- From creating gear for the Tobacco Road rivalry to LeBron's Lakers appearance in Just Don shorts, Sports Illustrated talks to Don C about his place as a taste maker, relationship with Kanye West and more.
When it comes to style and design off the basketball court, there is a good chance your favorite athlete is wearing something Don C made. The Chicago native is the man behind the Just Don brand and has become a master collaborator in the sporting world—meshing athletic apparel with high-end luxury materials. He has worked on projects with Jordan Brand, Nike, Levi’s, Mitchell & Ness, Converse and many other brands. He is also part of the same creative collective that includes close friends Kanye West and Virgil Abloh.
In preparation for March Madness, Don C collaborated with Dove Men+Care on the #ReptheRivalary series during which he will release a limited-edition college basketball jerseys dedicated to the sport’s biggest rivalries. The designer spoke to The Crossover about his latest project, friendly rivalry with Kanye West and how he had a hand in LeBron making his first appearance as a Los Angeles Laker.
Jarrel Harris: You have become a master collaborator in the sporting industry. We have seen your work with Nike, Jordan, Converse, so how did the collaboration with Dove Men+Care start?
Don C: They wanted me to highlight some of the biggest rivalries in college sports. We brainstormed some ideas. The first product that will release will be the Tobacco Road jersey, which pays homage to perhaps the biggest rivalry in sports—Duke and North Carolina which goes back for almost 100 years. These schools are so close in proximity—they are only eight miles a part from each other. I am honored to work with Dove Men+Care on this project because I think it is really awesome to tell this story about highlighting rivalries.
JH: What was the main inspiration behind these designs?
DC: For me as a designer, I try to pay homage to history and tell stories through the product. It really mimics the style of some of the retro jerseys—so there is a pattern you see like the two stripes across the jersey which represents the road and the two colors that are the main colors from both of the teams. I tried to infuse numbers—Interstate 15 which is the actual name for Tobacco Road. The No. 11 on the back represents unity—even though it is a rivalry—collectively they have 11 national championships.
JH: What intrigued you about sports rivalries?
DC: A big community of people love sports. I think sports unite people from different backgrounds. There is a lot of guys who won’t normally be in the same settings and that’s one thing I love about sports, just the way it unites people. Outside of Duke-UNC I am going to be uniting other big rivalries so just stay tuned for that.
JH: Speaking of rivalries, Illinois has become a trendsetting staple in fashion and style. You have Kanye at Adidas, Virgil is doing his thing at Nike, Off-White and Louis Vuitton. Is there a friendly rivalry between you guys? How would you describe your come up together in this industry?
DC: I think there is always a little friendly rivalry. But I don’t think as friends we are not even thinking rivalry. We are not even thinking about competing with each other. We just appreciate the opportunity we have been given to build this community because it was something when we were younger in Chicago, we always just dreamed about getting out our ideas and friends would think that we were lying. When products would come out, we would be like ‘We had that same exact idea’ but now people approve it. I just appreciate brands that give us the opportunity such as a Doves Men+Care to be able to use us for that storytelling.
So it is quite a humbling opportunity and I appreciate it and I hope it continues to happen. Also, it helps the community grow. It is not just about me and my friends. We want to influence others because everyone has a perspective and I think everybody’s perspective is unique, and I just encourage everybody to keep putting out ideas that show your perspective. People will take notice and it will build that community up but you will have people looking up to your product and your ideas. From a rivalry standpoint, we are not like athletes. We don’t look at it like I win, you lose—everybody wins because we all get to put out ideas.
JH: One thing that makes you notorious, is your work ethic. I get these PR pitches about your collabs all of the time. Where does your work ethic come from and what is the creative process like with you?
DC: I think the biggest inspiration for me was my dad. He always told me to just work hard in everything you do—because even if someone is more talented than you, you can outwork them. I am just a firm believer that the early bird catches the worm. I am up early in the morning and I am the last guy to leave the office. Other than being with family, that it is what I enjoy to do. I think my dad was—he passed away four years ago—he was my biggest influence in sports. He introduced me to sports at a very young age and some of my fondest memories of my dad is going to Bulls games.
We were poor coming up so we couldn’t afford to go all the time, but one good thing that the Bulls used to have is $2 Tuesdays—so every home game on a Tuesday—it was only $2 to be in the second balcony. So I just have those fond memories of my dad taking me to those games and exposing me to not only basketball but football, hockey, and tennis. Pretty much everything I do is embedded in sports. I try to infuse sports, popular culture, fashion and music because it such a unifying thing like I mentioned before. That is sort of me in a nutshell. I love work and I love sports. If I can work on anything sports related, I am happy.
JH: LeBron made his first Lakers appearance in a pair of Just DON X Lakers shorts. What was your initial reaction when you saw that? Was that something you guys prepared for or was it just random?
DC: Man, I was excited. I am honored to know LeBron personally, so when he went to the Lakers, I was like ‘Man, I want to send you a pair of Lakers shorts’ because he had been repping the Cavs for quite some time, but I guess we didn’t get that variety like the Lakers one. So, of course, when he went to the Lakers, I sent it to him but it wasn’t planned out when he was going to wear them. When he debuted them at Summer League in Vegas, I got calls and had all types of people hitting me up. My website sold out immediately. We actually been making those Lakers shorts for two seasons but when Swaggy P was wearing them they weren’t as quite as popular (laughs). As soon as LeBron put them on, they went hard. I am just happy he liked them and he was able to shed light on the product. Because I always say that I am just trying to make the best product possible, so anybody that helps shed light on that I just really appreciate it.