There are sneaker stores and there are sneaker stores. Then, there’s Undefeated. Few stores carry quite the same reputation and widespread recognition as the LA originated store. Not happy with simply selling footwear, the store mutated into a sports lifestyle brand, heavily influenced by classic American sports silhouettes and military ruggedness in order to satisfy every corner of their customers needs.
The brand now encompasses seven locations, two of which are in Japan, and with the latest collection dropping right when we visited, and the slew of top-tier collaborations continuing to emerge, it doesn’t look like James Bond and Eddie Cruz’s powerhouse brand is slowing down anytime soon.
James and Eddie are two of the streetwear industries most respected figures. Eddie runs Stussy, Union and Supreme in LA, while James is the man at the other end of the phone when adidas need help with their David Beckham line, as well as countless other design projects.
One of the most exciting things the brand has done in recent times is their foray into technical sporting goods. They’re the first brand from their peer group to do this and it’s exciting to see a brand birthed in street culture genuinely make a legitimate step into this world. So now you can not only wear Undefeated to go about your day to day in, but also to run marathons, hit the gym, or play basketball in.
Breaks caught up with Eddie and James over email and while in LA in September visited the brands flagship La Brea location to see the brand in person.
For those that don’t know, how you fill in the gaps between living in New York, opening up Stussy & Union on La Brea, then opening and starting Undefeated?
Never ever not working
On opening, what was the goal with Undefeated and how does running that store differ from Union & Stussy?
The goal was to be a sustainable alternative to corporate sneaker chains by creating an environment that’s more conducive to street culture. Running Undefeated is basically the same as Union & Stussy. Same clientele.
How did you meet James?
E: James had an awesome shop called K-Bond. I would attend events they would have, so eventually we met.
Where was K-Bond, New York?
J: Los Angeles
How do you balance responsibilities at Undefeated between you and James/Eddie?
J: I manage the design process with our design team and Ed manages the retail business side, together special projects, and Ed handles the bulk of shoe collaborations, were a small team so we all wear multiple hats so everyone has a voice.
What are some of the challenges associated with running a sneaker store? And do you think it’d be harder to open one up now, even with your existing knowledge?
J: Challenge is you are at the mercy of others talents both individual and company, and the ever-changing internal business changes that have nothing to do with you or your business strategy, opening a shop today wouldn’t work to many concepts and not enough space left.
Do you both still love retail or after all this time are there aspects that really grate? Or trends and cycles that won’t budge?
J: Lucky for me Eddie has the retail part of our business on lock, so its a breeze for me personally. As for trends or cycles, we’ve never really chased a trend or followed a cycle we’ve always done what we felt was best for our soul and best for our customer.
What would you say your first innovation was, as Undefeated?
J: I would say not doing a conventional store, water fountain, materials and design of store gave us a edge. At that time rivington club, foot patrol were changing the face of sneaker retail.
Were Rivington Club and FOOTPATROL specific influences then? Kinda, ‘thats cool, but I could do better’?
J: I would would never say ‘I could do better’, but we wanted to do our own thing but with the same integrity and passion as both the ALIFE crew and Michael Koppelman (Original FOOTPATROL founder) showed.
Collaborations are part and parcel of the sneaker community, but I was hoping you could shed some light on the kind of process it takes to do a collaboration with a major brand like Nike? Creatively, is it stifling? And how many layers of red tape are there?
J: It takes relationships and knowing how to navigate the creative process in each building, variations of challenges at all brands but that can be said about life.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned from brand collaborations that could impart on us?
J: Control the models and the story.
I really enjoyed the concept behind the ‘bring back pack’, why do it after 11 years and now a nice round decade?
E: The Bring Back pack was simply based on kicks we made with Nike back in 03 & 04 that we’re not for sale. They received such a good reaction, we thought why not bring them back and actually sell them. Nike was down, so it worked out perfectly.
Are there any others from your back catalogue you’d ‘retro’?
J: Nah, they existed at the time when they were relevant to the business, best to always been moving forward and innovate.
The apparel design is heavily influenced by military and sports, yet to me those things are kinda mutually exclusive. Why combine them?
J: Sports and military have the same ideology, regiment, process of authority and uniforms, football as an example is very military inspired from the men who brought american football to forefront in 50s after WWII one man at top (general) terminology, formation, bomb, field general (QB) etc.
Is this military fascination from experience from either of you?
J: It’s not so much a fascination but more inspired by regiment and utilitarianism fascinated by sports / teams and organisations and the flow of communication as they are very symbiotic in nature.
How did the technical sports collection come about and what was the reasoning behind offering that kind of product?
J: The collection came out because we wanted something we could wear while working out that was ours.
Customers, when faced with buying technical sportswear, have a large range to choose from, so what is it about your product that stands out, or is unique in it’s offering?
J: We are looking to add to the overall brand experience instead of just being before and after we are pushing to be the during activity. What makes us unique is our core customer and what they look for in a garment as they continue to support us and help us grow there sense of style will resonate in places we’ve never been before.
How difficult is it to get a start in that market? Especially manufacturing? How much testing has gone into the product?
J: Well its something our team is passionate about so no task is to difficult when you really want it, we have a partner that did the research to find manufacturing which was a big help and testing was done by us.
What else are you doing around sports tech? For example, you outfitted the gym at LA’s Ace Hotel, any more plans to do things like that? Become more ingrained in the sports industry?
J: Yes, we’re always looking for these type of opportunities to move the brand forward.
Do you plan to expand the range further?
J: Yes we plan on expanding.
What sort of thing you expanding into?
J: The missing piece that allows tech to merge with lifestyle.
What would you consider to be the single greatest success Undefeated has accomplished over the years?
J: That through good and bad our original core team is still intact and still enjoy the grind.
What would you put this down to?
J: Respect, if you give respect you shall receive.
Apparel-wise, what else is on the horizon?
J: Time will tell whats next.
Undefeated is available in the UK from FUSShop and other good independent retailers.