Converse wants a piece of the red-hot streetwear market and is readying its biggest move yet into the premium apparel space.
The Nike-owned brand, whose history dates to 1908, is most famous for its signature Chuck Taylor sneakers. And until recently, the company focused almost exclusively on footwear.
Last September, it began dabbling in apparel with Converse Essentials, a tight collection of basics for men and women, along with a unisex collaboration called Converse x Fragments with streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara, who had partnered frequently with Nike.
Now Converse is getting more serious about carving out a place in the streetwear space and will introduce two new collections in early December.
The first is Urban Utility, a line of weatherized outerwear and footwear staples featuring Gore-Tex fabrics.
The second is Converse x Slam Jam x Cali Thornhill DeWitt, a collaboration with Italian streetwear pioneer Slam Jam and visual artist Cali Thornhill DeWitt, who worked with Kanye West to design his Life of Pablo collection.
The collaboration line is 17 pieces that will be available in several colorways while the Urban Utility line is around 10 items and focused primarily on outerwear and footwear.
The collaboration line takes pieces from Urban Utility and gives them more of a street edge. The first collection features a quote from DeWitt — “Your Silence Gets You Nothing” — that Converse emblazoned on hoodies, jackets and T-shirts in several languages. This collection also features Gore-Tex fabrics and both it and the Urban Utility line also include footwear.
“This is the first time we’re telling a full story with apparel and footwear,” said Darryl “Curtains” Jackson, Converse’s apparel director. Jackson has a rich history in collaborations; he was cofounder and brand director of En Noir and the catalyst behind the brand’s partnership with the Gap. He has also worked for Union in Los Angeles, Prohibit NYC and Black Scale.
He said that in both cases, the apparel offering is very utilitarian and based on military references. During World War II, Converse actually shifted its production to manufacturing rubberized footwear, outerwear and protective suits for the military, Jackson said.
The pinnacle product in both collections is the utility jacket, which is available in military green or black. It features seam-sealed bonded seams, adjustable extended coverage cuffs, four bellowed storm pockets on the exterior and a secure zip pocket on the left chest. There’s a poly mesh patch on the back and a color-blocked panel on the Slam Jam DeWitt version. The collaboration version will retail for $475 and the Urban Utility model for $400.
“There are a lot of hidden tricks and gems,” Jackson said.
In the collab line, there’s also a thermal tee in a heavyweight cotton waffle with an embroidered print of the DeWitt-penned saying in a variety of languages that will sell for $75 and a military hoodie for $110. A Submarine pant in cotton poplin with drawstring cuffs and darted knees, adjustable waist strap and bellowed pockets will sell for $120.
“You won’t see us do denim,” Jackson said.
Other key pieces from the Slam Jam and DeWitt collab include a waterproof Chuck Taylor ’70 Hiker sneaker in a Gore-Tex fabric and a camo pattern with sealed seams. The shoe will retail for $150.
The Urban Utility line will also include a quilted coach’s jacket for $160, a Converse Jump Boot in either black or white with a Gore-Tex seam-sealed membrane that will retail for $160 and a Chuck Taylor ’70 Hiker sneaker for $150.
The Converse Essentials line introduced last fall was made up of six core basics, including a T-shirt, hoodie, sweatshirt and fleece pants. At the time, John Colonna, global vice president and general manager of apparel for Converse, said: “For some time our customer has been asking for more from us. Apparel as a business has never been fully leveraged. We see Essentials as a sharp point of focus. It’s something we’re going to be consistent about, continuing for many years.”
Jackson seconded that, saying that Converse will continue to layer on more apparel products in the future. “In 2018, you’ll see a lot more coming from us,” he said. This will include a women’s collection.
Both of the new collections will be available beginning Dec. 5 on the Converse web site, in the company’s pinnacle stores and other specialty streetwear-skewed retailers such as Kinfolk. Slam Jam will get an early jump on the sale of the collab merchandise, offering it exclusively beginning today.
Although he declined to say how large a business it can ultimately become for Converse, Jackson said that the brand’s footwear was “adopted by the street,” so he’s expecting the apparel to have the same appeal.
Jackson said that finally making a concerted effort in apparel is a natural progression for Converse. “It’s logical thinking for any footwear company,” he said. “Our goal is to create a collection that is high quality and that will push the envelope.”