Although the original pictures surfaced some months ago, very little was known of the mysterious sneaker in the cigarette box. Is it a Nike collaboration? Is it a Newport sneaker? No. The “Menthol 10s” are the product of pure genius, the genius of ARI.
Written/Produced By: “MaZe”
KATC: Letâ€™s get right to question on everyoneâ€™s mind. Whatâ€™s the story behind the sneaker?
ARI: Even though I think that most kids will look at it as a cool colorway, if you are from the hood, like we are, you can appreciate Newport. But like I said, most people look at the sneaker and they will see a colorway, which is cool, if you donâ€™t like green then you are going to hate it, if you hate knock-offs then you are really going to hate it, but, there is more to the story.
KATC: When you look at the sneaker itself, you canâ€™t help but realize that there is much more going on with it then it merely being a sneaker.
ARI: Right, for one, itâ€™s called the â€œMenthol 10â€ because it has been 10 years since I moved to New York from Philly. I was completely broke and with my hardships from Philly, I moved up here to grow our magazine called â€œOn the Goâ€ with ESPO and my two other boys. At that time, around â€˜95-â€˜96, we put out an issue of the magazine and the cover looked like a Newport ad. It was the classic orange, green and white and it had De La Soul on the cover. You know how the Newport ads look kind of like Mentos ads, like â€œhey we are having fun smoking!â€? We had De La Soul all looking cheesy in the picture, like the people in the Newport ads. The idea was that, at the time, Newport really smashed the streets with advertising and their slogan was â€œAlive with Pleasureâ€. We were feeling a lot of pressure financially with the magazine and from the industry because we were taking a satirical and underground approach with it, where at the time all you had was the Source. So on our cover instead of saying â€œAlive with Pleasureâ€, we said, â€œAlive Under Pressureâ€. The cover was reflective of us at the time, and De La Soul because they had released two albums at that point and they werenâ€™t duplicating that commercial success, nor did they want to, so the industry was putting a lot of pressure on them.
ARI: Also at that time we made 8.5×11 stickers of the cover and we smashed NY with them, all of the bodegas and what not. To some people they just saw a Newport ad because of the coloring but other people stopped and looked and were like â€œwho are these guys?â€ So this sneaker is the celebration of that first impact on NYC. Itâ€™s the next satirical, jack, and make fun of type of thing. Thatâ€™s where the color scheme comes from. Not to duplicate what we did before with the cover though, but to move forward with the mature look of the packaging versus the ads while keeping in theme.
ARI: Secondly, me being in the marketing industry there were a lot of parallels that I saw. I love Newport and I love Nike but I donâ€™t drink or smoke, I am very straight edge, as some would say. It was interesting because in the marketing arena I noticed this continuing trend of marketing people who refused working with tobacco clients and liquor clients. I am looking at all of these campaigns against tobacco like the â€œTruthâ€ campaign and what not, but I donâ€™t know that those business practices (those of tobacco companies) are too different from a lot of other corporations in Americaâ€™s history. I honestly think that Newport and Nike are incredible brands in their own ways.. So I began to look at these two corporations that kind of have a lot of the same branding energy, smartness about them, brand loyalty, and both are icons in the hood and in any city. This sneaker celebrates those icons that we are familiar with and points out their positive as opposed to their potential negatives.
KATC: So this sneaker is satirical and, at the same time, it pays homage to these corporate legends.
