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Sneaker News and Keith Crawford of Jordan Brand Talk Flight 23

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This Saturday, at 11 AM, Jordan Brand will open its first ever Jordan-only retail store called Flight 23. This long-anticipated venture, which has been executed in partnership with FootAction, will be located on 225 W 34 St., situated between 7th and 8th Avenue – just a stone’s throw from the Madison Square Garden. News of this development first surfaced earlier this month, with a teaser shot of an oversized Air Jordan 3 Retro box cloaking the “makeover” that was going underway inside, but today Sneaker News has some exclusive imagery of Flight 23 before the official opening tomorrow. We also had the opportunity to chat with Keith Crawford, Jordan Brand VP of Design to talk about the process and future of the store while providing some interesting insight on the product side of things.

To commemorate the store opening tomorrow, Jordan Brand will hold a special ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:00 AM with several VIPs on hand; Larry Miller, Jordan Brand President , Jake Jacobs, Footaction President and CEO, and several other special guests will be on hand to celebrate the first-ever Jordan only store – one that promises to have the widest assortment of Jordan footwear and apparel in the country. Following those events is the official opening of Flight 23 at 11:00 AM, and you can be sure Jordan Brand will have some special treats on deck. Continue on for the full interview as well as exclusive imagery below, and stay tuned to Sneaker News for more updates on Jordan Brand Flight 23.

Jordan Brand Flight 23 is located on 225 W. 34 St. and will open to the public on 2/1 at 11:00 AM.

Above: A preview of product display intertwined with Air Jordan history

Sneaker News: How long has Flight 23 been in the works?

Keith Crawford: The particular project has been going on for about a year. Larry [Miller] and I always talked about having a Jordan standalone store, where it would be, what it would look like, and so on. In some ways its good that we waited, because our product is as strong as its been and the brand continues to get stronger, so the timing is right.

SN: Jordan Brand is so world-renowned so the reality of there not being a single store is pretty surprising.

KC: This partnership with Footaction has really helped us accelerate those plans of having our own store, and eventually it will lead to us doing our own Jordan flagship location. Opening Flight 23 has forced us to get into action, and it’s been really good for the brand.

SN: Considering the partnership with Footaction – how does Flight 23 compare to a House of Hoops?

KC: The difference primarily is that HoH is a Nike/Jordan basketball concept store, and if you look at the product, about two-thirds of it is Nike, and in some cases, even more. We loved that idea and its been successful, but the standalone Jordan store allows us to tell our own story like we’ve always wanted to without compromise. Also, not having to work with the big machine that is Nike, House of Hoops, and Foot Locker allowed Jordan to move quicker – we’re much smaller it was much easier to get to the solution quicker.

SN: Jordan Brand has never really suffered in terms of sales thanks to the great partnerships it has with retailers and the high demand for the product. So what is the primary goal or mission of Flight 23 aside from selling units?

KC: The good thing of this store is that it will have the widest assortment of Jordan in the nation. That doesn’t happen in many places! There will always be specific things that we do just for this store – we can’t get into any specifics, but we’ll do some projects, athlete appearances, and so on. The overall idea is for the space to feel like the brand, and as the products evolve, we’ll have more involvement from athletes, the community, the city. Now that we have this venue to connect with the consumer, it’s exciting to see what we can do.

Above: A special Jumpman t-shirt with NYC call-outs

SN: So Flight 23 being in New York, an epicenter of the sneaker scene – is this location a testing ground of sorts and are there plans for expansion to other cities?

KC: Right now, there aren’t any firm plans to do a bunch of these. We are looking to test the store and see how consumers are reacting and determining if the reaction is what we’re looking for, and we’ll learn from it because this is the brand’s first-ever retail move. The plan isn’t for Jordan to have a ton of stores, because that wouldn’t make sense for us, but there will definitely be more retail presence coming from us.

SN: While not an official Jordan Brand retail store, NikeTown Chicago was very much considered a hub for the brand, considering the obvious ties between Michael and the city, and since that location opened, the thought of a Jordan Brand retail store was something the public seemed to want.

KC: Definitely. We might have opened the first one just now, but we could have opened up one sooner. But we believe the timing right now is perfect in terms of where the brand is right now and where the product is headed. Chicago is definitely on our map for a future project, and we’re also trying to take the work we’re doing at Flight 23 and bringing it to life in our current Nike spaces, so they will all feel ultimately connected to one another.

SN: Speaking on the location, a short walk from Madison Square Garden – its definitely convenient to be so close to the point where athletes can be more accessible and allow for more special events in the store.

KC: Even right now, with the Super Bowl going on, the football guys that are into Jordan are interested. Obviously its a great city for basketball and the brand, so it made complete sense and it’ll be fun to see it all play out.

Above: Jordan Melo M10 on display

SN: You’ve been with Jordan Brand since it first became its own entity in 1998, and you mentioned that the idea of a retail spot has been in talks – albeit unofficially – for over a decade. Has Michael Jordan had any input or influence over that during that span?

