Chris Gibbs On What His New Jordan Brand x Union Release Really Stands For
Gibbs details the new collaboration and reflects on streetwear’s foundations in community.
Photography: MJ Hernandez
When it comes to historically niche communities like sneakers and streetwear, less is more in regards to announcing big moves. Yet the explosion of these industries, combined with the rise of social media, has changed the way that influence is measured. Moving in silence has been replaced by screaming at the top of one’s lungs, leaving those who came up in a different era at a cultural intersection of past and present.
These days, there’s a lot more to be vocal about than ‘fits and kicks. There’s a global shift in consciousness happening, alongside changes brought on by a sudden, vicious pandemic. Chris Gibbs, owner of Union Los Angeles, found himself thinking back to the early convictions of streetwear and how to drop a second Jordan Brand collaboration with even more intention. “To me, the story of streetwear has always been through the lens of people of color, people who weren’t getting access,” he says. “That’s where streetwear was born. Now, it’s become this popular thing, which is great, but our foundation was and should always be community.”
The timing of this second Union collaboration with Jordan Brand, following the release of one of the most coveted Air Jordan Is in recent memory, is as ripe as it will ever be to communicate the bigger picture and purpose. “Union has always kind of been a best kept secret,” says Gibbs. “For many years, I think we wanted to be that. I’ve just realized that being the best kept secret means we don’t get to share our story.”
Early on, Gibbs and his team decided that they’d parlay the hype of this highly-anticipated Jordan collaboration into meaningful storytelling for the broader community. “I started to see how Covid-19 was adversely affecting Black people at a disproportionate rate, and I really wanted us to be a solution for these kinds of issues,” explains Gibbs. Union partnered with five black-owned, L.A. businesses to elevate their stories, products and missions via social media, seeding efforts and fundraising. The goal is to have a positive, long-term impact on these businesses and the local communities they serve.
“It’s a big, daunting thing to expand our work like this, but I’ve just decided to think globally and act locally,” says Gibbs. “If we are in a place where we can help our neighbors, let’s do that. Ideally, that will also be a call to action for those around us to do the same.” The businesses Union has partnered with include Harun Coffee Shop, the restaurant My Two Cents, Gorilla Life Juice, food justice organization Summaeverythang and educational barbershop Son. Studio.
Gibbs exists at the crossroads of old guards and new norms, and the sociopolitical climate – the state of the bigger union – has him unafraid to speak up and act on this scale. “The position I’m in was paid forward to me by my predecessors, by my mentors,” says Gibbs. “The people who started this store are the people who started streetwear, and they don’t necessarily get acknowledged for that. I was just a kid in college who got hired at Union to fold and sell some T-shirts. They gave me this, and in doing so, they empowered me and gave me a responsibility to make it my own and do more.”
Doing more for the community has also meant doing more in the realm of design and collaboration: the medium for getting the message out. For the Air Jordan IV, Union did what streetwear has always done — took something and made it uniquely its own. “I had a little bit of license, because if you want a regular Jordan, you can go get it, it’s available,” describes Gibbs. “I wanted to try something new. The early grail Air Jordans are the best-designed sneakers ever. No one would argue that, so how am I going to make them better? I’m not even trying to make them better. I’m just adding my twist.”
Gibbs is well aware that re-working a classic Air Jordan will always come with questions and criticism, so rather than try to capture a one-for-one design or moment, the Union x Jordan collection aims to capture a set of emotions and memories. “I love the brand, and I love the history,” says Gibbs. “I’m privileged to be able to collaborate, and for me, Jordan [Brand] represents a holistic feeling. I don’t look at it as singular moments.”
Jordan Brand x Union Air Jordan IV: “I walked into the design meeting like, ‘We should shorten the tongue.’ They said ‘We’re not shortening the tongue. Let’s find some creative options around that.’ Fortunately, I am a fan of collaboration, so we found what I thought was a good compromise.”
Jordan Brand x Union Delta Mid: “This is the first release of the Delta Mid silhouette. It’s a brand new shoe with new technology and new ideas. It’s built on a React sole, so it’s super light. We took our fabrics and colors and applied them in the places that I thought made sense.”
Jordan Brand x Union Zoom 92: “The Zoom 92 is a potpourri of past Jordan and Nike designs. We applied our fabrics and colors in places that made sense, specific to the shoe, based off of the original design of the Air Jordan IV.”
Gibbs also wanted to help take Jordan Brand into a new space with a wide range of cut-and-sew apparel. “The apparel is actually very important to me and to this collaboration,” says Gibbs. The pieces are influenced by his knowledge of Japanese streetwear, as well as over 15 years on the sales floor, where he developed an eye for the impact of drape and fit.
Though pieces are always going to be limited, Gibbs is intent on this release opening up access in other ways. “I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a leader, but at the same time, I’m hoping to lead by example,” he says. “I want to do my part. There’s an old saying, ‘I want to be a part of the solution, not the pollution.’ I’m very blessed to be in this position, and I want to use it to do new things and be of service.”
The Jordan Brand x Union collection will be available at Union doors and Union’s online store on August 29. A wider international launch will occur on September 30 on Jordan.com and select Jordan Brand partner retail stores. The North America launch will take place on October 16 at Jordan.com, SNKRS and select Jordan Brand and partner retail stores.