ARI: Yes and no. These two brands have a lot of similarities in what they do. Sneakers are obviously not tobacco, but the interesting thing about the sneaker world that people donâ€™t know is that the # 1 athletic shoe franchises in America all have their biggest sales spike on the first of the month when Public Assistance and Welfare come in. That is when these huge sneaker chain stores heavy up on their advertising, so basically critical money is going to footwear habits and not to feed families or children. Now thatâ€™s not the responsibility of the store or sneaker companies to tell people how to be responsible with their money, but, there arenâ€™t any marketing dollars spent towards that type of education. Formula, Similac, milk, bread and butter, are being passed over for sneakers. We see â€œresponsibleâ€ marketing dollars being spent on â€œdonâ€™t drink and Driveâ€, or â€œtobacco is wackoâ€ but not on other critical areas of society. Thatâ€™s my point. I love sneakers and sneaker companies for the smart stuff that they have done. Now to say that you love tobacco companies for the smart things they have done makes you look like an A-hole, but I am not preaching to anyone. If your addiction is food, get with it, enjoy it, but be honest about it. Donâ€™t separate your addiction to sneakers, to liquor, to clothing, away from tobacco, why is tobacco different or evil? You donâ€™t think many of these fortune 500 companies donâ€™t sit around the board room plotting ways to take advantage of people to make a buck? If you have love for one, then why single out the other. Just be honest with yourself. People who live in glass housesâ€¦ yada yada,
ARI: Now thatâ€™s a lot to say for a sneaker, but, we arenâ€™t all kids anymore but I am going to keep collecting sneakers because I am a big unsatisfied kid at heart. It is just nice to create a really quality products for a tasteless needs, and that is adult. Adults like to have their liquor or a cigarette, adult things, things that kids donâ€™t do. But no one can make adult sneaker cause of the corporate taboo it represents. One thing about sneakers is, you buy the hot new release and you see it on a 12 year old, well this is something that feels too adult. A little kid can cop it and rock it, if his or her foot is big enough, but its not made for them, the shoe is on the other foot for once.
KATC: What size will the kix start at?
ARI: They start at size 8. I wanted to make something that the quality is better than most of the majors [are producing] right now. For me I saw a need for these, these were not made for a profit. It would be nice to profit but itâ€™s seldom ever my motivation for creativity unless itâ€™s for a client. Anything that we have ever done at On The Go has been a satire that we deliver with a certain message. Our message is, here is the truth of the situation, we are not better than the truth because we are a bunch of derelicts, we are just going to be honest about it, we are going to call it like it is. You can have a cup of water or a cup of beer, itâ€™s up to you. I wasnâ€™t going to put something out that didnâ€™t have a reason for being. As these ideas filled my brain, I wanted to come up with a 10 year anniversary product for On The GO in NYC, and I looked at all of the marketing dollars being spent [on anti-tobacco], and I said this is a perfect opportunity to do something fly. Iâ€™m giving people a familiar face, with a completely different idea. If they want to look at it as a colorway thatâ€™s fine, or a bootleg then thatâ€™s fine too, but if they look deeper, I have messaging all over the sneaker and there is a message to the madness.
KATC: To take a step back, how long has this sneaker been in the making?
ARI: Over two years, about 2 years and 2 months. I designed it at least 26 months ago. At first I tried to get it down with another label, as a co-label type of thing. They were into it at first but then they dropped the ball, and their quality was horrible anyway so I moved away from that. I tried to make another partnership with it but that just floundered around because they were too busy. So I had to start taking $500, $1000 at a time away from the marketing company to put off to the side for this project. So about 14 months ago I put this into production. I found a good contact and got an incredible manufacturer, the quality of their leather is ridiculous. It is full grain soft leather. What better way to pay homage to Nike than to bring their old quality back?
ARI: I got my first sample about eight months ago and by the second sample it was pretty much done. So here we are. We are coming up on an event at ALIFE, not at the Rivington Club though, at the actual ALIFE store. When most people think ALIFE they think ARC, but this is more of a design piece, more art related. The kix are going to come with a whole bunch of stuff a framed Piece that I do, a loose print Piece which will be a collaboration with myself, ALIFE, and ESPO, an ESPO designed T-Shirt, and a lighter. The lighter is in question in terms of production so it may or may not happen. Itâ€™s going to be an incredible package. The extra ALIFE goodies will obviously only be available with the pairs sold out of ALIFE proper, once again NOT Rivington Club. This is a high end product, itâ€™s not just a sneaker release, itâ€™s a concept. This is what ALIFE wanted to do and I was in complete unison with that. So the sneaker will be previewed at an ALIFE event on June 16th then go on sale to the public on the 17th at ALIFE. Then a week later there will be an event at the Vancouver ALIFE store. There will be a chance for people to RSVP to attend the event so keep your eyes open for posts online some place. Then a couple days after the ALIFE Vancouver Canada event you will be able to get it at Clientele with a few pairs popping up in other places around the globe. Maybe Amsterdam, Japan, West Coast, but the quantities out there, outside of NY, will be around 6-12 pairs the most.
