KangaROOS and Patta? That's definitely a move we never saw coming. Team Patta are extended family so we trusted their judgment on this but KangaROOS is one of those brands shrouded in a certain mystery. Some brands were just there when we were growing up, neither in the must-haves nor catnip for bullies. We know the story behind Amsterdam's band of Terius Nash/Kool G Rap/running shoe disciples, but what's the story behind KangaROOS? Mention the name and everyone's got a story of pockets in tongues and side panels - somewhere down the line, those Circa Muskas (and even the Supra Skytops) seemed to be direct descendants. The bane of any brand's life is the franchises that can make summarising the story a near-impossibility. The KangaROOS mythology takes in technical runners, invention built on functional storage, semi-formal footwear, basketball, Clyde Drexler and forgotten wrestlers. That's a potent mix.
The current UK licensed offerings something very different indeed, but delve beneath the surface and there's some interesting information out there. The common story is that architect Bob Gamm conceived the in 1979 as a runner and inventor, looking for a key and cash stash so he could run without concerning himself with jangling keys or running gear that necessitated excess pockets.
Of course, in an era where every milligram counts, the notion of adding some metal to a single foot seems arcane, but Gamm built an empire out of it. Evidently, Gamm was keen to get his pocket concept onto a few prototypes, and early patents have a 1980 entry on behalf of the mysterious Envoys U.S.A. for, "Cap with integral pocket" as well as the famous December 26th 1979 "ATHLETIC SHOE POCKET" submission (an apparent extension of a 1978 submission) under the same assignee company name. This wasn't Gamm's first sneaker work either either - he'd filed a patent for running shoe branding for the Trans-World Shoe Company four years prior.
Fob and flap pockets had been patented by the early 1980s, and - if you'll excuse the pun - Bob ran with it under the KangaROOS U.S.A. brand. Purse pockets, large pockets running all the way around the collar of a hi-top, fob pockets...it all got patented during this burst of creativity with eccentric modes of storage as the key selling point.
The 1980s ushered in some interesting endorsements - NFL running back Walter Payton's lavish living was a key part of a promotional campaign, but they also had William "The Refrigerator" Perry (check the cover of 'The Superbowl Shuffle' for evidence and the nice guy of the NFL, Mr. O.J. Simpson on the books too. 1985's development of Dynacoil was a concerted attempt at a serious runner and one with a non-pocket story as the "NASA Technology" gave the shoe coiled energy response, based on moon boot technology. It garnered some positive reviews in the performance press and the Dynacoil waling shoe was particularly well recieved from a design standpoint too.
Clyde "The Glide" Drexler wore KangaROOS, supposedly rejecting Nike offers in a bid for individuality, before switching to Avia around 1986. Sponsoring WCW Steiner Brother Rick Steiner around 1989 was a strange moment in endorsement though - we think the lack of Ric Flair Kanga-WOOOH wrestler edition was a squandered opportunity.
In 1985, 'Venture' magazine wrote of Bob Gamm, "Using an offbeat management style that is part organized disorganization, part artistic innovation, in five years Gamm has turned KangaROOS into a convincing threat in an elitist industry."
Beyond the sporting pieces, there were hiking designs too - the likes of the Outbacks and Woodhollow had muddy shades, some early additions of plaid and some premium materials, plus that pocket design on the upper, but they seemed to garner less attention when it comes to sneaker nostalgia. Team Patta remembered them. In the Netherlands, KangaROOS was sucked into a shoe culture of oneupmanship and individuality, where the smaller brands could garner similar props to big-budget designs, and sneaker duplication with a crew affiliate was the cardinal no-no. Over the last year or so, Patta have been working with KangaROOS to make the leap into dropping their own co-branded line. Designed and built with now in mind rather than too much retro thinking, the K2 and Woodhollow are reworked archive styles in rugged fabrics like Cordura, plus carefully selected premium leathers, with mini Patta and KangaROOS branded Victorinox penknives in the pocket. The Patta boys have put in work on some shoes that look built for putting in work, so we caught up with Edson and Gee for a conversation on the PxK collection prior to its launch...
CT: Patta x KangaROOS is an unexpected partnership. How did this project come to be? We didn't know anything about it until just before Berlin...
Gee: The relationship started when Tim and Edson rekindled their interest in the brand. They started their conversation with KangaROOS and basically figured out this new way of working with the brand for us.
Edson: Actually, it was Tim who wanted me to meet the sales representative from KangaROOS to talk about collaborating, but we didn't want to do that at that time, because of our fifth year anniversary. We just released an entire year of collabos - we wanted to take a break. And during one of those meetings as the sales rep was trying to convince us to do something together and how great it would be, etc etc...Tim and myself found the old catalogue which was laying there catching dust. Eventually, we started going through the pages and all of a sudden we stopped his talk and said, "Let's do a line together." Because we knew what we was sitting on, like some kind of Amsterdam heritage shit. We left the sales rep dazed and confused, but we made sure that we had an appointment with Bernd and Leo, the bosses over there. Afterwards, we informed Gee and it was a wrap.
