KITH founder Ronnie Fieg has become a household name in the market that obsesses over the details and materials used on ’90s running sneakers, but his latest project evokes a time when his world was a much smaller piece of the footwear landscape. The year was 2005 and Nick Tershay—the founder of Diamond Supply Co. who’s commonly referred to as Nick Diamond—had just worked with Nike SB on a Dunk Low that set the standard for creativity on sneaker collaborations. The result was a luxurious pair of blue-and-black skate shoes that helped serve as a tipping point for a generation of footwear connoisseurs, which included Fieg. A decade has passed, and the “Diamond” theme is as recognizable now as it was back then. It’s a color combination that’s synonymous with Tershay’s legacy, but it’s also becoming part of Fieg’s. They have a collaboration with ASICS coming out on June 19 and they’re betting that “Diamond Blue” will be the cool shade of the summer.
Their project, which is centered around an ASICS Gel Saga and Gel-Lyte V, started to attract attention the day that a KITH and Diamond billboard appeared in Los Angeles and was posted on Instagram. The magnitude of Tershay and Fieg working together is immense, considering the depth of experience and cultural understanding that both men have, but it’s also a curious coupling for their respective fan bases.
Fieg is internationally known for his role in getting kids to trade in their Air Jordans for ASICS runners. His KITH clothing line also helped push the jogger pant—Fieg’s version is called the “Mercer”—into mainstream style along with an assortment of slim sweatpants and other athletic essentials. Tershay, on the other hand, started Diamond in 1998 so his friends—some of the biggest skaters of their era—could all be sponsored by the company. Behind bold graphics that were as bright as they were witty, his clothing line helped define 2000s streetwear.
Despite their categorical differences, Fieg and Tershay are still sneaker guys at the end of the day. Tershay owns his own sneaker line and Fieg has collaborated on releases that have become generational benchmarks, much like Tershay’s have. The “Salmon Toe” colorway is nearly as synonymous with Fieg as “Diamond Blue” with a hit of black is for Tershay. Now they’re embarking on a collection together, co-designing sneakers and apparel, and hoping that they can recapture a moment that helped them both get to where they are now. If their track records are taken into consideration, then Fieg and Tershay are sure to duplicate their prior successes. But they’ll first have to deal with their biggest critic: the Internet.
How did the collaboration occur?
Ronnie Fieg: We were at Agenda in Las Vegas in Feb. 2013. I had a meeting with ASICS and asked, “What do you guys think if we did something next year with another partner, with a third party?” And they said, “We like that. Let us know what you want to do.” Then I had a meeting with Mike LaPilusa to talk about Stance Socks, but he also represents Diamond Supply Co. He told me to come by the booth, and while we were there I saw Nicky [Diamond]. I had a spontaneous thought—right after I met with ASICS—that this could be special. When I first started collecting Nike SBs, it was a big part of my life. The “Diamonds” were a game-changer—they gave sneaker resellers the ability to hit the thousand-dollar mark. I thought people wanted to see more footwear from [Diamond Supply Co.]. This collaboration was a combination of me wanting to work with Diamond, and me wanting to work with Nicky because he’s one of the godfathers in this game.
Nick Tershay: Our Nike did well, and we hadn’t done sneaker collaborations with any other big brands. We only did skate shoes. Ronnie was killing it with ASICS, so when the idea came about to do a sneaker with him, I was like, “Fuck yeah, that’s insane.” I always wanted to make a running sneaker, ASICS are sick, and that’s Ronnie's whole thing, so it was a no-brainer. We let him design the sneakers however he wanted, and then we just approved it and put in our two cents.
“The most important part of making this collection was understanding what I do best and what they do best, and bringing both of those
Did you know from the start which colorways you wanted to use?
RF: We had five different rounds of samples. We’ve been working on this for over a year. It was important for us to get it right. We wanted something that was bright, because that’s what Diamond stands for. The most important part of making this collection was understanding what I do best and what they do best, and bringing both of those worlds together. “Diamond Blue” is such a great color to use on pigskin suede because of how much saturation it has. I would much rather do it with [Diamond] and make it official than to use it on my own. This was the opportunity to get a real collaborative story.
NT: That’s what kids think when see they this colorway, because the Dunk was the first sneaker to ever feature those colors together. That’s why I liked it so much when we first made it, because I had never seen someone do that before. I was like, “No one fucks with this color? That’s insane!” So, I said, “Make the shoe this color.” It looks so crazy and it became our staple. No one used it before in sneakers and apparel, so we were like, “Let’s just run with it.”
You are both sneaker guys, but you come from different worlds. Were you ever worried that the collab wouldn’t mesh?
NT: I don’t think so. It’s a good match because, thanks to social media, people know us both as figures behind our brands. All these kids know I collect Nikes and Jordans and I wear runners. They already know we’re into the same footwear. I thought they would be stoked because we’re both from different worlds but we’re into the same shit.