KATC: How many pairs would you say are dropping in NYC?
ARI: There are 252 pairs total, so I would say, about 240 pairs will hit the stores and streets. I didnâ€™t want to be stingey, I didnâ€™t want people to have to fight over them, but, it just came down to money. The initial cost to actually start making the sneaker is just astronomical. I am only going to make about half my money back, but itâ€™s not about the money. Its all I could afford to make for this first offering. I just want people to have the same quality product that we have always brought with the magazine and other projects, 50% will like it, 50% wonâ€™t. Those that have been fans of On the Go, of the magazine, of the team, the stuff that Iâ€™ve done in the background, the design the art, the people that know me from bombing in Philly, for the people who have seen the struggle, its for them, and for the new kids that are just finding out, welcome aboard, I hope you like the view. I hope everyone gets something. There are going to be a lot of T-shirts out there. I felt bad about the quantity of sneakers so Iâ€™m going to put out like 600 t-shirts, two or three different designs, the shirts that come out at ALIFE, there will only be a handful of those and they are separate from the others that will be available through other spots. All the designs are coming from my crew and camp.
KATC: So the limitedness is not by choice, itâ€™s by necessity?
ARI: Yes. When I helped ESPO design the Air Force 2 for Nike it was different because he had all that rep in the street. He wrote his book and he had that momentum and the swoosh on his side to assure that he could move over 1000 pairs easily. So we knew that project was going to do well, but with doing this, its not a swoosh product, and people donâ€™t really know that I had anything to do with that ESPO release. I made enough for people who really love On the Go and love what I have done over the years, I knew they would be into it knowing how I think and see things. Plus, I just didnâ€™t have the money damn it! It would have taken a whole year to save up to make more than 252 pairs.
ARI: I wasnâ€™t going to put it out half assed. I probably could have had this come out a year ago but it would have sucked. I mean I made my own molds for the sole. Itâ€™s got lots of detail in it.
KATC: People need to understand that these kix are not a custom and not a collaboration. This is your product from the ground up.
ARI: Designed by me, my complete idea, everything has gone through me through hard work. I am proud to say that. The first time I came up with the idea, I took an old ACE 83 and pulled the swoosh off of it and tried to flip it around, but the swoosh is a completely different shape from the Newport logo, I wanted a new shape that was in between and worked on the sneaker, so I went and drew it. I partially painted the sneaker to see what it might look like, and said to myself, â€œThis could really workâ€. I couldnâ€™t physically do it as a custom because it just looked hokey, so I drew it, then it made sense. The box took a long time to manufacture to. To get manufacturers headsâ€™ around the idea that I needed a shoe size cigarette box and to function exactly like it…it cost a fortune. I could have gotten a car instead but that doesnâ€™t mean anything to me, this means something to me. Itâ€™s a cool colorway to most, but to me itâ€™s a trophy.
KATC: This is obviously art with a message. As an artist, what is your view on people wearing it/not wearing it? What would you like to see done with your work?
ARI: I would like to see it where ever it will be. I would like to see one pair in someoneâ€™s sneaker trophy case somewhere, I would like to see someone else grinding it into the ground on their feet because they love sporting it, and I would like to see another pair on a drunk bum in the subway smoking a cigarette. What batter way to communicate the point of all this. If and when you see that guy, I just might be the cat who gave it to him.
KATC: As the release date nears, how has the response been so far?
ARI: The response online has ranged from â€œthatâ€™s the most amazing thing that Iâ€™ve seenâ€ to â€œThatâ€™s a bootleg rip-off and wackâ€, itâ€™s been everything. All responses are the right ones in my eyes. Thatâ€™s the whole point of this thing, to create dialogue on the subject. To sneaker brand purists it may not be for them, but, I think people are kind of bored. So why not?