When Converse announced that they signed NBA swingman Kelly Oubre to an endorsement deal in November, it sparked rumors that the brand would re-launch a basketball division that has been dormant since 2012.
That proved true, as they are officially returning to the hardwood with a new silhouette, the Converse All-Star Pro BB. The brand—which is now owned by Nike—hopes to insert itself back into a category that it helped introduce over 100 years ago.
“Our rebirth into basketball felt like a very honest, a very authentic and a really organic place for us to start to broaden our portfolio of product into new dimensions and new expressions for our brand,” said Brandis Russell, Converse VP of Global Footwear. “The other critical piece too is basketball has always been connected and part of youth culture and as a brand we want to continue to be as engaged and as deeply entrenched as we can to the culture and in the inputs within youth culture that are shifting and shaping you know the game and off and on the court.”
Converse is re-entering a market that has struggled in sales overall. New competitors have entered the category with Puma and New Balance both re-launching their basketball divisions. Puma returned last year with the backing of Jay-Z and some of the top prospects of the 2018 draft. While New Balance announced its return with “Million-Dollar” intern and NBA draft prospect Darius Bazley. New Balance recently made an even bigger splash and announced the addition of Kawhi Leonard and his signature shoe.
For Converse, the brand is banking on its legendary lineage, one that goes back over 110 years while trying to connect to a younger demographic. The approach was to study what consumers really wanted when discussions for the re-launch started. They connected with consumers through focus groups to survey what they wanted to see from the brand going forward and took on a lot of feedback to showcase that they are much more than the iconic Chuck Taylor.
“I think we all thought it was a very exciting opportunity,” said Eric Avar, VP of Global Design & Innovation/Creative Director at Nike. “Converse is such a unique American brand with so much heritage and history within the game of basketball that we just thought it was a very exciting opportunity to tap into that history but bring a modern twist to it.”
NEW ERA OF DESIGN
Avar, who has worked closely on Kobe Bryant’s Nike signature line, partnered with Nike Innovation lead Thomas Bell and the Converse product team to create the All-Star Pro BB, which took a year to make. He calls it a complete collaborative process between both brands. The key feature in the shoe is Future Familiar—the All-Star Pro BB takes iconic Converse DNA elements from different models in the brands history but updated with Nike’s innovation and tech. The shoe pays homage to the Chuck Taylor All Star’s canvas upper and iconic patch. On the lateral side, they employed the Star Chevron to nod to another Converse basketball icon: The Weapon.
Avar and Bell noted the importance of creating an easy-wearing silhouette just like the Chuck Taylor while taking a minimalist approach to deliver a modern performance version of a lifestyle classic. The sole features Nike React core that is lightweight, durable and responsive, allowing for quick cuts, smooth lift-off and sustained play. Nailing down the aesthetic was a very vital part in the design process. They wanted to create a shoe that was built for on-court performance but could also be worn on a walk to Soho.
“Converse was the original best basketball brand. I can’t think of any other product that has lasted this long and we still use today like the Chuck Taylor,” Bell said. “There was a lot of inspiration from the Chuck and the Weapon and all of Converse’s history. So there was a lot to play with. It was a very inspiring project. As designers, it's like it's like a dream project.”
Oubre, who plays for the Phoenix Suns, was a major part of the testing process for the sneaker. Prior to the announcement of the All-Star Pro BB, he wore Kobe models on the court while entering the arena in a pair of Converse.
“Kelly was interval in the testing and the validation of the product. Kelly has a fluid style of play, so he is a great athlete archetype to help ensure that the shoe is built to meet the needs of a player,” said Russell. “His feedback has been positive and he definitely played a role in how fine-tuned the All-Star Pro BB. It’s been exciting to have his level of dialogue and basketball IQ to be a part of how we shaped and how we brought this model to life."
While consumers will have to wait to see the All-Star Pro BB on an NBA court for a couple more months, the brand is looking to connect within the grassroots level through basketball and will have a partnership with Overtime—the highlight company that has become popular in youth basketball. The brand will also re-release the Converse VLTG, a sneaker from the '90s that will be re-engineered exclusively for women.
The Converse All-Star Pro BB will release in May for $140 in black and white colorways.