“Oh, shiiit!” Ronnie Fieg blurts out, his eyes widening. Dressed in head-to-toe Kith—black pants, black hoodie, and unreleased purple Kith x Nike Maestro IIs—he’s standing in front of a full-length mirror, holding up a pair of black shorts embroidered with gold leaves and red roses. He pauses for a second, and then looks around the room.
It’s a few days before Kith’s Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show at Classic Car Club Manhattan, the world famous private club known for its impressive fleet of automobiles, and Fieg and his team are preparing for the presentation. “This show’s going to be bigger than the last one,” he says, sitting in a studio on a third floor of a high-rise building in Lower Manhattan. “It’s going to be the biggest moment for the brand.”
Kith has had plenty of big moments. Since debuting the first pair of the “Mercer pants” back in 2012, Fieg has opened four Kith brick-and-mortar stores (New York, Miami, Brooklyn, and Aspen) and a cereal bar called Kith Treats. Kids continue to camp outside of his stores on release days, hoping to secure one of the limited drops, which often sell out in minutes. Everyone from LeBron James to Justin Bieber is a fan. He’s collaborated with some of the top labels today (Adidas, Off-White, Fear of God, and more) and has partnered with some of the most unexpected brands, including Coca-Cola, Cap’n Crunch, Nickelodeon, Vogue, and Bergdorf Goodman—the first time that the luxury retailer has allowed its logo to appear on the outside of a garment. “It all stems from passion,” he says.
Last September, Fieg also staged Kith’s first-ever fashion show. “Kithland,” as it was dubbed, was a grand debut: 90 fall looks; performances by Fabolous, The Lox, and Mase; virtual reality components, and a 3-D tunnel with Kith branding; an on-site Kith Treats cereal bar pop-up; and a guest list that included models Bella Hadid and Jourdan Dunn, Rick Ross, and Victor Cruz, among others. “For him, it’s part runway show, part showcase, and part celebration,” says Eugene Tong, former Details editor and stylist for Kith’s shows.
“Ronnie is such a unique character to work with because he’s so receptive to crazy ideas,” adds Nate Brown, who creative directed “Kithland” with his studio Institute. Brown is also working with Fieg on the Kith’s Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show. “His brand is built off of crazy ideas, and I’d argue you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who is able to collaborate with the amount of people Fieg collaborates with in peace and harmony.”
But “Kith Sport,” the brand’s Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show, which took place last night, was even more of a high-octane presentation. The show opened with a mash-up of videos that represented New York City. Aerial shots of Queens, where Fieg was born and raised, and clips from classic ‘80s and ‘90s films, like Juice and Do The Right Thing, were projected onto screens built into the walls. DJ Premier performed a live set using many of Fieg’s favorite beats, including several hits from Nas (“Illmatic” and “Nas Is Like”) and Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball.” Much like last season, the collections were divided into four different sections: New York, soccer, skiing, and basketball. Well over 1,000 pieces were showcased, including collaborations with Off-White, Moncler, Adidas, Champion, Clarks, Bergdorf Goodman, and his highly-anticipated projects with Nike in which he customized Scottie Pippen’s Maestro IIs and the LeBron 15s. Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, Don C, John Elliott, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Joey Badass, and more sat front row. Fieg also debuted a commercial he directed starring Scottie Pippen, along with the trailer for an upcoming documentary about James, for which he’s credited as an executive producer. The biggest surprise, though: Both Pippen and James walked in the show. “I’ve been waiting for these moments, to work with these brands and people, for a long time. Some of them my entire life,” Fieg says.
Fieg sat down with Complex for a candid conversation about his outlook on fashion shows, his highly-anticipated collaborations with James and Pippen, and what’s next for Kith.
This show was even bigger than Kith’s first fashion show. Why?
