TRINIDAD-born US rapper Nicholaus “Trinidad James” Williams owns more pairs of shoes than he can count, and from various brands. In fact, he said he doesn’t really consider himself a sneakerhead but, instead, a “sneaker god.”
But this November, he will officially move from just being a customer to a creator as he launches his very own kicks.
The US$100 sneakers are a collaboration between his fashion label, HOMMEWRK, and US athletic footwear brand Saucony, using the latter’s Jazz 81 runner as the base.
It features tumbled leather, butter suede and a semi-transparent toe box.
Williams told Newsday it all started three years ago when Saucony commented on one of his Instagram posts.
He was wearing a pair of their kicks.
“I used that as an opportunity to reach out to the company and let them know we should do business…And over 2018, 2019, I kept the relationship going ‘cause (they were) still unsure ‘cause they never did a collaboration with a person – they’ve only done collaborations with stores.”
But 2020 would be the year he finally got the phone call he’d been anticipating.
The representative he had been in talks with got promoted to head of collaborations at the company and was excited to implement new, creative ideas.
“He wanted to do collaborations with people and businesses that were trying to actually do things for the culture – not just people who were trying to make money or cash grams.”
Interestingly, he worked with another TT designer based in the US – Asha Paul – on the sneakers. She is the creative director of HOMMEWRK.
“When we turned back in the designs of what we wanted to do, they were blown away, they really appreciated it and they loved the story, because Saucony was one of the first brands that I ever wore when I came across to the States as an immigrant…So it’s kind of a full circle moment.”
But the online marketing campaign for these shoes had a rocky start.
On October 5, he posted a digital page from US sneaker magazine Hartcopy to social media saying the shoe will be released in November.
But there was one error. Well, two.
It said, “James looks to the hibiscus flower for inspiration – the national flower of his hometown TT.”
But TT’s national flower is the double chaconia, and TT is not a “town” but a country.
This caused a lot of backlash, particularly on Twitter. But he did not shy away from the criticism. He owned up to it, which he was highly commended for.
He posted a video admitting an error was made, adding: “I own my company and I’m very proud of my company and I’m very proud of my workers. They are amazing...But the one thing about the human experience is that you will make mistakes.
And when you make mistakes, you have to be a big man or a big woman and be able to own up to them.”
He then said the real reason the hibiscus was the inspiration behind the shoes was because his favourite drink is sorrel and “it is made from the hibiscus flower.
“The sneaker is sorrel red.”
While sorrel is a species of hibiscus, it isn’t what is used to make the drink in TT.
Asked by Newsday if the error was on his team’s part of it it was the magazine’s, he said, “A little bit of both.
“I was getting on a flight when the article came to me, and Hartcopy is a big deal here in the States, so…I was just excited that we got our shoe on Hartcopy so I just posted it immediately and I got on my plane. But I didn’t have internet on the plane and I fell asleep.”
When he realised what happened, he said he dealt with it immediately.
“If I had proofread it or got Asha to proofread it, we would have caught those mistakes but…just, you know, human error.”
He added, “All publicity is good publicity because at the end of the day, this is not just my shoe – it’s our shoe. The shoe is dedicated to Trinidad. My first (fashion) collection with my brand is dedicated to Trinidad.”
He said the reason his brand is called HOMMEWRK is because they choose muses to base their creations on, and “Each muse is somebody you should do your homework on.”
The first muse for HOMMEWRK’s fall collection is TT model and 1977 Miss Universe Janelle “Penny” Commissiong.
The collection will feature T-shirts, hoodies, jackets, hats and pants.
“She was the first black Miss Universe…hundreds of thousands of people here in America don’t know that, there’s people in Trinidad that don’t know that – young people, who I really care about the most.
“So because I know the intentions of my brand and I’m pretty much not scared of anything or anybody, I was able to address it (the error)…
“At the end of the day, you should be more proud of me than have a problem with me.”
Asked how he felt seeing the reactions of people move from irritation to respect for having admitted his error, he said, “I’m a real Trinidad. I was born there so I know how Trinidadians are…I was never worried. Never.”
He said he lived in TT until he was in standard one in primary school and grew up in Tunapuna.
The sneakers will be released on November 24 on HOMMEWRK’s website (hommewrk.com) and on November 26 on Saucony’s official website.
Moving forward, he said he just wants to continue helping people using his companies and platform.
“Every fall, we do over a school’s uniform. So I did over an entire school’s uniform from California – a black-owned school for children who come from low-income and underprivileged families and homeless called Crete Academy.”
He said the children loved it.
“This doesn’t stop. I’m dropping collections twice a year – spring/summer, fall/winter. So right now we’re already getting everything made for next month and preparing for who is going to be our spring/summer muse.”
He said next year, the label will also be launching more colours for the sneakers.