground.”
Format: UNDR-CRWN is missing some letters, thatâ€™s interesting.
UNDR-CRWN: Thatâ€™s one of those things like when weâ€™re trying to give our e-mail list itâ€™s hard, but to differentiate ourselves from anything else, itâ€™s a good way to have people remember it. In print and editorials it is always spelt different, but itâ€™s kind of good in the end, because people remember the name and thatâ€™s the most important thing. And, we donâ€™t want a name that just spells basketball, weâ€™re doing something a lot different than the other basketball companies by trying to bring the lifestyle first, you donâ€™t have to play the game to jump on it.
Format: UNDR-CRWN designs are basketball-centric, but parody is a heavy influence in each design. Can you expand on the approach UNDR-CRWN takes when designing?
UNDR-CRWN: A lot of it comes from my personality, not too serious, but at the same time the cleverness makes it cool. We never said weâ€™re inventing ideas. A lot of stuff has been flipped on other peoples initial creations, whether itâ€™s our Dynasty T-shirts with the names, weâ€™re giving people that love the game and love the culture of basketball something to represent. Even if they donâ€™t like the Beatles or careless about the Beatles, but they like the shirts, so weâ€™ve given them that level of thought put into something they like. From all of the T-shirts to the clothes to the shoes, weâ€™re trying to appeal to the culture of basketball and not just the basketball T-shirts.
Format: Speaking of the Dynasty T-shirts, were there any basketball dynasties that you did not include, but may have liked to?
UNDR-CRWN: Honestly, those are some of my favourite teams. So, we started with those and the funny thing is that we get e-mails everyday with people from Philly, people from Detroit, people from Atlanta â€“ everywhere, talking about their favourite teams. We definitely have a new phase, but we donâ€™t want to run it into the ground. Sooner or later these things are going to start popping up on the bootleg tip where people will be putting on their teams, names and calling it a day! We set the tone for that, but at the same time we have a couple ideas on how to make it fresh and new to make sure weâ€™re ahead of everybody else.
Format: John Sally, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Reggie Bush are a few of the major sports celebrities that wear UNDR-CRWN. How does UNDR-CRWN reach at these celebrity types?
UNDR-CRWN: A lot of ways. Weâ€™ve been in the industry for seven or ten years and Iâ€™ve met a lot of people and worked for big companies and small companies. I run into people and they find out that Iâ€™m making the product and they havenâ€™t seen it, or it is exclusive or they canâ€™t find it, and it just makes it way around. The industry is so small and people genuinely like the product. Actually, a funny story is that we do consulting for Adidas and one of the projects that weâ€™re working on is the Reggie Bush project, and when we went to his house to checkout his style, he had our whole line that he had bought from Union in L.A. and he just found out I was the one responsible for those shirts. We stayed in touch with him and sent him a care package. John Sallyâ€™s stylist was in a store in L.A. and saw some of the stuff. Johnâ€™s a huge fan, weâ€™ve been out to the show and theyâ€™re real fans of the product, so as far as reaching celebrities the doors open for them to talk to us and they come in, because they like the product. A lot of people send products all over and their stylist makes them wear it, or they get paid to wear it, but the thing that I feel good about is that people genuinely like our stuff. There are a ton of people that wear it, [UNDR-CRWN], but we havenâ€™t had pictures. The Reggie Bush thing was big, because they had it on the Yahoo page or something like that. John Sally, we now make up to five-XL so he should be happy, because he doesnâ€™t have to squeeze into three-XLs no more!
Format: Does UNDR-CROWN consider itself in the street-wear ranks, beside the likes of Alife, Fuct and Crooks and Castles?
UNDR-CRWN: Itâ€™s a super clichÃ© thing to say as far as not wanting to fit into any category, but with basketball, I donâ€™t think there is any non-truth to that. Basketball appeals to everybody: people that consider themselves street-wear, people that consider themselves urban, people that consider themselves old white guys. Our consumer range is from kids on the corner to executives at Major League Baseball and people that work in the NBA, or work at NBC â€“ people that are genuine fans of the game like our products, because it puts them in the mind-set of stuff they grew-up on or like. As far as a category, weâ€™ve been blessed to fit in just on quality and creativity into street-wear and a lot of the accounts that we have are basically street-wear accounts, because their buyers understand how to protect and maintain a brand. The bigger Foot Lockers kind of push stuff out the door, but Alife cares [about] what the store looks like and the mood that is set when people walk into their store.
“Now there are corporate people, corporate lawyers, who before, would never care, but now there is the appearance that this whole fashion is jetting and there is money to be made.”
Format: Is UNDR-CRWN considering a store front?
UNDR-CRWN: Yeah, there is no better way to present your brand other than presenting it yourself. Weâ€™re talking about, number one, where weâ€™re going to set-up. Right now, weâ€™re all kind of via satellite: we have an office in L.A., in New York, and one partner is working on footwear manufacturing production in China. We get together twice a year at the Magic trade show. Outside of Blackberries, instant messenger and flights from New York to L.A., we donâ€™t see each other on the day-to-day.
Format: UNDR-CRWN ran T-shirts that were delivered in parody Wheatiesâ€™ boxes. Theyâ€™re amazing, explain how this idea formed.
