Don C, is one of the biggest streetwear designers known for merging his love of sports and hip hop into the clothing and sneakers he designs.
He first gained notoriety as Kanye West’s road manager and D.J. but Don C also worked as G.O.O.D. Music’s label manager before he ventured into the fashion world in 2011 with his luxury sportswear brand, Just Don. His brand is most notable for reinventing classic NBA and NFL hats with premium snakeskin brims. Since then, it’s expanded to offer other products and he’s collaborated with Mitchell & Ness, Jordan Brand, Converse, NBA, Foot Locker, and Remy Martin.
Ahead of the launch of his newest line with Foot Locker, All City by Just Don, we had the chance to talk to Don C about what we can expect, what the collection encompasses, what inspired it, his timeless sports designs and how everyone doesn’t have to be the Michael Jordan of a team to win a championship.
Editor’s Note: This interview was edited and condensed for clarity from the original conversation.
Miri: So you’re getting ready to drop your new line, All City by Just Don, for Foot Locker. What can we expect?
Don C: Man, for the designs to be really fun and inspired by sports, quality products, and for a lot of people to be able to participate in every aspect of the drop. So that’s what the communication is with All City, that All City encompasses everything. So if you’re into music, you’re into sports, you’re into art, whatever you’re into. We want to welcome it and then welcome your opinion and your voice or whatever the conversation is or whatever the setting is.
So this line is for everybody? Whether you’re into music like you said, sports, we know you’re a huge basketball fan, and it’s luxury-inspired streetwear, am I right?
Yeah, and we’re trying to aggregate the interest of the youth. So you know, of course, a lot of my inspiration comes from music, other things and culture that people consume, such as sports. It’s a lot of different sub interests that we’re gonna try to tap into and then use that as a common ground to just commune and bring people together.
Now, this isn’t your first time collaborating with Foot Locker. I know last year, you guys did the 12 drops of Greatness. But, what story are you trying to tell with this new All City by Just Don line?
So before it was just collaborations with me working with Foot Locker, this is a specific brand with a specific mission. So Foot Locker, they have come behind and put the resources up for us to be able to launch something that’s specifically communicating All City. All City, like I mentioned before, it’s trying to encompass the common ground and interest of the people in our community to just come together, let’s commune. We’re trying to do that from every aspect of this drop. So when it comes to the models that are in the first campaign, these are people that we want to give a shot that might not have had a shot in the past. When it comes to the director, the photographer, the people in catering, everybody. Every aspect of this program, I want to be about including people and including people that may not normally have a shot.
So this is obviously a line, that isn’t just one drop. This is long-term, something that you see for years and years to come because you’re talking about getting other people to possibly, at some point, design and get involved.
Yes, you are correct.
What was the creative process like for this line?
Very similar to when I work on my other lines, drawing inspiration from a lot of things happening and current events. Drawing inspiration from things happening on the internet, just internet talk and then things and common interests with the people that I was talking to and communing with, and then just trying to draw off that to try to make really really cool items that I thought would gravitate towards the community that’s at Foot Locker. And you know, that’s based in sneaker culture at the end of the day. Foot Locker is one of those staples in our sneaker culture that we kind of overlook. I want to say Foot Locker has been out since the late ’70s (1974). I don’t know any other brands in our community that’s been out that long, so it’s really a staple in our community that we still rock with. I like looking at those common grounds and those staples in our community and using those places to get my ideas out or add any type of energy that I think might be encouraging or can add benefit to the community.
So speaking of Foot Locker, growing up in Chicago, in the ’80s and ’90s, was Foot Locker a place that you went to, to get your kicks? Because I know that’s where I went.
Yeah. Foot Locker Evergreen Plaza. That’s where I got my first Jordans ever, the Foot Locker at Evergreen, and I want to say later on they told me that was like the number one grossing Foot Locker. I used to go to the one at Ford City too. Foot Locker was your destination before boutique sneaker stores. It was only Foot Locker that had the goods. So, you know, it’s funny, I’m into eating well and wellness, and one of the examples I tell people is that if I could just influence McDonald’s, that would be the most value I could bring to the health world, is just influencing McDonald’s because they’re the biggest feeder of people, you know. So that’s how I look at the sneaker culture. If I could influence Foot Locker then I could do something major because they’re the big major feeder of sneaker culture. So that’s all I look at, who’s the big dog, who are the ones that are really getting it done and seeing if we could kill and instill good principles within those huge mediums and those huge organizations.
So now it’s been I think 10 years since you first introduced Just Don but I read that as a kid in Chicago you were cutting up your Bo Jacksons and customizing them using your mother’s nail polish. So, would you say that’s when the designer in you first emerged when Just Don was created?
Even before then. My creative process has always been about individualism. So as a kid, maybe me and my friends would all go get Air Force 1s but we wanted to all have a different color check or rock a different sock or rock the shoe strings different or something like that. Where we come as a crew, but we all have our individual flavor. That’s just what I was always big on. Personalizing things that are popular is a part of my DNA. I love Jordans but it was to the point where everybody was rocking Jordans so I would take the swoosh from the Bo Jacksons cause Jordans didn’t have swooshes. That was one thing that I thought was cool, where I added a swoosh to the Jordans.