Heading into the [first] show, I didn’t know much about how to produce a show, but I learned so much from the experience. Now, I know we’re prepared. I know how to bring things to life in the way that I see them. I’ve been building this collection for nine months. It’s going to be the biggest moment for the brand. I feel like I continuously say that but it’s continuously happening. We keep one-upping everything we’re doing. But at this point, it’s really hard to one up yourself. When you keep doing something great, it’s expected of you now. That’s why this show is so important. We need to over deliver, not only for the fans and the people that come to the show, but also for ourselves. We need to show ourselves we can over deliver and we can take this thing further.
What can we expect from the collaboration with Nike and Scottie Pippen?
For Pippen, we re-worked the Nike Air Maestro II with a brand new upper that has asymmetrical lacing, medial zip, and an extended collar that we made in a bunch of different fabrications and colorways specifically for the show, and a few other colorways we’re going to release. We also made a vintage apparel collection inspired by the ‘90s.
"This is what I worked my whole life for."
How did that project come about?
Growing up in Queens in the mid-’90s, a lot of kids wore Air Jordans. But my crew of friends wanted to be different so we all wore Pippen’s sneakers. It was an Uptempo thing. The Pippen 1s was one of the most important shoes in my childhood. Those were what made me fall in love with the Pippen brand. The idea of Scottie Pippen’s shoes being this premium and sitting next to a Jordan... I just felt like those two guys really owned it. But Pippen, to me, was the under appreciated player. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate Pippen so much more. Yes, he used to hurt my [New York] Knicks team back then but when you look back at basketball players and what they contributed to the game, he was one of those guys who aged perfectly. That’s why I always respected Pippen and wanted to work on a Pippen project.
Two years ago, I started having the conversation with the Swoosh about Scottie Pippen. We slowly started going back and forth on what it could be. Then we started working on product a little over 18 months ago. This was a long process, but Scottie loves it and that’s what’s most important. I think Nike is really happy with how the product turned out, too. It’s a serious notch in our timeline for what we’re capable of doing... [Pointing at shoe.] Do you see this logo right here? This is the flight logo from the ‘90s. We turned the “F” into a “K.” Do you know what that is? And for it to say “Just Us” in the bold font? For it to have a Kith logo on the back of a Maestro? And for me to design a new upper? It’s new! It’s like, I designed a new upper for Nike and a new shoe. I’m wearing my own Nike shoes. Like, really? This can't be real life.
You also teased a collaboration with LeBron a few weeks ago. Talk about that project.
For LeBron, we worked on a game shoe and an off-court shoe, but we used the same tooling for that as the on-court sneaker. It’s the LeBron 15 but our take on it.
How did you guys end up working together?
LeBron is family. Maverick Carter is a really good friend of mine. Paul Rivera is a really good friend of mine. Those guys were at my wedding. When I first had the conversation with them to do something with LeBron, we wanted to wait for the right moment, where the product made sense. But when I saw the LeBron 15, it was like that was the one. It’s a standout. In my opinion, it’s the best LeBron shoe to date.
We saw the final product for the first time a week ago, the day before I presented them to LeBron. I’m executive producing this mini documentary about LeBron, the trailer for which aired at the show, and while we were on set in L.A., me and Jason Petrie from Nike, who is my favorite footwear designer of all time, went to his trailer with the bag of shoes. I took the shoes out the bag and... It’s funny because my friend Austin [Scotti], who works with me and is a vital part of this project, has a video of me taking the shoe out of the bag and my face was just as surprised seeing the shoe for the third time. These have airbags painted in matte colors and the strap wraps around the shoe over the airbag and comes off. You can wear it with no strap, which is magnetic, not velcro. I don’t even know where this sits in the spectrum in terms of what we’ve accomplished as a brand, you know what I’m saying?
And Kith has accomplished quite a lot.
But this is different. The LeBron crown with the Kith logo? I mean, I’m working with the best player in our lifetime. There’s no words for it. To me, 30 years from now, this is going to be a moment. And that’s why we do it, right? I’m only interested in leaving moments. It’s all about legacy at this point. It’s not even about myself. It’s about the brand, the legacy of the brand. This is what I worked my whole life for. I shed a tear for this guy.