UNDR-CRWN: We wanted to package our products in a box. Iâ€™m a big luxury brand guy, but I like when I go in and someone kisses your ass for ten minutes, you get a box and itâ€™s wrapped in nice tissue paper â€“ you get the whole experience of buying something. Itâ€™s kind of like the same feeling of buying Jordans in `86 or `87, you buy it, it comes with a different box, it comes with a post card and you get all this stuff that makes you feel good about your purchase. We were thinking whatâ€™s the one thing that we could pack this product in and I remember collecting Wheaties boxes, back in the day, when they used to have different Jordan posters, or collect five UPCs and you get a Dream Team character and there were all kinds of promos like that â€“ now, itâ€™s like you get nothing. You get a stamp book or something really slack. We wanted something to reference that whole era, the whole `88 to `95 or `96 era when all this stuff happened, collectors were turning from baseball cards and comic books to shoes and cereal boxes. We were actually just sued by Wheaties. I think it ran its course for what we used it for. It definitely made sense for us, but at the same time weâ€™re going to move on and make sure we do things on the straight and narrow, because it is tough, especially for street-wear where a lot of people use logos and this and that, because now there is a spotlight on this whole thing and people see it is making money. You got to be careful. I think in the end, what itâ€™s going to do is push the envelope on profit, because now people are not going to be able to go on Google, hit up the Wu-Tang emblem and Photoshop Wu-Tang on a T-shirt. The legal side of things will make it a lot harder to get a lot of stuff off, because now there are corporate people, corporate lawyers, who before, would never care, but now there is the appearance that this whole fashion is jetting and there is money to be made.
Format: UNDR-CRWN is having a new spring line. Can you tell readers what they can expect?
UNDR-CRWN: For spring, it is our largest assortment of products. We started with T-shirts, did a couple track jackets, did one shoe and for spring weâ€™re doing the same shoe, but with a bunch of different color-ways, weâ€™re doing hoodies, belts. Weâ€™re starting to find our sense of product as a lifestyle brand. We can make stuff that fits into peopleâ€™s lifestyles. We know that there are a lot of people out there that want something that represents basketball, but at the same time, nothing cheesy like the stuff you buy at NBA.com. With this new spring line we have a lot more outlets to tell our story and put our brand out there. Itâ€™s going to grow, later in the spring we have shorts â€“ itâ€™s this whole big offering of the lifestyle. Continuing on to fall there is going to be a lot more than that.
Format: Who is the most stylish NBA player right now?
UNDR-CRWN: Thatâ€™s the hardest questions ever! NBAâ€™s tough. Before you had Michael Jordan who was really stylish and kind of his own style, so that is why the success of that brand has gotten to wear it is, because of him. It has really changed, kids donâ€™t look up to basketball players for style anymore, theyâ€™re looking up to Jay-Z, Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne. So, as far as basketball players I couldnâ€™t call it. There is really no one that sticks out to be fly. Even the people that people deem as the cool dressy guy, like Dwayne Wade and he wears Sean John, so itâ€™s like heâ€™s looking up to Puffy, so youâ€™re already down a notch on the ladder. We need to tell your boy Kobe to call in, because I think he needs the help! At the same time, thatâ€™s why weâ€™re here.
Format: What are your thoughts on the recent Knicks and Nuggetsâ€™ fighting controversy?
UNDR-CRWN: I grew up playing basketball and the one thing that goes down is there is a lot of shit talking and a lot of manhood on the line when people are playing. There is not one weekend and not one day that I wouldnâ€™t see a fight and for those guys to grow-up into that at the highest of the high levels to the point where theyâ€™re that dude on the court and nobody would fuck with them at all, and you get into the league and there are a bunch of those guys â€“ these things are bound to happen. The league has to do that, [fine and suspend players], so that people who spend $500 on a ticket to sit in the front row donâ€™t get their $8 beer spilt on them.
Format: Who are some of your favorite NBA players in `07?
UNDR-CRWN: Allan Iverson, LeBronâ€™s really good, Iâ€™m a huge Gilbert fan, Gilbert Arenas, so Iâ€™m hoping that they do well. I always tell people that if I was in the NBA, I would be more like Gilbert Arenas. I think his personality is good, I think the chip on his shoulder is good. I like that about him. I always thought that the power of marketing, like wrestling, you look at WWF, or whatever it is called, WWE, you think of characters like Macho Man or the Rock. If I were a basketball player I would be the Rock. I would talk in third person â€“ the closest thing you have to that is Charles Barkley and how entertaining is he! I think Gilbert is the next one that speaks his mind, plays with the media and thereâ€™s a lot of going back and fourth with who he doesnâ€™t like and who he likes. I think it is just funny and itâ€™s good for the game. Weâ€™re actually doing a shoe for Gilbert with Adidas in late spring. Weâ€™re doing their whole spot. Adidas has five marquee athletes that they put shoes out for: T-Mac, Chauncey Billups, Gilbert Arenas, Tim Duncan and one more. Weâ€™re doing color-ways for each one of those shoes. Weâ€™re going to make 1000 of them and sell them at our retailers.
More Info: http://www.undr-crwn.com/