CT: We expect good product but we weren't sure what to expect - we were nervous about seeing what you'd made - how was it generally received?
Gee: Nervous? If anybody should be nervous it's us right? (laughs)
Edson: Up until now, reactions have been very positive...we always stay close to the philosophy of what a Patta branded product should look and feel like. So in that respect, it is no different then working on any project. What's crucial is that we feel confident about the end product, but generally we've had positive response about it.
Gee: Yes, of course we were nervous too, but at the end everybody likes the project. Plus there is more to come; this is 1/4 of the whole project. I was more nervous about our new game plan and if things would be the way we planned it to be, but so far so good.
CT: When the idea for the project was raised did you encounter any resistance in-house? I know there are a lot of purists in the house at Patta HQ.
Gee: Honestly, when they first started talking to me about it I had my doubts...but needless to say, these brothers know what they are talking about, and more importantly, know where they are coming from. The 'ROOS catalogue is as purist as it can get...
CT: Why these two models?
Gee: We were attracted to these models, because the 'ROOS boot styles were the shoes to get. They were the shit back then and our make up is like a contemporary perception of what it used to be. We reworked them.
Edson: (laughs) We had to convince Gee, because bottom line and with all due respect, KangaROOS is not the first thing that comes to mind when you want to do something like this. But people don't really know that back in the days KangaROOS was a very popular brand in Amsterdam. That was basically because of the pocket, you could put your school money in or a little toy car to bring to school without your parents noticing it, or some weed or something else. So that was their trademark: the pocket. Also, they had nice tennis shoes and mountain boots, so we had to convince a bunch a people plus the customer, because dudes wonder why they started selling KangaROOS? Well now you know.
CT: Were 'ROOS big in Amsterdam due to the "concealment" aspect too?
Gee: Nah...we never really emphasize on the drugs/cannabis thing. It's a purely aesthetic attraction. The shoe just looks dope, simple as that. Additionally, it was US import, which made it extra exotic.
Edson: I do believe that played a small part in their popularity, but we do not in any form participate on that level. Like Gee says - we just really like the shoe.
CT: In terms of colours, are ACG and Timberland personal favourites?
Gee: Timberlands get rocked for sure. You can't front on the wheats or ACG's, those are literally the illest colour combos without a doubt, so that's a definite yes!
CT: What's the history of KangaROOS in Amsterdam? There's a hustler culture that's not really documented - weren't expensive pieces like the NB 1300 big out there?
Gee: Back in the days, NB1300's, Nike Epics were the ones to get. You had to throw serious loot to get those on your feet though. Hustlers had the loot and the taste for that stuff, so they had those beauties. The feeling of hunger to get your hands on a pair never quite disappears and it also left a serious impression which later turned into an addiction for most of us. I couldn't get them then, because I didn't make my own money, but now I do, so I can buy them now.
Edson: We used to have a store called Roots in Amsterdam where they used to have all the US imports like the Epic and the Lady Epic or the Vectors, but also the NB1300s. If you were a hustler or your dad was rich or just good at saving money, you could get a pair over there, because the prices were crazy. I also remember a Nike shop near Weesperplein, but for regular Joes with regular wallets, you would go to Sportpaleis or our all time favourite Smit-Cruyff on the Elandsgracht. You should watch letitrain.tv for an interview with one of the owners, it's classic, subtitled...everything. I also remember a store somewhere in East of Amsterdam at the Middenweg. Anyway, if you wanted to be different, you would get KangaROOS or Karhus or Le Coq Sportifs, you know - pre-swag and shit.
CT: How important is price point to you? We used to sit and let things gather dust, but now it seems like people just put stuff on straight away and wear it out.
Gee: It depends per case. I like our shoes to be fairly priced for what they are. I guess it's all about the quality, the type of shoe, and the resell value. We take all of these aspects in account, so we try to be as fair as possible to the customer, but also our own business.
Edson: I'm with Gee on this one 100%.
CT: We expect runners from you, but the big boots are a change for both Patta and KangaROOS - were you given the whole archive to pick from?
Gee: Basically, we had the whole archive to work with. The boots were the immediate choice cause of the nostalgic value for Amsterdam. The archive is just crazy though, so this is only the beginning.
CT: The Victorinox penknife is a nice touch - who came up with that? Stashing a knife is quite goonish too, but we're guessing that it's not the intention...
