Ronnie Fieg - King of Collaborations
Ronnie Fieg, founder of Kith, is the New York designer whose name is a very significant one in the sneaker world. In a little over ten years, he has been working with other brands with which he has created over fifty collaborations. Among them are collabs with brands like Red Wings, Timberland, Polo Ralph Lauren, Asics, and Nike.
This makes him one of those designers with the most collaborative projects ever. You could certainly call him the king of collaborations, because he knows that it's these projects that create something bigger than anything he and KITH could ever create alone.
The Beginning of Something Big
Fieg was born on June 16, 1982 in Jamaica, Queens, New York City. He grew up with parents, who did not let him eat muesli and sweet corn flakes at home. Thus, he would sell the lunch he brought to school to buy his favourite cereals from it. From that moment on, he dreamed of opening New York's first corn flakes bar.
But, at that time, his career in the fashion industry was just about to begin. Ronnie had a second cousin (or uncle, as there are different sources) who gave him money from time to time at family parties, and Fieg appreciated that very much. This cousin's name was David Zaken, who founded the footwear store David Z back in 1983.
After Ronnie Fieg's Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13, David offered him a job at his shop, which Fieg gladly accepted. So, he started commuting from Queens to downtown Manhattan to start working at David Z as a salesman and shelf replenisher.
Surprisingly little is known about his time outside David Z and Kith. He went to Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens and attended Baruch College in New York City from 2001 to 2005. There, he studied business management, but later dropped out of college early.
The First Asics Collaboration - "The 252 Pack"
Fieg continued to work his way up with David Z during that entire time. In 2007, at the age of 25, he became the main buyer for David Z and started managing the "Special Make-Ups". These consisted of collaborations between the store and other brands.
In May of the same year, he released the famous "The 252 Pack" collaboration with Asics. He designed three pairs of Gel Lyte IIIs in bright colourways with a total of twelve colours. Each pair was released in an edition of only 252 pieces, hence the name. One pair was released at the David Z store, one pair on the online shop, and one pair at a joint party of Complex and Asics.
Ronnie Fieg was still unknown at that time and the sneakers were not yet selling like hotcakes. So, he simply told friends and acquaintances about his shoes and organized a little party at the shop. As chance would have it, he also told the sneaker story to an unknown person there. The next morning, he got a call from his mum saying, "Your sneakers are on the cover of the Wall Street Journal!"
adidas Originals x David Z - Black Tie
It turns out that the man Ronnie told the story to was an editor at the Wall Street Journal who was writing a story about limited edition sneakers at the time. A line of people formed and the shoe sold out in a single day. On the same day, the president of adidas America came into the store. Ronnie also told him the story of "The 252 Pack" and they started talking about working together on the adidas "Black Tie".
It was then that the Black Tie came on the market, and with the appearance of his sneaker, Ronnie had built up quite a small following. When they entered David Z to buy the adidas sneaker, they were a little confused because they expected something else. In their eyes, such a sneaker had to be in an exclusive store, and that David Z, although a successful one, was just a normal sneaker store.
Ronnie saw exactly the same development for himself. He wanted to work in an environment that offered selected lifestyle products, similar to Union and Supreme.
How Kith Began
What many people don't know is that Kith was not just founded on 11.11.11. In 2007, the year "The 252 Pack" already came out, and Ronnie started a small t-shirt and jacket line called Kith. In 2010, it was clear to him that he wanted to leave David Z, and so after 15 years, he parted with it to open his very own shop.
Together with his business partner Sam, owner of Atrium, they invested $500,000 to open two shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The shops were located at the back of the Ben-Avraham Atrium stores. Ronnie spent five entire days at the SoHo shop to build it, without taking any showers, as long as the shop was finished.
On 11.11.11, the first shop opened and was a great success right from the beginning. Besides the best Asics, Clarks, and Red Wings, there was also Puma's Cream collection, adidas' Consortium, and top shoes from New Balance. So, it became a shop in which value was placed on a good selection of those sneakers being offered.
The name Kith is in fact derived from "Kith and Kin", which means friends and family. A fitting motto of the brand is "Just Us". "I have always considered my friends as family" says Fieg. And indeed, his friends and family also have an influence on the shop. In 2012, for example, he sold a small jewelry line called "Kin", which his mom had designed.
There are now five Kith Shops in the USA, all co-designed by the architecture firm Snarkitecture. One of the co-founders of Snarkitecture, Daniel Arsham, is also Ronnie's business partner in other aspects, but more on that in a moment.