What is it like to work with legends like Pippen and LeBron?
It’s a dream. If I was to tell my 11th grade self that I’d be doing this right now… I’m just happy it’s happening now when we’re ready, you know? It wouldn’t have been deserved two or three years ago.
But I feel like we’ve built ourselves to the point where we really understand product. We take our time with things and we’re poised. I think that’s the biggest difference. Instead of thinking about why we haven’t done something or why we can’t do something, our mindset now is “if given the opportunity, this is how we’ll handle it.” It’s honestly my personal maturity and growth, and that reflects on the brand. I feel like I have a lot of responsibility in terms of how I lead and where I take this brand, and it’s important for me to stay grounded at a time when I’m doing some of the craziest things I could ever imagine.
Why did you wait until Kith’s 5th year to have a fashion show?
We weren’t ready. It’s funny because I look at our collection this year and I look at how we put this show together this year and I can tell you we weren’t ready last year.
What would you have done differently?
I would’ve done many things differently and you’ll see those differences in our second show. It’s going to be a different type of show.
"I’m working with LeBron, the best player in our lifetime. There’s no words for it."
Kith’s shows don’t follow the traditional formula of just sending models down the runway. Why?
That’s a great point. For me, the way I think about this is if I was a rapper and I was to tour, this would be my show. This is the self expression for the brand. I don’t believe in the traditional runway show formula. You need to be able to feel the big picture or the major concept behind what we’re doing within each look that’s passing through. That’s why it’s as conceptual as last year and it’ll continue to be as conceptual moving forward.
So this won’t be Kith’s last fashion show?
I don’t like to put myself in a position where I’m dictating what’s going to happen because we are so nimble, and we’re able to do things as we want. There’s no pressure for us to do a show. In fact, we don’t even wholesale the brand. The only reason we do a show is because I want to celebrate what we did, what we’ve done, and what we’ve built. There’s no big financial benefit. It’s just a lot of work. And it needs to be worth it for me to stress my team out to get this show ready and make sure it’s perfect. For me, I feel like it’s more than worth it because of how people will feel when they finish seeing everything. The entire Kith team will be there at the show. We celebrate together. This is for me and my team. This isn’t for anyone else. Everybody else who comes to the show can be a part of that. I would love for them to share the moment with us. But this is a celebration for us. And that’s the brand motto—come hang out with us. Feel welcomed. You’re our friend. If you like this business and you like product, even if you don’t want to wear anything from this brand or buy anything, if you share the same values and are passionate about the same things, you are our friend. That’s the whole model behind this.
Me and you are sitting down having this interview because I like Complex. I read Complex. But this isn’t necessarily for editors. It’s not for the story that will be written. The approach and the reasoning behind the show is not for the same reasons that people think. For me, it’s just about building moments for the brand that sit within a timeline, a notch in the timeline we can look back on and think, “Look what we did.” When you work on this much product, it deserves to be in a room. It deserves to come out as one full collection. These are eight different collections that will all come out at one show and be part of a bigger story. For me, it’s like, what better way to do that than actually have it come out in New York City, during fashion week, while the best people are in town? I feel like it deserves that moment.
There are over 1,000 pieces in the collection. Do you ever worry there will be too much product?
If you love product as much as I love product, you just feel comfortable being around this much product. Always. This doesn’t phase me. To me, I haven’t hit a cap as to what I’m capable of doing yet. I feel like i’m just getting started. To me, this is the real coming out party. This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done. For the first time, I feel like I can go toe to toe with… I don’t think anyone is doing anything like this. This business model isn’t influenced or following a formula based on anyone else’s business model. We’re writing a new book. We’re showing during women’s fashion week. Why? Because it’s the perfect time for me to show everything that’s releasing for the rest of the year. In this business, consistency is what beats out anything else. If you want to survive, you need to be consistent with what you’re providing. I think the consistent message is that the product is always getting better.
