Jae Tips wants his ‘What’s the Occasion?’ collection to be the first Saucony sneakers in your closet
Designer also hopes to inspire the next generation of creatives who look like him with his latest collaboration
Coming into the entertainment industry through hip-hop music, Jae Tips, a Bronx, New York, native and rapper, always imagined the possibility of creating his signature sneaker. Through years of hard work building a community of supporters, Jae Tips partnered with Saucony Originals to release the “Remember Who Fronted” Grid Azura 2000 in May, a shoe that went on to be one of the most coveted releases this year and earned Collaboration of the Year honors. Now, he’s followed up the first drop with a Grid Shadow 2 collection dubbed “What’s the Occasion?” to close 2023 with a bang.
The two-pack consists of a blue-based pair called “Wear to a Date” and a pink-accented colorway dubbed “Wear to the Party.” The names are simple instructions from the creator on when and where to buy each shoe. Both kicks reflect Tips’ colorful aesthetic with premium suede on the upper and contrasting tones from muted to fully bright between the sneaker’s panels and his signature branding.
Jae Tips’ design acumen was first highlighted through his work with Hat Club, using rich color schemes to create caps that would even match his wildest outfits. He embellished the hats with his Savior Worldwide branding and signature flower patterns. That buzz ultimately landed him on Saucony’s radar.
Tips, whose real name is John Cotton, hopes his work will cast a larger light on the Saucony brand and its support for creatives in carrying out their ideas. It’s his hope that customers will purchase his premium pairs as their first Saucony sneakers when the shoes are released on Friday, December 8, for $150 via saucony.com.
Tips aims to inspire the next generation of designers and creatives who look like him to follow in his footsteps by taking risks in trying out original color palettes, materials, and styles, as well as being detailed and intentional with the narratives and marketing of their creations.
Andscape interviewed Tips before his shoes dropped to get the full scoop on his background, motivation, the Saucony design process, and what’s next in his growing pipeline.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did things start for you as an artist and creative? When you were growing up, did you see yourself in this position?
I’ve always seen myself doing big things. When I started making music in early high school, I was doing it because my friends were doing it, but I always saw myself on stage. I saw myself with big opportunities, with cameras flashing and signing autographs. I remember in the lunchroom in high school, I used to take a napkin and keep signing my name repeatedly, practicing the autographs. I always had my sights set on doing something that was just outside the normal and making people want to be proud of me. What I wanted more than anything was to have people love me for what I do.
How would you say being from the Bronx influenced your style and design choices?
It’s everything. Growing up in the Bronx, you see more things you sometimes want to get away from than you see things that motivate you. And it’s like one of those Netflix shows with high school kids, and all they talk about is, ‘Yo, one day I’m going to get out of here. One day, I’m going to do this, or one day, I’m going to do that.’
At a very young age, I used that as fuel to feel like I would be the one. A lot of kids may fall victim to wanting to blend in or wanting to feel like, ‘Well, it’s not possible if I didn’t go to the best schools. I can’t make the NBA. If I didn’t have these resources, it won’t happen for me.’ I always felt that I had to have such a unique situation to create the fairy-tale story, so I just had to do the work. And when they tell the story one day, everyone will say, ‘Wow, this is special.’
When you first started rapping, were you thinking about making sneakers and hats? Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
I used to get a new Yankee hat every few weeks just because the Yankees were good when I was a kid. So, getting a new Yankee hat at the end of the ’90s was the equivalent of getting a new pair of Jordans. My path to wanting to design hats connects to my childhood.
Still, I wanted something in my life to revolve around shoes. I knew I wanted something to tie back to my childhood love of shoes and music in some way.
What was the stereotypical Bronx sneaker style, and is that still reflected today?
Definitely a pair of Jordans. We still wear Uptowns, but Uptowns are more known for being from Harlem. It was a clean pair of Jordans and things you would want to wear on the first day of school, like the new pair of Pepe or Pelle jeans and a Mecca, Enyce, or Ecko T-shirt. That was the style growing up.
It’s not like that now. Because of the internet, we all have styles mirroring the internet. Everywhere looks like something you see on TikTok. I just landed in LA, and I see people dressed like they dress on the Lower East Side [of Manhattan], man. The internet has changed all of that.
What was the process like with Saucony and selecting the shoe? How did you come upon the Saucony Shadow 2?