The impressive thing about the design of the shops consists of the white Nikes dangling from the ceiling. Sometimes there are 200, as in the shop in Los Angeles, but other times there are 700 white sneakers, as in the shop in Brooklyn, and they all serve to decorate the store ceilings of the successful brand.
Ronnie's brand Kith won the Retailer of the Year Award from Footwear News in 2016 and had his first show at New York Fashion Week the same year, just five years after the first shops opened.
The show, titled "Kithland", featured nearly 100 different looks for the fall collection, some of them available for immediate purchase. From sweatshirts with embroidered MIA, to swimsuits with colour blocks, to short hoodies with lettering and kitschy sleeve embroidery, everything was offered.
Now, Kith is no longer limited to menswear. Besides the original line, there is also one for women and one for children. The kids' line is so successful that there is even a Kith Kids store in New York.
New collections follow regularly, either on their own or in the usual Fieg manner in the form of a collaboration with other brands. Depending on the season, there are shorts, shirts, hoodies, and sometimes thick jackets, caps, and lined pants, as in the winter collection of 2018.
Kith is a brand that is appreciated by its followers and celebrities alike. And, despite Kith's commercial success, Ronnie's vision to grow his business naturally with a loyal fanbase still has not changed.
Ronnie told the Business of Fashion 2015: "As I get older, the product changes a bit, tastes change and I feel like the child who was there from the beginning is still with me. Every year we grow exponentially. I want my guy (the kith pendant) to feel like he's growing with me."
But, of course, no article about Ronnie Fieg would be complete without a closer look at his numerous collaborations.
Ronnie Fieg x The Whole World
After more than ten years since Ronnie has started creating fashion and designing sneakers, he has brought some famous and coveted sneakers to the market. Among them are world-famous brands like Nike, adidas, and Coca Cola, but also lesser known brands like PONY or Filling Pieces.
For one, there is the Ronnie Fieg x Nike Air Maestro II. In two different colourways, red and purple, he took inspiration from the shoes Scottie Pippen wore in the famous 1994 All-Star Basketball Game. While purple is the colour of Pippen's old university team, the red is based on the sneakers from the 94 All-Star Game.
Compared to the old Nike Air Maestro II, the shoes got a huge make-over. The silhouette is higher due to a dual-strap closure system and an inner sock construction. There is also a zipper on the side which allows you to put the shoe on and take it off easily.
Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III "Homage"
Ronnie also has a somewhat more unusual collaboration. This is the Kith x Coca Cola x Converse Footwear Collection, in which the Chuck Taylor from 1970 was redesigned. The upper side is made of heavy denim and the sole is in a slightly permeable green. The shoe is available in many different colourways. What they all have in common is that on the body of the shoe, you can find a "Coca Cola" embroidery.
The first collaboration of Ronnie, where a few new sneakers came out, was with Asics. In the meantime, many more collaborations followed, with over twenty more sneakers as the result. For his 25th sneaker anniversary, matching the 25th anniversary of Asics Gel Lyte III, he released a "Homage" version.
In this Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III "Homage" edition, he mixed colours and materials from thirteen of his previous Asics Gel Lyte III releases. The pair consisted of two shoes with completely different colours and materials, and of course, non-matching laces.
Ronnie Fieg x Buscemi
One of the most expensive Kith collaboration was the Buscemi 100mm sneaker collab. The Ronnie Fieg x Buscemi 100mm sneaker was released in the colourway "Veg Tan/Rose Gold" and was available at a retail price of $800.
The shoes are handmade in Italy from vegan calfskin and especially made 18-carat rose gold plated closure plates. It also has the characteristic Buscemi lock with a key on the heel.
A special-edition pair of sneakers in collaboration with Diadora was launched in time for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The silhouette of the Diadora Intrepid was fitted with pullers on the tongue and heel, as well as a coloured sole.
The shoe was named "Kith x Diadora Intrepid 'From Seoul to Rio'" and the colours of the sand/blue/orange colourway were inspired by the colours of world-class teams of the '80s. Washed out, dull colours like Washed Navy, Pale Pink, and Light Orange gave this shoe its characteristic look. At that time, it was published in a 500-piece edition and today, it is priced at approximately twice its original retail value.
Kith x Power Rangers
Fieg has not only launched a collection with the world-famous Coca Cola brand, but also with the unmistakable childhood heroes, the Power Rangers. In October 2016, the Kith x Power Rangers Collection was launched in the colours of the five original Rangers.
In pink, black, yellow, blue, and red, there were hoodies, crop tops, and shirts. All of them had KITH in some form or another, and on most of them, you could also find the famous Power Ranger, The Flash.
