TheRoot.com, By Maiysha Kai-THE GLOW UP, Posted November 13th 2020
Is it just me, or is Converse having a moment? Just last month, we were waxing poetic about the brand’s back-to-back collaborations with Black-helmed retailer and artists’ collective Union, resulting in stunning capsule collections from photographer Shaniqwa Jarvis and toile-twisting interior designer Sheila Bridges. Only yesterday, Vogue penned a literal love letter to the kicks (no, really, it was titled “Converse: A Love Letter”), and, in addition to her incisive political mind and biting wit, Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ affinity for the sneakers earned her the moniker of “the Converse candidate” (h/t Elle).
Yes, Converse has come a long way from its origins in 1908, but don’t call it a comeback (devotee and The Root’s News Editor Monique Judge will kill me if I do). While we’ve seen a recent resurgence in its popularity (no doubt enhanced by our comfort-seeking current state of affairs), the footwear classic has been here for years—112 years, to date. In keeping with the era of its origin, Converse’s next release, the Converse x Denim Tears Chuck 70, is a collaboration with “multi-disciplined storyteller” Tremaine Emory that pays tribute to an early-20th-century hero—an immigrant and activist who believed in the collective power of the Black community, Marcus Garvey.
From the brand:
Converse sneakers have always been a vehicle for others to tell a story, reflect their personal identity. With the ability for a product to deliver meaning more important now than ever before, Tremaine Emory aka Denim Tears, presents a powerful provocation to young Black men and women through his latest collaboration: If the Chuck is a classic and iconic expression of American culture, how does its meaning transform when it reflects the black experience and identity?
The African American flag, a constant symbol in Tremaine’s work, is an artistic evolution of Marcus Garvey’s red, black and green Pan-African flag first ratified in 1920 – and was intended to be not only artwork for artwork’s sake, but moreover a flag for a new form and a new truth.
“One of the best things you can do is help things be seen, and in modern times that may have been lost for whatever reason. I love to take iconography, manipulate it and also reshow it to people who haven’t seen it,” explains Emory to Nike News. “My favorite All Star is the red, white and blue one,” he says. “Applying the red, black and green puts the Black gaze on that version, making something just as cool — but allowing more people to see themselves in it. It’s about creating a metaphor for Black people having a part in this country that they built.”
For those previously familiar with the red, black and green rendition of the American flag (widely known as the African American flag) via acclaimed artist David Hammons, it’s worth noting that Hammons also garnered inspiration from Garvey, as noted by Korean nonprofit arts organization Public Delivery:
Hammons was inspired by two contrasting symbols: the U.S flag and the Pan-African flag adopted by the group Universal Negro Improvement Association6 (UNIA) by Marcus Garvey and African Communities League in 1920. He merged two flags to evoke a conversation about the feeble history behind the flag of the United States and the mixed messages it conveys about their history. The design of the flag also drew some inspirations from the Watts riots7 that took place in the region of Watts in Los Angeles between August 11 and 16, 1965.
Emory builds upon that evocative visual legacy; first encountering the flag near his childhood home in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., he interprets it as a flag “for a new nation, a flag for a new insight, it is a flag for a new form and a new truth.” In his art, which spans mediums, he “has long advocated against injustices against the Black community around the world, with the goal of sparking conversation to drive progress.” The creator worked with Converse for four months to translate the African American Flag to the canvas of the Chuck 70 for the first time—plus accessories, including a custom Denim Tears license plate, dual-branded sockliner and additional laces in the colors of the flag.
Additionally, the collaboration has birthed an extended platform “that aims to increase civic education, engagement and participation among young Black creatives leading into the U.S. election this November and beyond.” The platform’s awareness efforts include a further collaboration with artist collective For Freedoms resulting in an upcoming short film on civic engagement featuring Emory and For Freedoms founder and artist Hank Willis Thomas and a graphic voting series and campaign titled, “The Future is Yours. Vote.” A further partnership with the Whitaker Group, a Black-owned experiential retailer by James Whitner, will distribute the campaign in five states—several of which are “battleground states”—Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas, with the intention of increasing “education, awareness and encouraging the Black community to show up to the polls.”
Lastly, since this collaboration will no doubt sell out immediately, there is rightfully a financial component. In support of Emory’s goals to raise civic engagement and furthering its own ongoing Vote campaign (which has thus far engaged over 20,000 people in initiating or confirming their registration status), Converse provided an additional (but undisclosed) monetary contribution to voting initiatives. Additionally, from the point of its pre-sale on October 22, all proceeds from the Converse x Denim Tears collaboration will be donated to “further the missions” of For Freedoms and Black Voters Matter.
“It’s about helping people realize what they can do,” said Emory. “I want to help inspire people to self-educate, and to keep it going after this election.”
“Tremaine Emory exemplifies the power of using your voice to create positive social change,” Vice President of Global Footwear at Converse Brandis Russell tells Nike News. “We hope that the application of the African-American flag to our iconic Chuck will encourage dialogue on the Black American experience today and help ignite the change we want to see for a more equitable future.”
Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door…May I borrow some sugar?