RF: I thought that people would get it and that it would be amazing for them. I also thought it would be an eye-opener and something they’d be seriously interested in. There are people who follow both Nicky and I, and they know who we are and what we’ve done for the market. But there are also people who see it from the outside. They know about Diamond, but they don’t know about me or my brand. They might do some research to try and catch up, but they might not understand it. My guy might not know about Diamond or mess with it because it’s a skate brand, and he might say, “KITH isn’t a skate company—how does this make sense?”
But we’re trying to bridge the gap. The biggest message I’m trying to send is that what you wear is about the story behind what people are making. My kid might not understand how Diamond came about and what kind of history the brand has, but Diamond represents an important moment in time. It’s laid down the groundwork for many brands. Diamond did a lot of earlier work when things were a lot riskier and it was a lot harder to gain people’s attention. My customer needs to know this, and we’ve done it in a way where we can supply those who are waiting [for our project]. We can also supply and educate those who don’t know, too.
“A good shoe is a good shoe. What people have to say is secondary to my design aspirations and the desire to do what I want to do.”
NT: The Diamond kid—the skater—realistically doesn’t know what KITH is, but the sneakerhead Diamond fan does. The majority of our fans are skaters and all they know are skate brands. To them, KITH might be too exclusive. They’ve never even heard of it. They’re not going to the KITH store in New York City. Kids from California or Middle America only care about skate brands and some exclusive Nikes. So, it’s pretty cool that they both know about KITH and Diamond now.
RF: It’s important for our market to merge different worlds together. The average kid who shops in my store might be in his 20s. I’m turning 33 and it’s important that my consumer knows what has happened to get us to this point. Bringing fashion and skate together is something that has always been interesting to those who have individual style and want to skate in something that’s not a skate brand. Those who don’t skate and don’t dress in that fashion lane now have the option to do so. That’s something I wanted to offer to my kid and help him understand.
Ronnie, you mentioned that the “Diamond” Dunk was one of the first sneakers to hit $1,000 on the resale market. Do you also owe the success of sneakers you’ve designed, such the “Leatherback” and “Salmon Toe,” to the secondary market?
RF: Yes, in many ways I do. I’ve never created sneakers for the secondary market. I’ve never created for people to resell product, but it has ended up there because of the demand exceeding the supply. In terms of the craze for these types of products, that peaked in the early 2000s. I believe it was much more of an in-the-know scene than it is today. It was a lot harder to get product because social media didn’t play a factor. It had an effect on my life—I was passionately collecting sneakers. I’ve always wanted to be in that marketplace and create limited-edition product, just so people would appreciate things when they have them. But SBs weren’t the only things I was collecting back then. I had a lot of runners, too.
One of the biggest criticisms of this project has been the rehashing of the colorway. How do you respond to that?
RF: We wanted to create two different versions, and people don’t know that there are two different stories being told. The Gel-Lyte V is a West Coast theme, and the Saga is more of an East Coast theme. It plays into the two apparel collections. One is mostly black-based and the other is mostly white-based. The black set and the Sagas were shot in New York, while the Vs were shot in L.A. We used the two sneakers to split up the coasts.
It wasn’t about copying anything that was previously done, it was about using the Diamond Blue pantone. We used it in a different way than was done on the Dunk SB. I can understand people saying, “It’s black and blue.” But you can create 50 different silhouettes in that colorway and they’d all be must-haves for me. Diamond Blue and black is a great color combo, and it’s important to Nicky.
NT: And it looks good. It just looks good.
RF: We make what looks good. I’m not interested in creating shit because people think one way or another. I just want to make good product, and that’s always been the philosophy behind what I do. A good shoe is a good shoe. What people have to say is secondary to my design aspirations and the desire to do what I want to do.
How did you meet in the middle to make a clothing collection that makes sense for both of your brands?
NT: We both make a lot of similar stuff. We both make mesh jerseys and shorts. Skateboarding and running are both athletic. Skaters can wear anything, so they all dress differently. You can’t just say that someone won’t wear KITH when they’re skateboarding, because they will. It’s easy for people to look at the clothing and think it makes sense. A mesh outfit can be used for playing basketball, soccer, skateboarding, anything.
RF: We split production on the product. The mesh jersey is custom-milled mesh with a Diamond Blue jersey cotton lining. We’ve had both the jersey and the shorts in our line before. We used the Raleigh jersey from my spring collection and the Bleecker short, which we just released for summer. Diamond did the T-shirts and the hats. There’s a collection of jerseys, shorts, six different T-shirts, and two hats. You’re getting the best of both worlds. You’re getting what both brands do well in-house. You’re getting DNA from both brands.
“It all came together so easily. Working with Ronnie and his team is like cake, man, because they know what they’re doing.”
Action Bronson was one of the first people to wear the sneakers in public. Was that planned?
RF: Action collects all the shoes that I produce. He’s a Queens native, one of my good friends, and I love that dude. He’s around the office a lot. He came by and was like, “Yo, I have this performance in London.” And I said to him, “Let me give you some shit nobody has seen yet on-foot, and rock these however you’d like.”
