Interview: Gee from Patta on building a brand and the importance of being real

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 01

Words: Alex Synamatix
Photography: Emmanuel Cole

“Real recognises real” is a phrase that gets thrown around the place for several reasons; it sounds cool, it looks good on paper, it’s got the right amount of the right attitude. However, few people actually live it, breathe it, treat it as a tool for guiding their life, especially in todays Instagram obsessed world, but Gee from Patta is one of the few. You can judge a book by its cover, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s easy to put yourself in a certain light, to portray a certain attitude, a certain style, a certain culture, wether it’s through how you look or what you say. Gee’s reputation precedes him, of course, but relatively soon into our conversation it became clear that it is true down to the core; this guy believes in and lives realness, and it’s no surprise why Patta is enjoying the success that it is. With the internet creating a generation who look at things through pictures and on screens rather than in person, who go by the projected version of someone or something rather than going and finding out for themselves, that realness is arguably more important today than ever before.

It goes beyond people, realness permeates every good brand out there. It’s what you’re buying into at the end of the day. Be honest with yourself, did you buy that Patta top because you love the design and nothing more, or because you want to represent the movement, the crew, the ideals, because you want to associate yourself with the brand. I’ve said it a million times before, but a good clothing brand isn’t so much about the clothing as it is the movement it represents. It’s a thing, an ideal, embodied in clothing. While we were in Amsterdam, we took the opportunity to have a chat and a coffee with Gee, co-founder of Patta, and get to know the person and the ideals behind one of the worlds most loved streetwear brands and sneaker collaborators.

Discussing everything from Patta’s roots and where it’s heading, to the nuances in local street cultures around the globe, and the impending sneaker boom that Gee interestingly predicts we are only just seeing the tip of, the conversation explored some really interesting points on street culture, streetwear and sneakers. With over 10 years in the game and at a point where global domination is tantalisingly close for Patta, Gee holds a very unique perspective on the world and the subcultures we love.

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 02

How did Patta first come about? Where did it come from?

We started in 2004 and it was basically an idea from me and my friend Edson. He was working at Fat Beach at the time, he stopped there. I was working at a record shop. I stopped working there and went on vacation to New York City, came back and started talking to Edson like “Yo, we should do something together. Something for the two of us. What do you think about doing a sneaker store?” ‘Cos in the end a sneaker store, or selling sneakers, for us is a means to an end. You could do a lot of different things within that medium; working with our friends, travel a lot, doing stuff with music. Selling the sneakers was just a hustle to do those types of things, and that’s where the whole idea came from. That’s how we started it out.

So we started as a small shop. We always had our eyes open to the rest of the world though. It was never our intention to be local. We always wanted to be a global, recognisable force to be reckoned with. Represent Amsterdam in our own way. That’s how we slowly but surely built it up. We are very patient [laughs].

And you’re in your 11th year now. What would you say you are most proud of, on a personal level, from that time so far?

Umm, there’s so much, you know? I don’t know. It’s very hard. I’m very proud of each step we take in a direction which is not what people expect… the route of expectation, always doing the same sneaker collaborations. For me, highlights are when we did the photo shirt collaboration with Dana Luxembourg, that was a high point for me. For Converse we did a project at the beginning of this year where we worked with some artists and a graphic designer called Linda XXX, that was also a very high point for me. The collaborations with Carhartt, with Stüssy, the clothing capsules. I’m proud of all those things. It’s all different elements of things that are very important to us.

And over that same time period, what do you think have been the pivotal moments for Patta?

Very important moments were, I think, the Air Max 1 collaborations with Nike.

That was for your 5th anniversary, right?

Yeah, I think it was the 5th year anniversary. We did a series with four or five shoes. That was a very very big moment for people to see us. I think the ASICS collaboration was the same thing, as it was the first collaboration with out name on a product. So those two are like the pivotal moments, so to speak, as they are like the first steps for us to get recognition and our name out there.

Would you put it down to collaborations as to how Patta has managed to go so far beyond just Amsterdam?

Yeah, well it’s the collaborations of course, but when I talk about collaborations it’s obviously not only product collaborations, it’s also working with people, like we did an expo with Haze and his shoe from local, we did sweater collaborations with local artists like Delta, Pete Parra, he’s the one who made our actual logo. We constantly work with people who inspire us and that’s from all different types of fields, wether it’s product, wether it’s music, wether it’s our Queens Day celebrations that we do yearly where we always do programming with guys like Benji B, Skepta… I guess our backbone in the end is culture. It’s very important to us and that’s also something that we have always been very strongly opinionated about. Doing a collaboration for shoes or making t-shirts and selling them, it’s very empty. The only thing for us that gives it extra is if you give it a filling with culture. It has to stand for something, and I just want it [Patta] to be a brand that stands for a certain quality and a certain attitude and a certain way of making choices in things. You don’t have to be the next one or the best one or the hippest one, we just gotta be us. So therefore, Patta is definitely, whether you like it or not, a brand that has its own touch and its own feel and its own way of doing things, which I’m very proud of.