Gee: Actually, it was the idea of one of the KangaROOS OGs - Leo. He has been working for the company since forever; it was a good idea so we stuck with it. The knife is a nod to the outdoors; goonish things can be done with laces too or bare knuckles. So, obviously, it's not about that.
Edson: Yeah, Leo came up with the knife; see ROOS is known for its pocket, so to emphasize that aspect of the shoe, we thought like, why not put something inside it? The 'ROOS logo is not the most important thing on the shoe, the pocket is. We've had some long discussions with the ROOS team about that, but Leo was always behind us when it came to the idea of no logo and the visible pocket. The goonish thing must be a Mubi joke, because you know that we do not promote violence or torture. We just see the pocketknife as a survival thing - finding a way to adapt.
CT: Are we looking at the prospect of this project as an ongoing concern?
Gee: First things first, we start our focus on this project and then we take it from there. However, we try to keep uphold longstanding relationships with brands. You can count on it with whatever brand we work, so KangaROOS is no exception.
Edson: Hell yeah, we have a contract with KangaROOS for three years, so after those three years, we start looking whether or not both parties want to continue working together or not and whether or not we we'll up - or downgrade - the contract. We have such a pleasant working relationship with the people at 'ROOS, it's just unbelievable.
CT: As guys who saw it the first time around, are you enjoying the current wave of prints and snapback hats? Do these fit into that timeframe?
Gee: I do like the fact that the fun is coming back a bit and that people are looking at things from different angles again. Not everything in black and white is dope. Not every multicolour/print execution is dope. So, now it's all about the way it's done. I believe that the emphasis should be on that - the 'idea'. I think these fit in the now, I think they are very much something I and others would wear right now.
CT: You've been very particular about the sample process - how's it been?
Gee: It took a lot of time and patience. We had to work on everything, ranging from shapes to details, but we are happy with the outcome. No doubt.
Edson: It was a very long and difficult process, because the first shoes had to be done from scratch. No moulds no nothing, but that was basically the reason why we started with this shoe, because all we had were the catalogues to look at. It took us about two years until we were satisfied about the shoes. That's the way we work, the entire crew consists of a bunch of tuff cookies, "ain't no half stepping," you know?
CT: Is there a reason behind the materials and colours, or are we past that stage now and just looking to make shoes look good. No stories, no bullshit?
Gee: The Cordura material is something we worked with a couple of years ago with an adidas project very much to our liking. We thought it would fit with these specific shoes. The colourways have no specific story - we just really wanted them to look good. So each project has a different gameplan.
CT: Do you guys feel any pressure with projects? Blog feedback, tweets, all that stuff means everyone's a critic...
Gee: Yeah, everyone's opinion is out in the open now, but I guess it's pretty easy not to feel the pressure once you know that you can't make everybody happy at the same time. The entire Patta team works together to get the best result out of each project. Of course, we have critics in the team, they're always the toughest to crack, but once you win them over, you know that you're good to go. Obviously, it's nice to gain the respect from our peers, but this can never be the motivation in the process. It just comes from within ourselves. The best you get out of all of this work are the happy customers, they're the ones that it's actually about.
CT: KangaROOS is interesting in that it's perceived differently everywhere - so many licensees twisted our perception of the brand - what's the new strategy?
Gee: I can't speak for KangaROOS as far as their strategy. I mean I can speak about this amazing archive that they have and the great potential that lies in it. If they stay close to this they should be alright.
CT: The 'ROOS team seem more close-knit - has that made this project a little easier to execute?
Gee: We have worked very closely with KangaROOS and the actual process was a good learning curve and a lot of fun for everyone. Working with a smaller company is very different, because it's faster and more direct. These are very important advantages. Big companies have another dynamic, but also with pro's and cons.
CT: For those that don't know, what's the Patta - Fatbeats Amsterdam connection? These kind of fit in with that aesthetic as well as a more contemporary look.
Gee: Most people connected with the Patta family met, worked or frequented the Fatbeats store in Amsterdam. Myself, Lee, Edson, Wix and Vic, to name a few. All of us worked there. Piet Parra was a regular, I mean it was our first platform to start developing what we would later grow into. It fits in the aesthetic of that period, however that was then, now is now, and now is what counts.
Edson: Yeah man Fatbeats, those where the days, but also before it was Fatbeats, it used to be Vibes and I met a whole lot of talented mutherfuckers there. Also, we used to frequent our getaway spot, hip-hop cafe De Duivel, where I still go every now and then. A must see in ya lifetime.
CT: Does Amsterdam have any good documents of their street culture from back in the day? There's so much history, but I've rarely seen it beyond the graffiti side...
Gee: That's a real tough one, not really no. I think that's something Tim is working. You best watch Let It Rain TV, there's some good stuff there with lots more to come.
Edson: Yeah I think we're going to make that book soon, so be on the lookout.