Now that it’s done and ready to come out, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
NT: Everything went better than planned. It all came together so easily. Working with Ronnie and his team is like cake, man, because they know what they’re doing. The shoes and apparel turned out perfect. The way Ronnie announces the shoes, and how he posts things and has me posts things, it’s amazing. The guy knows what he’s doing and I’m impressed by it.
RF: Timing is important. I don’t think I spoke to Nick about it but this is going to mark 20 years in footwear for me. I started in 1995 when I was 13 years old. It was four days after my bar mitzvah, and I started working as a stock boy in New York City. Twenty years later, this is a milestone for me, because working with Nicky is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Some people are like, “Well, why? Why? Why?” And the answer is: because I fucking wanted to do it. I’m in a position now where I can do things that I’ve always wanted to do, and this is one of them. It’s good to shake shit up and do the unexpected. I love the turbulence.
NT: A lot of people are judgmental about things. They think, “Oh, wait, Ronnie’s not a skater. Why would he want to work with a skate brand?”
“I’m in a position now where I can do things that I’ve always wanted to do, and this is one of them. It’s good to shake shit up and do the unexpected. I love the turbulence.”
RF: When we first posted the billboard on the KITH Instagram, the first 150 comments were all negative. And it was expected, because I didn’t give anyone the opportunity to look at any of the products. I knew that once the product hit, people’s perception would change. It was controversial in the beginning, but it’s been mostly positive ever since. People understand because the product represents both of us.
NT: I read Ronnie’s comments and the negative on his side was different from the negative stuff on my side. The negative stuff on his side was people saying, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re working with Diamond. They sell it at Zumiez and all these skate shops.” That’s because we’re a fucking skate company. We’re not a limited-edition brand you can only buy in a couple places. On our side, it’s a bunch of skaters saying, “Those aren’t skate shoes. How are you making shit that’s not skate-able?” Most skaters don’t only wear skate shoes. Some of the kids wear runners when they’re not skating, so I don’t even know why they’re tripping.
RF: I do feel like there’s a lot less negativity. It’s about 90 percent positive right now.
NT: People didn’t know how to deal with it, because it was just a logo at first.
NT: As soon as they saw an actual shoe, it completely changed. Everyone was like, “Oh shit! This is the shit! I need this! Must cop!”
RF: People’s first reaction to anything today is that it’s cooler to hate than to love. They’d rather see failures than wins.
NT: Go on the blogs, bro, and read the comments. They just want to talk shit like battle rappers, but they’re yelling at Supreme instead of each other.
RF: I can’t even picture myself ever wanting to say anything negative publicly, like going on, logging on, then commenting. How much energy are you spending to say something negative about something you either don’t like or don’t believe in? I don't understand the mentality behind it.
NT: KITH and Diamond wouldn’t be as successful as they are if the majority of the people didn’t like them. If those other guys want to talk shit, it’s not that big of a deal.
RF: How do you like the shoes?
I definitely dig them.
RF: Don’t lie, bro. [Laughs.]
I personally like the white one more than the black one because I like the Gel-Lyte V more than a Gel Saga.
RF: You like the white ones better, Nicky?
NT: I like the white ones, but a lot of people like the black ones.
RF: Here’s the deal with selection of silhouettes: The Saga is more for the older heads. It’s more of the traditional runner and for the guy who’s into retro tech and collects all those ASICS and New Balances. The Gel-Lyte V is more commercially loved. Both shoes are the best Saga and the best V to date. Just because there are two names and it’s a bigger project that’s going to get a lot of love and a lot of publicity, it doesn't take away from the fact that these shoes are amazing.
“KITH and Diamond wouldn’t be as successful as they are if the majority of the people didn’t like them. If those other guys want to talk sh*t, it’s not that big of a deal.”
NT: I’ve worn both shoes a few times already and people always comment on the black ones. And I like the lighter ones more because I’m just into white shoes. But the black ones are dope—I wear them with black jeans. I rocked the white ones at a beach party in Malibu the other day and I didn’t feel like people were tripping on them as much as the black ones.
RF: When I had to pick the silhouette, I was like, “What is the silhouette that they could probably skate in?” They’re not skate-able shoes, they’re runners, but I spoke to Mike LaPilusa and a few old heads who were like, “We can probably skate in the Saga.” It’s a substantial runner that is sturdy enough, but what do I know? I don’t skate.
NT: I had the homie skate in them and he thought they felt fine. It’s not like you can’t skate in them. Someone can ride a skateboard in any shoe. Fools skateboard in Air Force 1s and look at the soles on those damn things. It just depends on the person who’s riding the skateboard. Some people can skate in runners, and there’s suede on the Gel-Lyte, which is a great material for skateboarding.
The Gel Saga retails for $165, the Gel Lyte V for $175. Both pairs will be available with the entire KITH x Diamond Supply Co. collection this Friday, June 19, at KITH Manhattan, the Diamond Supply Co. Los Angeles and San Francisco flagship stores, and online at kithnyc.com and diamondsupplyco.com.