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“Inclusive, Not Exclusive”: Chinatown Market’s Mike Cherman Discusses UV-Activated Converse Collaboration

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With ComplexCon Chicago right around the corner, Converse has readied several new collaborative projects, and one of the most compelling is unquestionably Chinatown Market‘s duo of UV light-activated takes on the Chuck 70. When exposed to direct sunlight, the shoe’s eggshell white canvas upper switches shades, morphing into a wild and whimsical combo of blue, orange, fuschia and purple. It’s essentially two shoes in one, and is perfectly in line with Chinatown Market’s bold DIY ethos — a piece of footwear that’s designed to be activated and enhanced by the wearer’s lifestyle and surroundings. Ahead of their official debut, we were able to sit down with Chinatown Market founder/lead designer Mike Cherman, and he expounded on his history with Converse, his personal relationship with the Chuck Taylor, the meaning behind the product, and what he hoped to achieve with his co-created sneakers. For all that and more, check out the full interview and a buying guide directly below.

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Sneaker News: Take us through the path of your partnership with Converse. It was big news when LeBron James wore the Swoosh & smiley face-adorned Chuck 70 “bootlegs” in 2018. Was that a one-off creation that you’d made and gotten to LeBron, or were you already in conversation with Converse at that point?

Mike Cherman: That’s a fun story. It was us [Chinatown Market] doing a 1-of-1 project with that sneaker, really something that we just wanted to get to LeBron. Obviously it inspired a bunch of DIY creations, which lead us towards our bigger goal of actually working with Converse. And down the road, that opportunity did open up. We were actually able to partner with Converse on a “takeover” of their SoHo store during New York Men’s Fashion Week in 2018. So yeah, that was the beginning of the authentic partnership between us. Prior to that, we hadn’t really worked together. Now, partnering with Converse and having the opportunity to do something more than just a workshop/customization lab, we’re really excited to drop these UV-activated Chuck 70s. Every project we do, we’re just trying to make sure it’s unique and tells its own story. This UV one is really fun for us, because UV has been so powerful for our own brand in things that we design from t-shirts and other apparel.

What’s your personal history with Chuck Taylors?

So I used to work at a Nike customization store called the Bowery Stadium in downtown New York, and as kids who were working at this Nike customization center, every day my co-workers and I were wearing Converse. It was this funny thing where it was like our “rebellion,” being able to wear these shoes instead of wearing Nike, even though Nike obviously owns Converse. I always felt like Converse always had this rebellious edge to it because the punk kids would wear it, the skate kids would wear it, the style kids would wear it, it’s always kinda had that air to me. That was my way of being unique. We’d all do our own printing on them. We had a DTG [direct to garment] printing machine in the store, and so we’d all go make our own custom shoes all the time. For me, as a customization-crazy person, I love shoes like this because I can do whatever I want to them and have so much fun with them. That truly is the core of why it’s so fun to work with Converse. We have this shoe that you can do anything with. It’s made of cotton canvas, one of the most malleable materials in the game, and it’s great to be able to play with that.

As a designer, what’s your favorite thing about the Chuck 70? Your brand seems to have a DIY ethos of sorts, do you enjoy being able to work that onto the Chuck?

Exactly. Even for kids in the Chinatown Market office, we take promo pairs of Chuck Taylors and let our team play with different patches and heat transfers, basically go make their own shoes. We want to inspire them, let them know that it’s more than a Chuck — it’s an open canvas for them to be creative. That’s the mental challenge I want the kids in my office to be thinking about with any piece of clothing or footwear. It’s easy to look at a T-shirt, look at a pair of shoes, look at any of these things like this simple item, but I think that the possibilities and opportunities of the Chuck are what makes it so fun as a designer.

What is it about UV tech that appeals to you?

You know, for me as a kid, when I was buying clothes, I’d always look for something with extra features or functions. I think that giving a kid a UV shirt, it gives them a whole other function of their shirt that they can show their friends, and it does something more than just “buy this shirt, it’s got a graphic, you see what it is.” It morphs, it changes, and it interacts with the user and the environment it’s in. I think that’s what’s so fun about this project. It makes the shoe more than just a shoe. It’s a conversation piece, something that’s unique to the wearer. These hues [on the shoe] change in their own way, and some colors will last longer while others will last for a shorter time period. It’s the beauty of the shoes: how unique they are.

Do you have any personal favorite Converse collaborations — besides your own, of course?

Y’know, that’s a tough one. Outside of the collaboration, I’d have to say that the classic Chuck 70 really re-invigorated the Chuck for me in general. As someone who wore Converse a lot as a kid, for them [Converse] to revive the classic execution of the Chuck with this Chuck 70 has been something that’s been really exciting for me, bringing a whole new perspective to the shoe itself and re-building that legacy, in my mind. I also really like the UNDERCOVER project. It’s not only super wearable, but very true to their brand and how they execute everything.

What are your plans for collaborations with Converse in the future?

There are some tricks up our sleeves (laughs). We’re definitely working on some stuff, and always trying to see how we can push the limit. I think that with any project Chinatown Market is doing, we want to make sure that we’re differentiating them. We don’t want to pick the same theme and try to execute it time and time again. Just trying to stay unique. Our whole ethos is about inclusive, not exclusive. I want as many people to be able to engage and experience this thing as possible. We want kids to know that if they want something, they can make it themselves. They can go buy a pair of Chucks and make what they want with their own hands. That’s what we want to inspire. It helps them [the kids] believe that the product is an open platform for them to create.

Anything else you’d like to add before we let you go?

Y’know, I think the biggest thing in communicating this project is that a lot of the product images show UV light, and a lot of people might not immediately understand what UV-activated means. It’s as simple as the sun. All you need is sunlight for these shoes to change colors. That’s what’s so beautiful about it. You don’t need any special tech, you don’t have to be able to draw. It’s not like we just gave you a box of markers and said “now you have to make your own cool shoe.” It’s truly packaged with the punch of its special features. No gimmicks necessary. It changes with you. You go to a music festival, the shoes are all bright and crazy in the sunlight, and the moment you step inside a tent, they go back to their pastel base and are different. That’s what’s so fun.

The Chinatown Market x Converse Chuck 70 High and Low will both debut in limited quantities at Converse’s ComplexCon booth on July 20th/21st, and on TheChinatownMarket.com on the 20th. They’ll then make their way to Converse.com, Foot Locker, and other select stockists on August 2nd. The High retails for an even $100 USD, while the Low slides in at $95 USD. Be sure to stop by the Converse booth if you’re going to be in Chicago for ComplexCon, and stay tuned to our Sneaker Release Dates page for further info and updates on other collaborative projects from Chinatown Market and Converse as well.

Chinatown Market x Converse Chuck 70 Collection
Release Date: July 20th, 2019 (ComplexCon)
Release Date: August 2nd, 2019 (Global)
$95 (Low-Top)
$100 (High-Top)



Note: Interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.