Ronnie Fieg doesn't need anyone to rush to his defense. The sneaker designer and Kith owner has enough clout to get hundreds of thousands of people to flood his website for an anticipated release. But amidst the racks that roll in with every pair of Asics he sells come the polarizing opinions on his reputation, personal history and practices.
Opinions on Ronnie range between idol worship to outright rage-fueled hate. From his start at sneaker spot David Z, whose eponymous founder is Ronnie's uncle, to rampant gossip that he was born into wealth, to the ultra-hyped, hyper-limited collaborations that sell out within minutes, Ronnie's been damn near the center of the sneaker universe for a minute now. But contrary to many opinions, his work represents what's right in that world: a desire to keep love in the sneaker game and turn the culture into a community, not a competition.
After Hypebeast ran an interview between buddies Chris Stamp and Ronnie about the release of the Kith Football Equipment collection, the backlash was palpable. Commenters hurled insults and accusations about Ronnie's personality or his rich parents, nearly all of them teeming with palpable jealousy and hatred.
The "KFE" collection channels the inspiration of the World Cup with soccer-oriented garments in Brazil and USA-themed colorways and two very exclusive Asics models, a Brazil GT-II and a USA Gel Lyte III. Stamp's piece explores Ronnie's efforts to release the collection in a way other than sending a tweet, with a Kith pop-up shop in Brazil. For other brands, this could have been a much simpler operation: Take an existing shoe model, throw on some country-inspired colorways and stitch on a memorial patch to signify its "difference" from previous designs.
Ronnie could have easily done that himself. Instead, he made a concerted effort to launch the product with the care and precision found only in those passionate about what they do. It was measured and exacting. Along with the pop-up shop, Ronnie dropped the GT-IIs during the first World Cup game when Brazil beat Croatia. A few days later, when Clint Dempsey slid home the America's first goal against Ghana, he dropped the golden Gel Lyte IIIs. Both releases were extremely limited and also hit the Kith website on the scheduled June 28th release date.
Getting mad and hating on Ronnie only shows the immaturity of the crowd he appeals to, namely teenage to mid-20s male sneakerheads.
But it's never that easy, is it? Even if his designs are on point, the rollout is another story. Survey Ronnie's Twitter during the next Kith release. Those who miss out feel so personally wronged, so shafted, they can't help but lob attacks and racial slurs at him in 140 character bursts.
Every sneakerhead knows the trials of those early Saturday morning releases—the struggle to wake up early, get in front of a computer and hit refresh or wait for a Twitter link, only to have the sneakers they've waited and coveted for so long pulled out like a rug from underneath them thanks to resellers and bots. Ronnie has an ear to the streets when it comes to that sort of shit too. To prevent that (and maybe deter the influx of mentions online) the KFE release replaced the typical numbers (11, 11.5 etc) in the size selection with spelled out numerals (eleven, eleven and a half, etc.) to prevent bots from scooping a pair. Simple steps like that build a bridge toward community. And while it hasn't crossed the chasm quite yet, it is inching closer.
Yet, these efforts to go deeper and give back are precisely what the haters gloss over in favor of attacking Ronnie's upbringing or personality. The sneaker and street-leaning subset is a rabid one, quickly declaring each subsequent release "fire" or "flop." No one understands this binary knee-jerk reaction better than Ronnie, so rather than dwell on the hate, he works to make the community a more sociable subculture, despite the constant opposition.
Getting mad and hating on Ronnie only shows the immaturity of the crowd he appeals to, namely teenage to mid-20s male sneakerheads. Pointing and saying, "He was born into money. That's why he's successful and I don't like him" is the same as condemning the less fortunate for their family situation. Strangely enough, the complaints are rarely that Ronnie's shoes cost too much. Real criticism would be if Ronnie overcharged for his sneakers and they fell apart after, day, three wears. In reality, the typical Fieg x Whoever collabo clocks in at around $140 and is likely better constructed than the Jordans you're currently wearing at your computer right now. And whether you want to admit it or not, he's singlehandedly put Asics back on the casual sneakerhead's radar. Does he need to chill with the overbearing KITH branding he puts on a lot of his clothing? Sure. But if that's your gripe, you probably haven't paid attention to 90% of the new streetwear brands on the market today. You might want to pick a different battle.
Fashion is already an exclusive enough environment. We don't need more harsh criticism and unnecessary controversy. Ronnie's ability to make great products, market them well and foster a sense of community amongst an increasingly combative audience has earned him more than many others in the world of fashion. That shouldn't be hated. That should be lauded.
Lead image via Hypebeast