The highly successful Converse shoe brand is taking the same hip-hop essence that started with everything from signatures and tags coating the monumental bricks of New York to the assorted blending of beats that reverberated from vinyl-driven DJ tables and instilling it into the consciousness of the next generation.
For some it may start in a funky little gallery in Toronto, called Goodfellas, that carries with it its own sense of urban charm. Doodles of Converse branding mixed with wheat pasted visions of Toronto plaster the walls of this small space, while young people share a class of knowledge many would pay top coinage for.
The project now runs initiatives and programs in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Boston. Most recently, the Cons Project ran a two-day series in Gold Coast, Australia.
“Basically we’re trying to give back to the culture that embraces us,” says the always grinning sales and marketing consultant at Converse, Wes Loates, who is heading up the Toronto chapter of the initiative. “This workshop is all about the visual arts and music – typography, wheat pasting, screen painting and DJing. This is just one of many.”
The Converse Cons Project, which made a temporary residence within a corner of Toronto’s Parkdale community last summer, brings a tradition of shared wisdom to the young minds that attend. Loates says it’s an initiative that started within the heart of Brooklyn, carrying along with it an idea of joining established artists with the inquisitive minds of youth in the community that had a desire to learn. The project now runs initiatives and programs in New York, Toronto, Los Angeles and Boston. Most recently, the Cons Project ran a two-day series in Gold Coast, Australia.
“All of us inside, we want to be something, we want to do something in life, it’s just finding the drive within us to bring that out of us, and that’s what we’re hoping to do with this project,” explains Marciano Lobo, Vice President of Marketing for Converse in Canada. “So many young artists out there, [they] just want to communicate and show their work and be a part of the scene and do all those things. I think the Cons Project allows them to do that.”
During day one of the three-day Cons Project event in Toronto, an unassuming man, with a marker nudged between his fingers like a conductor’s baton, directs a group of individuals who sit huddled close together, each with paper and markers in hand. They follow his every word, starting with the most basic of instructions on the fundamentals of typography. Smooth curves are the first topic of conversation as he takes a moment to give bits of advice on consistency, while listeners repeat arcs on lined pieces of paper until perfected.
“This is the first time I ever done anything like this,” says Andrew Kidder. He’s the unassuming man who also goes by the nickname Rcade and is a typographer known among Toronto’s visual art scene. “I was pretty nervous, so I’m glad that people are responsive to it and are trying what I’m trying to teach them. It’s cool man.”
A wheat paste workshop, which imparts the basics of an art form birthed from guerrilla street art, is carried out the following day, instructed by artist, Error Message. Shortly following is a screen-printing lesson that uses a woven message to support an ink-blocking stencil to produce an artful image, coached by The Baitshop.
Wires replace rudimentary utensils on the last day. Equipment consisting of turntables and mixers dominate the Goodfellas establishment, resting on the same tabletops that house basic pens and paper. Echoes of rhythm, scratches and bass bounce against walls as a silent DJ Law allows his hands to do the talking. Fingers navigate along switches and nobs and slide across vinyl, while Law’s teaching partner, DJ Skillmore, stands beside him overlooking the fresh faces that arrive for the third and final day.
“What brought you here today?” says Skillmore to a crowd of youth. One explains how she grew up playing music and that she always wanted to get into the electronic side. Another makes a comment on how she has moments when she loves small parts of a song, but not necessarily a whole song. “Well that’s cool, that’s exactly what Girl Talk bases his whole career on basically, the best parts of a song,” replies Skillmore.
“We’ve realized that it’s the consumer that makes us what we are. We wouldn’t be here without them. We’re literally giving back to what they’re giving us. It’s an important piece of what we do.” – Marciano Lobo, Vice President of Marketing for Converse in Canada.
“We’re actually touching music when we use this,” says Skillmore, with a hand placed on a turntable. “Music is something you listen to, it’s audio, you can’t rap onto it. When you have a platform like this where it’s on the vinyl, which was the only way to physically hold music for years unless you’re holding a musical instrument. It’s just music, a frequency coming out and you’re picking it up. This was the closest thing we had to actually hold and manipulate the music. I’m glad to hear a lot of people are still into scratching.”
Converse’s investment in stimulating a community already interested in the culture is something to be admired, but it’s a movement that goes beyond the brand alone, according to Loates.
“I’m a little biased being from Toronto, but there’s a lot of amazing artists coming out of the city. These guys are just pushing the limit in what they are doing,” says Loates. “The scene is just growing every year. Spaces like this, Goodfellas . . . this doesn’t exist anywhere else I’ve seen. A collective of artists working together . . . it’s pretty awesome.”
Lobo says he sees this project expanding from just four cities to all around the world. It’s a major investment on Converse’s part, and one he says the 100-year-old brand makes with pride.
“We’ve realized that it’s the consumer that makes us what we are. We wouldn’t be here without them,” he says. “We’re literally giving back to what they’re giving us. It’s an important piece of what we do.”
Top Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine