Words: Darren Griffin

Opportunity doesn’t travel on a linear track. It arrives unexpectedly, maneuvering like the Chicago transit system, with its color-coded lines that connect multiple journeys. A single ticket can be the conduit to an inspirational meeting or the formation of new dreams.

For James, Mohammed, German and Arial, Chicago’s train lines represent this dual definition of access — transportation and opportunity. Each of them are members of Jordan Brand’s Wings Design program, a launchpad for youth with creative ambitions to pursue design careers. Jordan Brand’s Wings program works to level the playing field through a commitment to diversity, inclusion and equality and a focus on providing education and mentorship opportunities for underserved youth.

Together, this group of four came together to design a hoodie, long-sleeve T-shirt and special-edition Air Jordan X for the Jordan Chicago Collaborators’ Collection. Each piece is inspired by the city of Chicago and the eight colors of its all-encompassing train lines. The Air Jordan X is inspired by the durability needed to survive Chicago’s winters, in addition to the city’s rich architectural history.

Ultimately, the entire collection is a symbol of unity. Chicagoans are tough; they stick together. When they stand united to create, there’s no opportunity too great. Below, the Wings participants talk about taking the train in Chicago and their Jordan Chicago Collaborators’ Collection design experience.

Let’s talk about the collaboration. What was the inspiration behind your Jordan Chicago Collaborators’ Collection pieces, including the transit system?

James: When we first came into the room, nobody had an idea. We all knew the theme was UNITE, but we were at a stalemate. So, we started to brainstorm about places in the city that bring us together. We came up with the train station — the Red line, Green line, Brown line and all of that. 

German: The trains are a way of uniting everybody. There are so many neighborhoods located throughout the city, and the trains are always there to take you from point A to point B. The cool thing is that you can also see people from different cultures or backgrounds.

What role did the Green line play?

Arial: It plays a big role, because that’s the main color, and it connects all of the other colors. It goes in a loop.

German: The reason that we chose the Green line is because it runs through our programs. We’re four people from four different Jordan Wings programs, so we tried creating a product that represented unity. We decided to use the Green line, because it runs through all four of our programs.

“The trains are a way of uniting everybody.”

What was it like when you finally saw the finished product for the first time?

Arial: When I first saw the shoes, I was like, “Wow, I created those.” It was shocking. It was unbelievable. I was proud; I made a Jordan shoe.

James: I was amazed. When I saw it in the physical form, it was like, wow, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t feel real. I would have never thought that I’d be able to say I collaborated with Jordan Brand on a shoe. It was one of my biggest moments ever.

What’s your favorite part or detail of the collection?

Mohammed: I love the shoe, especially the silver detail on the side. I love that part.

What are other details that stood out on the sneaker box? What’s the significance behind the rose on it?

German: The significance of the box is that it’s actually like cement. We wanted to show something that’s tough; something concrete shows how we see the city from our own point of view. Even though a lot of people talk badly about Chicago, even though there are a lot of struggles for minorities, it doesn’t stop us. It just makes us move forward; it makes us stronger and more concrete. That’s the main point we were trying to make with the box. 

Arial: We just wanted to do something different, you know? Most boxes are just black or have a plain color. So we went with the concrete theme because of the city’s toughness.

What was the most fun part about collaborating with the bigger group on this project?

Mohammed: It was fun just getting to know the collaborators. They were cool. No one was judging or too picky. They all had amazing ideas. I just liked how we all came together. I loved the positive energy.

James: After that first day, we all just clicked. We got into our little niche and just kept building on it, and it came together.

Arial: Working with everyone, putting different ideas together and talking about Chicago — where I was born and raised. That was the best part.

For someone who doesn’t know the train station in Chicago, how would you describe the experience going around the city?

James: It can be kind of rough. You have to know where you’re going, because you can miss a stop. I didn’t really take the train too much when I was younger. I started taking the train during my first year of high school. And even then, I only took it to the downtown area or places around it. You just have to learn where you’re going.

How would you explain the Wings program that you’re part of, particularly for someone who may not be familiar?

German: So to me, the Jordan Wings program has three parts — creativity, scholarships and internships. What’s been fundamental, and the reason why it’s so successful, is that they’ve tried to look out for students and are also trying to create opportunities in the workforce. It shows that not only is it possible for us to be successful, but it also proves that there’s a program out there to help motivate us to keep succeeding. Even though there’s a lot of social injustice in the world, which makes it harder for minorities to thrive, having this program encourages us to succeed and shows that they’re trying to equalize everything.

James: Wings is something special. Without Wings, I wouldn’t have a lot of things. My mindset wouldn’t be the same. When I was first introduced to Wings, I was still childish. I wasn’t there mentally. Now I have a business, and these shoes are dropping soon. I’m done playing. I’m working on my career. I have to work to feed my family. I have to put us all in a better situation.

How have you seen fashion, sneakers and basketball unite the people of Chicago?

Mohammed: I like sneakers. I’ve seen everybody come together because of sneakers. People show love to each like, “Oh, you got those on, and you have those on.” I like the energy in the sneaker community.

James: Chicago probably has the biggest influence on sneaker culture. Everyone has to have Jordans. You have to have at least one pair. At least one person you know has at least one or two pairs of Jordans. Since it’s the place where Jordan played, a big influence on our unity here comes from sneaker culture.

What would you like to say to Chicago?

Arial: Chicago, we still have hope. We still have dreams. The youth is willing to prove others wrong and show that we are ready to live our best lives.

Mohammed: Dear Chicago, keep being different.

James: Thank you Chicago for building me up and letting me live out my dreams.

German: Thank you for always being there. Thank you for showing me that even though there are struggles out here, there are other things that can be impactful for my future. You are always there for us.

The full Jordan Chicago Collaborators’ Collection releases globally starting February 15.

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