For James Whitner, passion and purpose are one. The founder and owner of The Whitaker Group, a retail conglomerate comprised of Social Status, A Ma Maniére, APB and Prosper – Whitaker uses its platform and stores to empower its community and shine a light on underserved people. It is not an easy task: often in the world of street culture, thorny topics are brushed aside, charity t-shirts and “pledges” are created and the next trend is continued.
However, this is not the case in Whitner’s world. Drawing inspiration from his childhood in the Whitaker Projects hardscrabble in Pittsburgh, Whitner creates products with
“His never on trade. It’s always about creating a product that connects, ”Whitner told HYPEBEAST. At unique companionsyear anniversary, James Whitner discusses social status x Nike Dunk “Chocolate Milk” and “Strawberry Milk”, explains why the product is such an important storytelling vessel and talks about the commitment he feels to his. community.
HYPEBEAST: What made you love sneakers?
James Whitner: Youth culture these days is about sneakers, but the generation I came from was flying from head to toe. Sneakers accessorize dope clothes really well, and I think they’re the perfect way to complement any outfit.
So, as a kid, you wanted to freshen up first, then complete your outfit with your sneakers?
You got it. I’ve never done matching head-to-toe outfits, but I always tried to set some kind of vibe with the way I dress and top it off with my sneakers.
we have done unique companions every week for an entire year. Over the course of this year, many guests we’ve spoken to remember a pivotal moment in childhood with shoes, either having the right shoe and feeling like shit, or not having the right shoe and thinking. “Damn, I” I will never have that feeling again. Why do you think these moments become so etched in someone’s memory, and why do they continue to influence that person’s life into adulthood?
It is still social currency. As you mature, you begin to realize that the items you wear provide you with social currency. This search for social currency will accompany you throughout your life. Humans all want to be viewed positively, and even though we are counter-cultural, we still want to be accepted, if only by a very specific group of people. That’s why there is always a story to be told when it comes to sneakers.
“We wanted the Dunk to represent history more than history to represent Dunk.”
When did you come up with the idea of the “Free Lunch” Dunk?
In the middle of 2019. In fact, we didn’t choose the Dunk initially, rather we were unpacking our collaborative journey and trying to find new ways to work with Nike. Nike really wanted to support our voice and focus on telling more of our stories. We wanted the Dunk to represent history more than history to represent Dunk, you know what I mean?
I got you. Did you intend to have a unique silhouette from the start, or was it originally like “we’re going to do something that’s already out there, like a Dunk Low?” “
Yes, we originally thought of Dunk Low or Dunk High. As we continued to unravel the story, we saw how strong she was and decided we wanted something unique that would live with her. There will always be tons of different Dunk colorways, so we strived to have something unique to us, something that speaks to our stories and experiences.
The story of the “free lunch” is so deeply rooted in our communities. When you think of “Free Lunch,” you don’t just see a colorful Dunk, you see something completely different. We want to give something to today’s child, something that belongs to him or her. You can’t keep giving people the same thing over and over again. We must evolve. Finding the balance between making classics and exploring is a never-ending process.
These Dunks are so rich in detail. Is there one specific embellishment that is really beyond you?
Probably that milk bubble swoosh, man. It’s really cool. Working that milky texture on this one was a challenge [reaches behind and grabs the “Chocolate Milk” Dunk], but we certainly worked here [picks up the “Strawberry Milk” Dunk]. We tried to do a lot of things differently from the norm, and I’m proud to say that I think that’s exactly what we did.
What about the strawberry milk and chocolate milk that caught your eye when you built this collaboration?
When we first started playing with the concept of “free lunch” we thought about what was important for a lunch. What was static, what was still there. We found that the “free lunch” menu is different from day to day, but the drinks are always the same. We grabbed that and it gave us a canvas to start working on.
Did working on this Dunk bring back memories of your childhood?
Everything we do has ingrained personal experience – it’s three-quarters of a collaboration, isn’t it? This is a story that connects to many, many black Americans, because 50, 60% of black Americans live in poverty? It was impossible that it was not nostalgic for me because shit, I lived it.
“We don’t create a product for the product. It is our responsibility to tell stories.
This Dunk seems like a smart way to start a tough discussion that some people just prefer to dismiss.
Hell yeah, it is! We don’t create a product for the product. It is our responsibility to tell stories. The product is additive. It’s about getting the job done, telling stories, and taking people on a journey to help make humanity better. The product helps people feel comfortable listening.
Why is the product such an important tool for storytelling?
It’s a way to get people to engage. In the case of Dunk, it’s a very democratic and classic model that represents a lot of different communities. People have dubbed our collaboration the Dunk Mid because of the Air Jordan 1, Air Force 1 and SB Dunks, shoes that come in low, mid and high makeup, but this silhouette was created especially for us to tell the story. history of the “free lunch”. He’s a status dunk.
What did you think when the shoes leaked and some people called their inspiration donuts with no evidence or context? I am sure the irony has not been lost on you.
[laughs] How irresponsible was that? He says so many products are released that the media can make up stories as they go. Expect a product’s story to be richer and deeper. Not everyone has to go as far as we do, I understand. However, you need to create value in your product, collaborative or otherwise, and move the community as a whole forward.
“The first thing is to understand [your] the voice of the brand, so the second thing is to understand who the consumer is. Then you have to ask yourself “what do I want the product to mean to the consumer and why?”
How do you find the fine line between design and storytelling?
We are unique in that we have four different brand voices on our platform [Social Status, A Ma Maniére, APB and Prosper] so we can talk from a lot of different points of view. The first thing is to understand the voice of the brand, then the second thing is to understand who the consumer is. Then you have to ask yourself “what do I want the product to mean to the consumer and why?”
For us it is never on trade. It’s always about creating a product that connects. With Social Status, we can interact with a customer from a different point of view than with A Ma Maniére, because the sneaker enthusiast child connects with his shoes differently than a luxury fashion designer does with his shoes. clothes. With Social Status and APB, you can be a little more exaggerated and “in your face” than with A Ma Maniére.
What’s the main conclusion you hope people get from these Dunks?
I want people to understand what is happening every day in these underprivileged communities and what the journey is like. I also want people to understand their privileges, the aspects of life that they take for granted.
Why are sneakers important to you?
Thanks to sneakers, we can change the world.
I like it.
Let me put it another way: with sneakers we WILL CHANGE the world.
I love him even more.