It’s early afternoon at the swanky Grand Hyatt Hotel in São Paulo, Brazil, and Ronnie Fieg sits in the pool area coordinating with his assistant about the foreign press he has scheduled for the night. He and the group of friends he’s taken with him to Brazil stand out from the rest of the hotel guests because they’re all dripped in apparel with Fieg’s brand “KITH” sprawled across it. This week, Fieg took his New York city-based operation to South America for his Kith Football Equipment (or #KFE) collection—a line that includes everything from super-technical soccer shorts and jerseys, pairs of U.S.A. and Brazil-themed Asics (a Gel Lyte 3, and GT-II respectively), and most surprising a two-piece collaborative drop with Beats by Dre on a Pill and Studio headphones, the designer’s first foray into electronics.
If it seems like there’s been a lot of “firsts” for Fieg lately, you’ve either been paying close attention to his career, or not enough. Last January at the height of fashion week, Fieg had his first global expedition that resulted in Parisian sneakerheads lining up for his rendition of the under-the-radar Puma Disc. Now with the world’s eyes on Brazil, Fieg has decided to set-up shop for a two-week long pop-up at São Paulo’s premium streetwear/sneaker boutique Cartel 011. It’s no secret Fieg knows how to sell shoes—his brick-and-mortar locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn are subject to healthy lineups for every new special project, and online he’s joined the “good-luck-getting-a-pair” conversation with the majors like a Jordan and LeBron drop. But setting up shop in the uncharted sneakerhead waters of Brazil might be his riskiest move yet. And Fieg’s cool with that, as he’s now in the business of making his mark through product on a bigger stage. As we settle in on the deck of the Grand Hyatt, Fieg talks the #KFE collection, his competition, and what he fears professionally.
Interview by Joe La Puma (@jlapuma)
Complex: This is your third global pop-up shop. You’ve done Miami, Paris and now Brazil. What new challenges did this location present?
Not knowing the demographic as well as I know the others. It’s so hard to ship any of my goods to Brazil because of the taxes and duties. I haven’t had a real indication of what my fan base is like out here. Having been here twice in the past couple of months, after I already committed to opening a shop here, I see that the RF goods and the sneakers have been really well received. And it was challenging in terms of getting all the goods here. Anytime you open a pop-up shop, it’s always challenging getting everything organized when you’re in a different city and most of the people don’t speak the language. But luckily, I have a team out here, along with my team, who’s been able to help me. We had dialogue going back and forth for over six months about this project, so it’s definitely been challenging. But it definitely all came together in the last month or so.
Big companies like Nike and adidas are doing huge campaigns tied to the World Cup. You also see independent brands like Alife and Concepts doing one-off collections inspired by it. Where do you feel like this collection fits in?
I believe that what we’ve been able to do at Kith is separate ourselves from all the other brands. Even the bigger brands and, more importantly, the smaller independent brands. Building a lifestyle brand is never easy, but having created product in a way that we create them, we cater to a different consumer that I believe has really adopted the brand since its inception. And when we look to create the product we create, it’s really a twist of what we believe the consumer will feed into. The fits of the jerseys, shorts and track pants are very different from the fits people are used to seeing from traditional sports product. Between the consumer and the way the pieces fit and look, we differentiate ourselves from the rest in a major way.
How has your relationship with ASICS evolved? Were they 100% on board with this project?
The whole ASICS relationship I have is unlike any other relationship I have with other brands, because of how I started putting out collaborative products. ASICS has shown me major support. Getting a brand to really understand the whole pop-up situation and getting them to stand behind you is very rare. They see the vision and understand what I want to do. It takes a certain type of staff, and I believe they have the right people in place where they would really take in and get as excited as I am about coming out here and doing something really fresh and new. So it’s based off the relationships in terms of what I decide to do with certain brands.
What made you do the U.S. colorway in the Gel-Lyte III and the Brazil colorway in the GT-II?