KC: He’s pushed for it. He hasn’t been overtly pushing it, but he trusts the business to do the right thing. He’s a savvy businessman himself and he realizes that while we could have done this before, now is the right time and he’s very much aware of what we’re doing and he’s involved in the plans a little bit. He’s never said he wanted a store by a specific time, but he’s glad its happening now. On the product side, we’re getting performance back on track and focus on innovation. Retro of course will be critical and we care and love that part about our business, and while that area of the company continues to grow, we’re carefully bringing the Retros of the future – the products that kids will want 10, 20 years from now.

I feel like as a brand, we are at a crossroads – we’re big enough where we can have our own standalone store, and behind the scenes with athletes and digital, we’re headed in the right direction.

SN: Digital is so important as it is almost the sole presence that exists for Jordan Brand. Is the opportunity there for the brand to bridge what its trying to do digitally with campaigns and such with actual in-store experiences?

KC: Exactly. That interplay between physical and digital is something that we’re always talking about. As a brand we’re always thinking about how those two entities can live. Our digital presence is where it should be and our storytelling will only get richer. On the physical side, we’re more focused on what the store will look like and how to add in a digital experience.

Above: The oversized Air Jordan 3 Retro box covering Flight 23 before its opening

SN: Onto the aesthetics of the store: You’re definitely not new to this industry as you’ve been with Nike/Jordan for quite some time, but was there any challenge or pressure since this was in fact the first ever Jordan store?

KC: It was a huge challenge, actually. We wanted the physical store space to be representative of where Jordan Brand is headed rather than where its been. We didn’t want it to be too much of a heritage brand or backwards looking – you won’t find many glass cases with old relics. We want it to feel modern and clean, and basically a blank canvas for great product. Also, to make sure it “feels” Jordan. It feels premium, it feels unexpected, it feels really well made –

SN: …and unpredictable –

KC: Yeah, unpredictable. We’re always looking at what we can do in a product perspective whether it be new build-outs in-store, athlete appearances, and so forth. Overall it was a really interesting design challenge. It would be easy to rely on old Jordan Retro cues, and there are some inside the store, but we needed the store to be an amazing blank canvas for the product.

SN: That’s pretty interesting because right now, the store is cloaked in an oversized replica box of the Air Jordan III, so people might expect to look for heavy Jordan Retro inspiration inside.

KC: Yeah people will be in for a surprise. Definitely Retro DNA in there, but the store is future-driven. There will be Retro shoes there of course and it will be the best assortment in the country, so people will find things that they want there. Thinking back to when we first saw Jordans on store shelves, we were wowed at its provocateur, and we want the same reaction for the store. It’s cool that while we are a well-established brand, we are in some ways starting with scratch, so there’s a lot to learn from the first store. It’s a great challenge for us to determine what we’ll look like in future retail concepts.

SN: There’s a lot of talk about the “future” of the brand and how Flight 23 will support that. Does the new Jordan Future sneaker have any sort of tie-in with what you’re saying?

KC: There’s not a specific tie-in to the store, but what the product team is doing a lot of is where we’re going to take this brand rather than borrowing from the past, which is just a Retro re-release. But instead, taking DNA from Retro and modernizing it. The Jordan Future project is just the beginning of many things for us. There was a pretty overwhelming sentiment that 90’s basketball footwear was just flooding the market from all brands, so the counterattack to that is flipping that off-court lifestyle look into a new way.

Above: Part of an amazing installation called the “Hero” piece

SN: Going back to the aesthetics of the store – are there any architectural “marvels” so to speak, considering Tinker’s background in the industry and how his Air Jordan designs were often described as more than just sneakers, but as forms of art?

KC: We’ve got a few “wow” moments in there – one that we call the “Hero” piece. It’s a giant sculpture of tiny golden Jumpman logos hanging from the ceiling built by a famous sculptor who gained fame for creating designs that would like different objects from different angles. At one angle, the cluster of gold Jumpmans appear like the number “23” from one point of view. But we don’t want the store to be famous for its architecture, but for Jordan and the product. I think you’re right with Tinker coming from that architecture background, but the product is what connects with people. We’re not in the store design business!

There are a lot of cues in there specifically that melds the idea of modern sportswear with high-end menswear, so there are some fine furniture details mashed up with performance fabrics. There’s more of a furniture fixture, which isn’t typical, as well as beautiful hardwood floors with the Jordan Wings logo. There’s carbon fiber, hints of red, some gold.

SN: It has to be conducive to evolution for when Flight 23 eventually branches out.

KC: Exactly. For us right now, if it feels “Jordan”, and feels like something you’ve never seen before, then I feel like we answered the challenge.

SN: Finally, speaking on product – can we expect anything exclusive to the store?

KC: It’s going to be the widest assortment of Jordan product and it will be known as the place where you can get “everything”. Part of the future  “game” is to never know what’s coming around the corner, so we encourage customers to check it out. We aren’t necessarily making promises, but it is going to be  a premier brand space. And of course for the opening weekend, we had to do some special NYC-branded t-shirts. We’re definitely discussing on the retail side about what we can do to make this opening launch really special, so while we won’t go into specifics, its definitely on the table.