So maybe, in years to come, we might see that design?
I’ve been inspired by elements of it before but I’ve added to different things. Yeah, I love that.
So growing up in the ’80s and ’90s In Chicago, what was the fashion like, and what brands were you wearing back then?
Okay, so fashion was heavily inspired by the streets. I was privileged to grow up when rap music first got popular and then became a part of pop culture. I think before Chicagoans, we were inspired by street characters, like local street legends. Whether it be a basketball player, or a neighborhood star, or unfortunately, sometimes drug dealers that we would just see because these are the guys that had the money and they were flashy and so a lot of our style came from that. Elements of things that they would do. We would copy and then bring it to the playground. I’d have to say how I started my brand, Just Don was inspired by that cap, the Buck 50 caps. That was something that street hustlers wore, that we started adapting into sports culture because we like basketball and football teams. The brands that were poppin’ back then, it was Black designers. That’s when Black designers first started, I feel like urban black designers. So like Karl Kani.
Karl Kani, absolutely.
That was big in the ’80s and ’90s. That was really the one that went regional. I mean, that went national. I feel like the other black designers was very regional like Maurice Malone in his market or April Walker in her market. I feel like Karl Kani became a national, global star even.
Karl is still designing, so I mean that’s amazing that you know he’s still around.
Yeah, he’s still around.
I grew up around the same time as you, a few years younger but I remember the ’80s and ’90s. I like to say we grew up around the best time.
Absolutely. I think that’s when everything was about being the best. And then when the 2000s came people started thinking like, “wait, we don’t make the most money if we make things the best so we gotta start dumbing them down so we can sell it to them again.” The mentality in the ’80s and ’90s was, “oh, I want this to last. I want to make this the best, so I can have it forever.” But then the mentality changed, where things start becoming disposable, so that’s why I feel like the quality of products isn’t on the same level.
“I look at the community of people that I’m privileged to be around and it’s just like-minded ideas and being able to bring something to the table that people accept and want to build on.”
So speaking of disposable, to me your designs come across as pieces that can be worn for years and years. Not just for a season or while a fashion trend is hot. Is that intentional?
Yeah. I try to date things sometimes just for documentary purposes but I’m all about trying to make things that are timeless. Anytime we put a date on something it’s always to just document this is where it’s from. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t wear something from 2020 in 2023. It just documents that, that was the year it dropped or it came out. I went to the Bulls game the other night, the Bulls played the Knicks and I was like, “Man, why didn’t I wear my D Rose Bulls jersey?” because, I just wasn’t thinking, but that was the time period to bring out the old Bulls jersey to celebrate D Rose back in the building. I tell people all the time, I’m trying to make things that are timeless.
I mean, most know your circle of friends or fellow creatives include fellow Chicagoans, Kanye West, Virgil Abloh, you two have RSVP, and Jerry Lorenzo. It’s pretty mind-blowing what you guys have achieved. You guys to me are more or less steering the culture and dominating like the Bulls in the ’90s. What’s your perspective on what you guys have achieved in hindsight of the last 10 years?
Man, I’m really happy seeing people accomplishing their goals. I look at the community of people that I’m privileged to be around and it’s just like-minded ideas and being able to bring something to the table that people accept and want to build on. It’s really a privilege. I look at everybody else as way more talented than I am. I’m just privileged to be able to play a small role and just add positive energy to what the crew was doing. That’s what I’m trying to instill in younger people that look up to me. I’m like, “man, you know everybody’s not Michael Jordan on the Bulls, but we all can win the championship and get a ring.” You know, everybody plays their role and a lot of people’s names might not get mentioned sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that their role was less important.
Yeah, that comes across with your designs and like you’re known but then it’s also like you’re not really known.
I love that. One of the most encouraging things ever, I was in DC in a store and it’s actually a store where my product is sold at, the Just Don retailer. I was in the store, the owner of the store is telling me that this guy who was walking in was one of my biggest fans of my brand. So he’s like, “oh, man.” He came in, he bought a hat while I was there and the owner was like, “Yo, you don’t want to meet Don C?” He looked at me and he’s like, “Oh, you work for Just Don?” and I was like, “yeah.” I was just so encouraged because I was like, man, he don’t give a fuck who I am, he loved the product, and he loved the movement.
So we know that the All City by Just Don launch is exclusively online and in-store at Foot Locker. What was your favorite piece to design?
Oh, my favorite? We got multiple drops so I’m assuming we’re talking about the first drop. It had come back a little late, so part of the storytelling I was trying to do was to match with the sneakers that were also dropping at the time. At the time, I thought it was genius that I knew that the Lightning and the Thunder Jordan’s were retro-ing, so I had these lightning and thunder sweatpants but it didn’t pan out. I think retrospectively, it was the knit sweater. I’m trying to elevate streetwear, so I thought knit. Adding that to something that’s a communicative collection, I thought, is going to add value to the whole community.
We look forward to the line and seeing all your designs and continue hearing about Don C and all your other brands that branch out.
Thank you so much.
The All City by Just Don fall 2021 collection drops at 9 am CT / 10 am ET on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
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