Some would in fact call Ronnie Fieg a sellout, who does all sorts of collaborations just for the money. But, in an interview with GQ, he says himself: "It's never about the check. It's about pushing the boundaries of these brands and getting them to do something they've never done before, and the permissions we have to get in part for that are insane."
Kith Treats is New York City's first cereal bar. It came about because Ronnie was never allowed to eat corn flakes at home as a child. Since his school days, he had the idea to found such a bar for corn flakes lovers just like him. After all, he ate at least four bowls of cereals a day from age 12 to 25.
After working on his idea for 20 years, it finally became reality in 2015, and Kith Treats was born. The bars are available at all Kith shops and also at the Kith Shop in Americana Manhasset's Hirshleifers department store. There is also an independent Kith Treats in Shibuya Tokyo—the first Kith Shop outside America.
Based on the Kith principle, "Kith and Kin" (i.e., Kith and related), there is a rotating assortment of special muesli combinations in the shops. These include creations by Virgil Abloh, Victor Cruz, and Action Bronson. There's also an option to create your own cereal combination just for your enjoyment.
All in all, Kith Treats lets you put together your own mix of over 24 different corn flakes and cereals and then decide whether you want to enjoy it as ice cream, milkshake, or in a classic bowl.
Kith Treats Fashion
As is the usual for a designer, no potential is ever wasted, and so Kith Treats has also had its own merch since 2017. The first collection of capsules was the "3D Capsule". On red, blue, white, black, grey, or navy t-shirts and hoodies, "Kith Treats" was embroidered in bright colours.
The latest collection was the Kith Treats Jackpot Capsule. Here, classic gambling elements like cards, chips, and slots were fused with Kith Treats and applied to tees, crewnecks, and hoodies. One element that was everywhere on the collection was the classic cherry symbol from a casino.
What's so special about the Jackpot Capsule Collection? Each piece also comes with a scratch card. The winners of the cards get a part of the next Kith Treats Collection for free.
Matching the second main ingredient of muesli—milk, there was also a campaign for the American "Got milk?" This included hoodies, shirts, and crewnecks with the classic "Got milk?", or alternatively with "Got kith?", and even the kith logo, which was covered with milk. The colours of the collection consisted of black and white.
Kith Treats Collaborations
Of course, Ronnie Fieg does not miss the opportunity to collaborate. But, we are not talking about traditional fashion collections, but rather, about candy collaborations. What?!
For example, the Jackpot Collection has a collection with Sugarfina to have extra Cherry Bomb Gummi Bears. You can buy them in the store packed in small cubes, or on top of every milkshake and ice cream to top it all off.
There was also a collaboration with Cap'n Crunch, where clothes and special cereal boxes were released. But, there were only 500 of these boxes and they were sold out quickly. In addition, since this collaboration, there is also a new cereal bar at a bar called Cap'n Kith, a mixture of the original with pieces of chocolate and mini-marshmallows.
The Arsham/Fieg Gallery
Only a fool would think that Ronnie Fieg is just interested in fashion. Together with Daniel Arsham, the co-founder of Snarkitecture, he has created an art gallery that hosts regular exhibitions by various artists and even a dedicated Instagram channel.
One of the first exhibitions that attracted a lot of attention was the exhibition by the French artist, Jean Jullien "GIB". Numerous paintings were hung up and as many appeared on Instagram, with Arsham and Fieg in interesting poses. The only strange thing about it was that it looked as if they kept the same pose throughout the whole gallery tour.
The exhibition was well-received by the visitors, but everyone had to be prepared for a huge surprise. The catch? It's a miniature gallery and anyone taller than 45 centimetres can view the artwork from "far away"—behind the demarcation.
The gallery is located at the Kith Shop in Manhattan at 337 Lafayette Street and should not be missed when visiting the store. Even if the works of art are all small and have to be viewed from a distance, they are still certainly works of art.
An example is the recent exhibition of the Chicago artist Ryan Travis Christian. In 7x10 frames, he expressed social norms and problems such as drugs, violence. and depression in cartoon style.
Ronnie Fieg - More Than Fashion
Not only does Ronnie Fieg have several successful collaborations to his name, but he is also very successful when it comes to his own stores, be it his main business, sneakers and fashion, or the cereal bar.
At the age of 37, he has already done quite a bit for himself, and it seems likely that just like his idol Ralph Lauren, he will remain creative and busy until old age. Who knows what Ronnie's pen will bring us now and in the years ahead.