These days, being from Chicago seems like a prerequisite for getting a sneaker collaboration. Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, Don C, and Ibn Jasper have worked their magic on projects with brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Converse. Woodie White, the owner of Los Angeles-based brand Oyster Holdings, is the latest to bring his footwear vision to life. He’s on his second official collection with Adidas, and the third time he’s worked with the brand, which resulted in two pairs of pigskin suede Samoas.
White’s a veteran of the streetwear industry. Before launching his own brand in 2014, he worked for LRG and Just Don. What makes his work with Adidas interesting is that he gives his interpretation to shoes that don’t have a presence in the U.S.: The 350 (no, not the Yeezy), the Handball Top, and the Samoa, which White says was popular in Chicago in the 2000s. His most recent collaboration, which releases today at Adidas retailers, features two very different shoes: The Twinstrike, which is an early 2000s running shoe, and the BW Army, Adidas’ version of the German Army Trainer.
To get a better understanding of what goes into Oyster Holdings x Adidas—and to hear stories of Kanye’s reaction to seeing the shoes, how Don C put White onto Adidas, and more—we talked to White to get his insight.
The collection is now available on Adidas.com.
How did you first link up with Adidas?
A buddy of mine, this guy named Jimmy Manley, was over there. When I used to work with Just Don, he was at Mitchell & Ness and went over to Adidas. One day, I told him something about some Samoas and he was like, “Hold on a second. Save that thought. Let me get some people on the line.” They found out we were all doing Samoas in Chicago in the early 2000s and he was like, “Yo, if you want to collab on a couple of pairs, your own material story, do whatever you want. We will give you some pairs for your photoshoots and everything.”
How did you get to work on silhouettes like the Handball Top?
It’s really interesting how the relationship has worked so far. I think with them, knowing I was a Samoa head already laid the foundation for our first meeting. I remember they brought a bunch of samples and most of them were models that were never ranged in the U.S. I'm also a huge Stan Smith and Samba fan. They brought us a book and I was like, “Yeah, we will start working on the Sambas.” They brought the 350 right with a volt sole and white, and it just looked totally different. We started focusing on those two models. You mentioned the Handball, right, because that is one of my favorite shoes, man. I get a text from Juice [Rodriguez, who previously worked in marketing at Adidas,] from the sales meeting like, “I think you need to work on these shoes, these are you.” I was like, “What? What is this, man?” I saw that and thought they were bananas. I had never seen the model in my life. I hit my man Jimmy and was like, “We will send you the thing and you do what you do. We will make yours friends and family.” We did three colors. All the prototypes came back and a couple people around the office found out that those were going to be friends and family. They were like, “No way. We need to put those out.” We ended up pulling the Samba because I was like, “I would rather go totally new.”
Vintage Adidas in America, people only know a couple models. We just looked at it like, instead of doing anything that is going to draw the most amount of attention, because it's the pro model, let's just approach it like, let’s make some dope shoes and put people up on their history.
Kanye used to buy his vintage Adidas from Sportie LA. Was that something you used to look at when he was wearing some of that stuff back then?
Yes, but Sportie LA was only one piece of it. The real gem was Harputs in San Francisco. That's the spot where everything was because they had that storage. So I'll tell you—Don C put me up on the Samoas and Marathon TRs, blue and yellow joints. If you look at [Kanye’s] first mixtape, that's what he had on. ‘03-‘04, Adidas was hot in Chicago. It was still obscure even at that point, because Kanye was not the biggest name at the time, but Don had a lot of influence in the city because he was doing clubs. He’s always been fresh. I was like, “Man, what are those?” He put me up on Harputs, Sportie LA when we would come out there shopping. That was a big influence on me. Before that, it was ‘95 with Adidas Equipment. That was a moment in Chicago. We did an LRG ad and [Kanye] showed up with some cocoa with chocolate stripe leather Samoas. Those things were crazy, and he had them with a gold tracksuit. Those shoes are fucking nuts. He definitely put that other angle on it.
Have you spoken to Kanye about the stuff you have done with Adidas?
Maybe Paris briefly this last time, and maybe four-five months before then. I told him I had something [coming out] and then we talked about it. When I saw him [he was] like, “Oh yeah, this is it.” It was funny because it was the Handball model that he saw.
Do you remember his reaction at all?
Yeah, he loved them. I remember specifically him being like, “What are those? Those are ridiculous.” Not word for word, but we had a brief conversation about it, about my angle. I was explaining to him, “I like to go for heritage stuff, and I like obscure stuff and things of that nature. He was just like, “Man…” Because it was funny with his Powerphase. That shoe was such a good alternative for me [because I like] the Stan Smith, whether it was the Raf ones, the inline ones, no matter what it was. I was on that heavy.
All the guys from Chicago now—you, Don, Virgil, Kanye, Ibn—what did you think it was about your upbringing that made you guys the go-to people in the industry now?
I feel like all of these deals and relationships were put in place not because it was like, “Oh, let's go tap this guy.” I know that for sure with the situation with Don and Just Don, because I worked with him on the brand for a couple of years. If people knew his knowledge of basketball and shoes, they would be like, “He's an almanac.” With what I was saying about the Samoas, the whole thing came from talking to somebody and finding out, “Man, this was your shoe.” And have them be like, “We are about to bring this back into the range.” I'm not speaking for anybody, but if I was to look around as to who should have partnerships, I would look to people within organizations that are really going to support the product, not just the product they are going to work on. That's why I like being with Adidas because there is shit I am discovering all the time. The stuff we are doing next season is not a far departure [from what we’ve been doing], but we are going all the way classic, like classic indoor, because that's just what I like. I just like it, and I hope other people like it, too.
The Army shoe that you did is similar to the Margiela Replica. Was that the reason you wanted to do it?You know it was part of the reason. I used to have a high-top version that they did of that [shoe] maybe like six or seven years ago. Initially, I wanted to do a Stan or a Vintage Rod Laver, like a whole white shoe, something that is timeless and classic that you can wear 10 years from now. We found out that they were kind of bringing that back for the range. They were like, “What do you think about the BW Army?” It was an instant, “Oh yes!” That shoe, for most people, is references Margiela, but then there's this whole sneakerhead audience who knows this as the German Army Trainer that Adidas designed for them. This is their model that has been used, and if you even look at what Margiela calls it, the Replica. They are not hiding the fact that this was not theirs. They are paying homage to the shoe. What we represent as a brand as a whole, we needed something more refined. You have the Twinstrike, which is super sport, and then you have the BW Army, which is very casual, but because of that panelling and that nylon panel up the middle it gives you a sport effect. Also if you lace it up, it gives you a dress effect.
The sort of models that you work on don't have the history in the States, but have a big history in Europe and in the UK football scene. Is that something you got feedback from or you’re familiar with?
I'm really glad you brought that up. While the response was good in the U.S., I got to say, all the different people on the Instagram pages and websites that are dedicated to Adidas and the Indoor movement embraced it. They had not seen an American brand’s perspective on any of the models. [The shoes] have been around forever, so even some of the internal feedback, which really means a lot to me, were people calling for the model who did not know who we were as a brand. That's more amazing than a celebrity wanting the shoe, because these people see shoes every single day. They are working on product. For them to make a phone call over the pond like, “Hey, do you have these?” That lets us know we hit it on the head.