If you look at some of today’s most popular sneakers, you will notice a common trend: rappers are responsible for a lot of them. Whether it’s the Adidas Yeezy line, Pharrell’s consistent work with the Three Stripes, or Travis Scott’s projects with Nike, have been among the most hyped sneakers in recent times. That’s not to say athletes aren’t still capable of selling to a lifestyle market, but there’s no shortage of examples of rappers doing it. And now there’s one more to add to the list—albeit not the typical sneaker associated with these collections.
Michigan-based boot company Wolverine has tapped Chicago rap artist Vic Mensa to create his very own version of the 1000 Mile Sneaker—a brand new silhouette from the brand that takes the classic upper of the 1000 Mile Boot and places it atop a Vibram midsole. If the pairing seems a little odd at first, further inspection reveals it isn’t entirely outlandish. For one, Wolverine crafts its boots with Horween leather produced in Mensa’s hometown of Chicago. Second, a boot-inspired model is more true to Mensa’s current style than a traditional sneaker collaboration would have been. He himself says he doesn’t wear many sneakers and is inspired by the skinhead subculture of England’s youth in the 1960s.
“We’re just excited to work with Vic. He isn’t just a musician. He’s clearly into the fashion space, and after meeting him this morning he’s clearly into the boot,” says Wolverine’s Vice President of Marketing, Andrew Shripka. “We love the philanthropy, too. We’re just excited to see where he can take some of his ideas.”
We got a chance to talk with Mensa before his tour of the Horween leather factory in Chicago earlier this week to discuss his inspiration for his design, his thoughts on some of Chicago’s other footwear collaborators, and even his future philanthropic efforts with his charity SaveMoneySaveLives. Check out the conversation below.
How did this collaboration with Wolverine come about?
Wolverine does all of the production in the Midwest in the leather factories in Chicago. I’m a big boot person. I don’t wear too many sneakers. So when the opportunity presented itself, I was like, “I definitely want to design some boots,” because I’ve been thinking about boot designs for some time already now. To be able to connect with a partner that has the infrastructure to make those ideas and designs come to fruition, I’m into it. We’re going to the leather factory later. I’m excited about that.
What do you plan to gain from that experience to bring over to your collaboration?
I have a lot of design ideas already that we started cookin’ in Photoshop, and a lot of different references. Sourcing vintage everything is a main hobby of mine. It’s something I already spend a lot of time doing. I already have a lot of vintage boot references that I’ve been collecting. Some I wear, some don’t even fit me, but I just thought the design was dope. This is an opportunity for me to create those. Going to the factory will allow me to see different styles, colors, and embossed leathers, and catch a drawing off that.
You have a unique style. How can we expect that to shine through in your collaboration?
My own line, 93 Punks, will be launching in February. That’s with my boy Conrad. He does all of the construction on the leathers and denim jackets that I wear that are all customized. We are really thinking of taking that same approach and using those same references in creating what we do with Wolverine. I’ve been really inspired this year by skinhead style. That’s a lot of 10, 12, 15-eyelet boots, tall boots. I’m thinking about hardware and about platforms because I can use the vertical assistance at all times.
How would you say the city of Chicago inspires your overall style?
Style is always coming back around. Growing up in Chicago, I’m from Hyde Park—that’s where all the sauce comes from. I grew up under all those guys that came up with Don C and Virgil. [DJ] Mano used to be sneaking me into the ABC Parties downtown in the club when I was 15. Him, Hollywood [Holt], and Virgil would be DJ’ing. There’s a lot of style there. I was raised around that, and continue to do that.
What are your thoughts on some of Chicago’s other collaborators like Virgil, Don C, and Kanye? How do they inspire you?
They all inspire me. Those are my big bros. I love how they all exist in their own lanes and create what inspires them. That in itself is inspirational to see such a close group of people span so many different runways, and mediums, and corners, and pockets of culture.
Do you have a favorite project from that group? Is there one that stands out to you over the rest?
I really love Off-White women’s. His Off-White women’s shit is just next level. I think what Virgil has been able to do in recent times with recontextualizing footwear is phenomenal. Not even just footwear, but clothing in general. Just writing the name of the item on the actual garment becoming a trend every major fashion house is biting up—that’s fresh.
You also have names like Joe Fresh Goods, RSVP Gallery, and Saint Alfred. What are other designers and stores in Chicago people should be paying attention to?
One of my favorite companies in Chicago is Sir and Madame. They just create really classic clothing. I’ve been really close with them for the past 13 years. The same goes with Joe Fresh Goods. That’s my big bro. So, to see everyone doing their thing in their own way is only right.
Proceeds from the sale of your Wolverine collab will be going to your SaveMoneySaveLives charity. Was that something that was super important to you when you agreed to do this project?
I always try to weave my philanthropic efforts into my creative and entrepreneurial moves whenever possible. The city means so much to me, and has given so much to me that it’s important to me to stay firmly focused on the betterment of the situation for my people here in Chicago.
Earlier this year there was the incident in Englewood with the bait trucks set up there. You took part in a sneaker drive in the area afterwards. What was that experience like for you?
It was amazing. Obviously, the actions of the Chicago Police Department were pretty offensive to the community, especially on a weekend where we had 75 people shot. For their response at the end of that weekend to be sending a bait truck filled with Air Force 1s and red bottoms into the ghetto where people don’t have anything to try and trap them into committing crimes, that was offensive to us. But it turned into something beautiful because we were able to bring 30,000 people out in Englewood, and give 15,000 pairs of shoes to people that really need them. It was a very powerful moment.
What other plans do you have for your charity going forward? Can we expect similar initiatives?
We’re working with DCFS (Department of Child and Family Services) right now. We kept receiving shoes after that event. So, we’re on the cusp of going to give a pair of shoes every kid in DCFS care in Chicago. We’re continuing our first aid response training, specifically for gunshot trauma in the neighborhoods because people are bleeding out before they reach the hospital. My mother told me that the other day on 47th Street, there was a young woman who crashed her car, and nobody was helping her. So, my mom went over there because she is a physical therapist and the girl was freaking out, and the ambulance didn’t come for 45 minutes. If she had head trauma she could have died in that time, but the system in place isn’t really set up to take care of our people. If that car crash was by the water tower or in Lincoln Park, you can guarantee the response would have been different. So, we are taking it into our own hands, and training people how do deal with these situations to save their own lives.
Anything else to add about the collaboration?
I’m very excited to be doing it in Chicago. Like I said, I’ve been designing boots for some years and putting ideas together. So, it’s a great opportunity for me to make them come to life.