Saucony was in the process of bringing back a lot of really good, very on-trend fashion models that they had, like the Pro Grids, the Grid Shadows and models that maybe aren’t as mainstream as some of the stuff the models they’re known for, like the Jazz and the Shadows. The Grids we were working on really early, like early 2021, which was when factories couldn’t fulfill a lot of orders for companies because it was during the COVID shutdown.
I love to create in person, so I was at the office. Saucony showed me some early samples and other collaborations they were working on. Maybe because my shoe was continuing to be delayed, they suggested, ‘Hey, if you want to work on something else in the meantime, just so this one can come out in a tighter time span, try this one.’
The themes of your shoes are Wear to the Party and Wear to a Date. Are there more specific details that make each theme more applicable for one scenario versus the other?
I’ve been collecting shoes since I was a kid. Some shoes you can wear to school, some shoes you wear to hang out with your friends, some shoes you wear to the park, etc. What I wanted to do was make it easy for everyone. If you have a special day, this is the one you put on. If you’re going to grab some food, this is the one you put on. It’s an interesting way to continue communicating with your customers.
You pay attention to all the little details. What is the design inspiration for the box?
It has a little more intention. I’m a father, and my kids are starting to catch wind of what I do for a living. My young daughter wanted to assist with the art direction. So I told her, ‘If you can get me some stuff, I’ll get it on the box.’ So she’s with me on this one with the notes on the box — ‘Make sure you smell good’ and ‘Make sure you buy some flowers.’
Are your kids asking for their size? Is there a plan to do a Saucony collab where the kids get their size run?
For my next few shoes with Saucony — which I’m spilling the beans that there’s more, we figured out a situation where there can be kid versions of my shoes because they only have a few different models in kids’ sizes. It would be Saucony’s first-ever collaboration on a kid shoe.
I make sure each drop my kids get a pair. Even if they can’t wear it yet, they have a pair that they can grow into.
Are there any specific design elements that have any meaning to you? The Grid Shadow 2 doesn’t typically have suede but has a premium look. How did all those decisions get made?
I love working with them because they have the support system to elevate your vision. I’m still very new to designing shoes. So, they show you how things look differently, especially through the sampling process and creation. They’ll show you how this suede can look against this leather. And even if you feel like you want this to be leather, they’ll show you different leathers that give a very textured look for different things.
Saucony is rich in materials. Sometimes they use such defining materials on shoes that you could look at the same models next to each other and not even realize that people are wearing identical shoes just because they really flex the material capabilities they have working under [parent company] Wolverine.
Do the design elements or colors have greater significance, or are they just what you like aesthetically?
My first shoe was the Grid Azura 2000. I was inspired by a Nike Bespoke that I made a few years ago that opened the gate for me to learn my capabilities as a designer. And so the brownish red and green shoe was after I made that Bespoke.
I would remake the Kanye West Bapesta, but I couldn’t because Nike closed the Bespoke program. So I told myself, when I get another opportunity with Saucony, I will remake that exact colorway. This is the first time I’m telling anybody — so my colorway, as much as people online say it’s like a hamburger, my influence was the Bapesta College Dropout collaboration they did with Kanye West in 2007.
I also wanted to flex my color exploration muscle with the blue one. I’m a hat designer, so what I did was I just took one of my favorite New Era hats that I designed, which was a royal with a forest green brim Yankee hat that I did in 2001 that propelled me to be able to design more two-tone. And I colored it up, and you could see that people are like, ‘Wow, we’ve never really seen these colors together.’ But one thing that I sometimes struggle with when designing hats is what I would wear this with. So now I get a chance to design shoes. I got something that you can wear with it.
How does it feel to be with a brand where you may be the first wave for a lot of people, and in some ways, you’re the face of the brand culturally right now because you’re one of the first to do this with them?
It’s a great responsibility. With good work comes more work. And I take it seriously that they feel this way towards me, and they’ve allowed me to continue creating. I overcreate, I overplan, I overexecute. I do a lot of things that sometimes have to be reeled in. Even with the Grid Shadow 2, there’s a third colorway that they had to tell me, ‘We can only let you pick two.’ So people on the internet don’t know that the third one will come out yet, but it will only be these two.
Is there anything else you’re doing with Hat Club, Saucony, or other projects you’re working on?
It’s not a project just for me, it’s a project for us. It’s a project for people who may not see themselves in this lane. One day, I got mad at being a consumer, and I just started going in the other direction, and I was like, ‘You know what? I want to make shoes.’ Seeing someone like me be able to do it and receive this type of reaction will inspire future thinkers because the whole shoe game is in a nostalgic place. I want to create and build a new industry.