The Gel Lyte III is my favorite ASICS silhouette. It’s the one I’ve worked on the most, and the one I’m most familiar with. I believe that the gold executed better than it would on any other silhouette, and this is something you just know through trial and error. When you’ve worked on a silhouette for this long, you just know. It’s second nature as to how the upper would execute. I think the USA shoe needed that flashy, premium, in your face, exclamation point upper. The reason why the silhouettes are Gel-Lyte III for U.S. and GT-II for Brazil is because the GT-2 is an all-royal pigskin, and I the royal translated well onto the pigskin. Pigskin really takes color well, and you can see the saturation in the colors. And Royal is definitely a stronger and bolder color than navy would be.
You’re also about to drop the Dover Street Market Pumas. Those are very monochromatic, as opposed to these two bolder colorways. Do you consciously differentiate your approach to each collaboration?
I don’t think of it like that. I think of it as a case-by-case basis. I know that the consumer from the Dover Street side can appreciate what I’ve done with the Dover Street product. The challenge will be to have my consumer see things the same way. I’m a footwear fan at heart and it’s not one sneaker or the other. Or it’s not one category footwear over the other, it’s always been a love story for all types of footwear. My taste and design aesthetic for footwear range can land anywhere on that spectrum--from being very colorful to being very achromatic to being very toned down. But at the end of the day, you’re gonna get a very, very premium product. That’s something that will always stay constant throughout my work.
You’ve obviously got a lot of celebrity support stateside. This being the World Cup—if you had a wish list—which players would you like to see wearing your sneakers?
I don’t think that it would be one specific player wearing the goods. The concept is about a team going to another country. My team came to Brazil, and it’s a team concept. I just wanna see the entire team wear the whole kit. The shoes are obviously the anchor here in this collection, but the apparel, honestly, was executed just as well as the sneakers. I’m a huge fan of Brazil, and I’m a huge fan of the U.S. That’s what really inspired the collection.
Your fans know you best for sneakers, but the Beats by Dre collaboration surprised a lot of people. How did that collaboration come about?
It really came about through relationships. Victor Cruz is one of my best friends, and he introduced me to Paul Rivera who works for Beats. He gave me the bridge to sit down with the product team the Beats management team to put something together. Everybody is very proud of the way this turned out. I’m really excited to have a new element, which is electronics and accessories, in my arsenal of product. All the collaborative projects I’ve worked on have been built off personal relationships, and that to me is the most important thing so nothing is ever forced.
You said you weren’t familiar with the demographic here as much as other destination pop-up shops you’ve done. What if this doesn’t sell? Is that a fear for you?
No. I never have any self-doubt or fear when it comes to selling out of product, because the intention when working on a product is creating the best possible product. And when you create the best possible product, it will get recognized one way or another. That’s why I came here a couple months ago to get familiar with the market and the retailer I collaborated with on the pop-up shop, which is Cartel. They are very stoked and believe they have the clientele to sell this product. That obviously makes me feel more comfortable. But it’s never a fear of not being able to sell this product. I believe the sneaker enthusiast is everywhere. People will travel all over South America if they know the only place they can get the product is in Brazil at Cartel in Sã Paulo. It’s never really a fear, and everything is always very limited. We never want to oversaturate any market, whether it’s here or in the States.
What do you fear professionally?
Professionally? I don’t fear anything.
Is that a new feeling now that Kith is three years old?
Yes, I have this feeling now because the product has withstood the test of time. I think that people now realize that it’s not a trend factor. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s something that people understand will be around for a very long time. Quality will withstand the test of time, and that’s been the major focus up until now. But I’m learning as I go. There’s been a lot of learning on my part in terms of apparel and accessories, because that really wasn’t my main focus or my area of expertise. But now have the right people on my team that have taught me and continue to teach me. This particular release, in terms of apparel, will show the evolution of the brand. It will show the difference of when we first started up until now and how much better this brand has gotten through the years.
The soccer shorts in this collection are super-technical, they use a compression jersey for the lining. Do you feel like you’re competing with performance lifestyle brands like Nike Sportswear with this type of apparel ?
The answer will always be “no” to any of those type of questions.
Why? You’re a competitive person.
Because we don’t look elsewhere. We don’t look as to what others are doing. We have tunnel vision in terms of what we do. We’re not trying to be anybody. We’re trying to continue creating our own path within our own lane.
The Kith Football Equipment Collection launches tomorrow in Brazil at Cartel 011, and at Kith locations on June 28.