I think what separates you from other designers is that you seem to understand both the creative and the business side of things. Do you think you’re a better designer or businessman?
I think what makes me unique is that I learned the business before I became a creative. Working at David Z., I learned the back-end. When I became a buyer, that was my schooling. Working in the back office and retail floor was an important combination to make things like this happen. That’s why I always tell kids looking for advice to start at the bottom so you can learn the whole process. I am a business person, but I just don’t want to be remembered for that. I want to be remembered for the product side. But if I wasn’t great at being a business person then I wouldn’t be able to build product the way that I do. I think it’s a vital part of it, for sure.
People have called Kith different things—a streetwear brand, an athleisure brand. But how do you define Kith?
Okay... That’s like me asking you how would you describe water. Many different brands are water but, to you, water is water. It’s all you know. You’re asking me to categorize my brand, which is built off of what’s missing in my closet and is now being built off of what we haven’t done or have done and need to get better at. I don’t categorize it as anything. I categorize it as Kith. What is Kith? It’s Kith. To me, it’s in its own lane because I don’t look anywhere else. I only look to what Kith can be as the brand that it is.
So you prefer not to define or categorize it as one thing?
Yeah. I don’t like defining terms for things that are not very clearly made for a certain category. That’s why it’s so hard for people to put a label on it. It’s not one of those things that can live within a label because it could be anything. Kith is me. Kith is a lifestyle around my life. It can be hospitality. It can be home. It can be accessories. It can be apparel. It can be footwear. It can be anything that I want it to be. I’m not going to pigeonhole the brand to be one thing or another because that wouldn’t make sense. If this brand is free of labels then it will have the best chance of being the best it could be.
Is that mentality influenced by Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, two designers you’re inspired by who have also built their brands beyond apparel? For instance, Ralph has restaurants and cafes.
One hundred percent. Those are different ways to feel the brand. If the brand is going to live in your mind in other ways than just hard goods, then you need to explain or show through other experiences what the brand actually is. That’s why the stores are so important to me. They’re built the way they are because the experience you’re supposed to have in the stores is meant to give you a feel for what Kith really is. I love giving people experiences. Without the store, the brand couldn’t exist. If you asked me to just be an online brand, why would I ever want to do that? It becomes just product you’re selling with no purpose. There has to be a purpose. My love is the purpose. The passion is my purpose. It’s the drive. I wouldn’t feel as accomplished if I only lived online. You need to be able to come in and experience what the brand is all about. But that’s going to expand. I always want to do what people told me I couldn’t.
Where do you see Kith going? During your episode of Complex’s show The Blueprint, you mentioned you didn’t want to sell the brand.
I don’t know. I’m working on Spring/Summer 2018 right now, but I don’t have a master plan for what’s going to happen with the brand because it’s not built that way. I don’t have the pressure of needing to hit a number or needing to please shareholders and investors. For me, the only goal is to maximize the potential of this brand without hurting it and by doing it tastefully.
That’s a luxury not all brands can afford.
It is. But bringing the brand to a place where that can be a luxury is very difficult to do. It’s all about understanding what we can and cannot do as Kith, six years in. There are a lot of opportunities that many others would take that we shouldn’t do and don’t do, and those are hard decisions for me to make. But I think for the longevity of where I’d like to take this brand, it’s important for me to stay the course and go with my gut and my heart.
What do you think the 13-year-old Ronnie Fieg, a stockboy at David Z, would think of all of this—Kith, the success, your career?
The truth is, I always believed in myself and what I was going to do. I’ve always wanted to do this, but it doesn’t mean I thought it would happen. But patience is key. Persistency is key. Consistency is key. And the older and more mature I get, the more I realize that I wasn’t ready until now. But now, it seems like the right time. You can’t throw a tantrum like a little kid if you can’t have something you want. You need to understand why it is that you don’t have it and what you need to do to get there.