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Nike x UndefeatedPhotography Benedict Brink, styling Emma Wyman, art director Jamie Reid

How Undefeated became LA’s accidental sneaker mecca

One-half of Undefeated founding duo, James Bond, reflects on 15 years in the business as they launch their latest project with Nike

When it comes to having a knowledge about trainers, LA-based streetwear store Undefeated knows its stuff. For the past 15 years, Eddie Cruz and James Bond’s joint venture has become a cornerstone of sneaker and streetwear culture, expanding way beyond their LA roots to reach people the world over. To celebrate its latest anniversary, the pair has teamed up once more with Nike – essentially the brand to which they owe Undefeated’s existence to. 

The way Bond tells it, the duo had just set up shop as an immediate reaction to the LA scene they were immersed in and were lucky enough to have some Nike representatives come down and visit. Seeing it for themselves, they loved the store concept and offered Cruz and Bond their first Nike shoe sold by Undefeated – and that, as they say, was history.

But sneakers are nothing if not timeless, with classic styles always coming back into the cycle of fashion. It’s apt then, that to celebrate this milestone year in Undefeated’s history, Cruz and Bond looked to their longtime partnership with Nike, choosing to reinvent one of its most classic shapes – the Air Max 97. Giving it a new spin, Undefeated worked with the Nike design team to add green, white and red taping in patent leather and reflective elements to the iconic silhouette. The accompanying line of accessories in the drop also features a similar colour scheme and both Undefeated’s and Nike’s logos on bags, sweatshirts and tees. 

When it comes to staying relevant for so many years, Bond’s advice is simple, “Pay attention to how fast things change,” he advises – “that’s what kids want, they want the fresh dunk, they want those collaborations.” It’s this knowledge that has driven what Bond and Cruz have been doing and established Undefeated as the streetwear name it’s been for the past decade and a half. 

Here, we talked more to co-founder James Bond on the sneakers that got him where he is now, and how to go about starting a skatewear brand like Undefeated today.

How did you get into sneakers? What was your first pair of Nikes?

James Bond: My dad had a store in Philadelphia in the 70s and I would go on the weekend with him to one of the distributors to get what they needed for the weekend. I would always go with them, early in the morning, and the gentleman who was the distributor would give me a pair of sneakers because I was always with my dad. My first pair of Nikes were the Nike Bruins – white and black.

How do you grow a sneaker collection?

James Bond: It’s like anything – when you have a passion for something, you’re constantly searching – it’s a quest for that ultimate piece. If you’re travelling, you’re always looking for what other regions have, other countries. Looking for something special. The truth is, it’s being a consumer, constantly acquiring sneakers. That’s how you build it.

What inspired the creation of Undefeated?

James Bond: Undefeated was kind of started out of a necessity in Los Angeles. There was like one sneaker store, but it was more flea-market style. When we started, we kind of changed what it meant to shop sneakers and luckily, there were some Nike European office people that were in Los Angeles when we were open. They came by and shopped the store and really liked it; then they offered us the first Nike women shoe and then, from there, it kind of started. We had this frenzy for footwear and Eddie and I got to talking like, “We could start our own sneaker store.” We started going around, gathering what we could, until a lot of people at Nike understood what we were doing and then they got on board. Undefeated was born.

How has the streetwear scene changed since then, from your perspective? 

James Bond: Streetwear was very incestuous and everyone got into the same thing – just to give light to certain things that weren’t that great to begin with. That was the old mentality and those guys never changed. There wasn’t a lot of innovation in that industry because of the financial set-up – there’s not a lot of money. So what would end up happening is that it just kind of lost momentum because kids came up and other brands were doing something much cooler.

What role has social media and the internet played in that?

James Bond: I’m from the before-the-internet generation so I feel like I’ll just do what I’ll do and, if people like it enough, they will continue to support. But I think, with the way social media is and the way things are, you just have to be constantly in the know, constantly relevant. Whether you like what kids are wearing or whether you just say you like what they’re wearing. There are a lot of followers, sadly – there are not enough individuals. No one’s really planting a flag, making a statement. People are just kind of rolling in packs and we have to try and find a way to break the mould.

What’s the secret to the hype that drives these kinds of drops?

James Bond: I guess it goes back to social media – getting one or two kids that know how to make some noise. In a way, a lot of people want to be ‘anti’, no matter what it is and when you’re on social media and you get 20, 50, 100 likes – that’s enough to start the groundswell of disruption and then, if you have a platform that has multiple thousands, you’re starting to make some noise, you know.

What do you think about how streetwear has become closer to high fashion in recent years?

James Bond: I mean, just talking about Supreme x Louis Vuitton – Kim Jones has been a fan of Supreme and streetwear forever. He’s a young guy, so when he had the opportunity to run the house, he was like ‘I want to do a collaboration.’ A lot of these young designers and directors grew up with streetwear and by nature, they are going to bring them into the fold because they’ve either been a fan, or really respected it and now you can kind of sneak them through the back door. Is it high fashion? No – but you have a lot of young people that can make those decisions to buy a $1000 sweatshirt and wear it with a suit or jeans and sneakers and they are fashionable. They play into what is fashion today. It’s not necessarily couture – it’s about adding your one or two other elements and putting your own flavour together.

“There are not enough individuals. No one’s really planting a flag, making a statement. People are just kind of rolling in packs and we have to try and find a way to break the mould” – James Bond

Have you got a milestone moment in the years you’ve been running?

James Bond: Not really, but I have two kids and I was dropping my son off at hockey camp once and some of his friends recognised me from an interview on Hypebeast or something. It was kind of funny but cool – it made me feel good, like we were doing something right. At least I’m not getting the middle finger from the kids.

What advice would you give someone wanting to start something like Undefeated?

James Bond: I would just tell them to have their business in order because one or two bad releases, or you get caught up in the hype and order too many shoes and can’t sell them all – you get behind the eight-ball financially… you’re out of business.

What’s in store for the future?

James Bond: We’re going to keep opening stores and giving the consumer great product – keep growing the business, and just enjoy what we have because we’re pretty fortunate to do what we do. We have a great team of people so it’s nice to come in every day and have the same squad there. It’s going to work but it’s really not going to work, so I think we're just going to keep riding the wave. 

The Undefeated x Nike Air Max 97 Pop-Up takes place from September 16-24 at 112 1/2 La Brea Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036, Mon-Sat 11-7pm, Sun 12-6pm. The Undefeated (black & white colour way) will launch on September 16 exclusively at Undefeated while the black colour way will launch globally on September 21