And it’s noticed. That’s definitely a large part of why it garners such respect on a global scale. How important has the success of the brand been to the store?

A lot of things that we do just come from natural evolvement. At a certain point we were like “Yo, people come through, we need to have something, a t-shirt or something”, so we started making t-shirts for ourselves. We started out small and then a friend of ours, Vincent van Luel, he joined and he has been our Creative Director for 5 years or something like that, and with him we built our clothing line step by step.

Because a lot of people know the clothing line better than the store. Do you think the store would have been able to survive as long without the brand?

The store obviously would survive, but it would be different. A t-shirt is also a medium where you can tell stories, where you can give your taste. I guess it makes it more. Say the store is the heart, then maybe the clothing label are the lungs. It makes it breath. The bigger the lungs grow, the more powerful the whole system gets. I guess that’s a way of looking at it. One doesn’t go without the other. It’s a very small store, very small, it’s a small selection. It’s more like a boutique Mom & Pap store type feeling. That’s what we’ve always been. It needs to be easily accessible, but the products are just good, good quality, nice colours, all that type of stuff.

Do you think that for a store to succeed these days that it needs to be more than just a store? To an extent a store needs to become a brand itself?

Yeah, definitely. Definitely. Well, you know what, it doesn’t have to be, there’s other ways of making it work, but just in terms of longevity I think it is. If you’re in it for the money, then you can just be a store and sell whatever that you think sells a lot and make a lot of money with it and just work like that, but that’s never been our route. If we wanted to make money, we already could have made the money. We could have sold to a thousand accounts, we could have only made really big script logo things and this and that, but we made a conscious choice and I think for us that’s always been very important, that our store transcends what we like. That’s important. That doesn’t go for everybody obviously – a lot of people just want to get a quick buck, so for them it doesn’t really matter, but for us it does, definitely. And I think that if you want to do a thing like that, if you want to do a boutique, a tasteful thing reaching as much people as you want, but people that want to make a choice and people that want to be proud to be wearing your stuff, then I think it’s definitely needed for you to become a brand. It’s really important.

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 03

It’s interesting how very very few stores manage to graduate their in-store merchandise to a successful clothing brand. How did you guys manage to do it? What do you it was that made it work?

As I said, I think what’s really important is that what you can buy as a consumer and what you see from us, it’s what we really are. We can go to Berlin and have a Patta Soundsystem thing and you will have a party with really good music, with really good DJs, and that’s just our family, that’s our people. For us, it’s so organic that we don’t even think about it. The reason why it just works is because it’s real. Whatever’s real, works. You see that in other brands that I respect, you see the same thing; if it’s real, if it is what you believe in and you follow that path, people will go with it. You will see that it’s not a local thing, it’s a universal thing. It’s a language, that’s what I think.

Do you think that as the internet and social media keeps blowing things wider that that is only getting stronger? That people recognise realness.

Yeah, of course. Everything is more accessible, so it’s easier to blow up, but whenever you have to do something for the real, you know you can show on Instagram or on the internet or on a blog or a site that stuff is really cool and blah blah blah, but when people are there or when they run with your running team and they see that people are real runners and when they come to a Patta party and they see that the DJs are real DJs, that’s what makes the difference. Of course you can blow up your things on Instagram or on social media as big as you want, but in the end it’s all gonna come down on what it’s gonna be when it’s real. I think that if those two things match and are real, then it’s only better and good.

Going back to culture, you’ve spoken before on the differences between European and American street culture. How do you think that the internet is changing street culture in Europe?

Well obviously the internet goes both ways. European street culture influences the US street culture and the Japanese street culture and vice versa. We just step into each others thing. It’s not that regional anymore, a lot of the stuff is just based in some regional traditions, but everybody takes from each other now, it’s just global. We have a specific way of looking at our things and a lot of it is based in the traditional European tracksuits, outside, neighbourhood clothing, but we twist it in a way that it’s universal now because it’s not that good to only be busy with whatever is nostalgic, you’ve got to try and keep looking to the future, so we try to mix it up with those ideas. I think everybody is doing that in their own perspective.

And do you think with things being less regional, it’s harder for a brand or even a scene or subculture to have its own thing today?

No, because although it’s a global thing, you’ll notice. Even if you go to New York, people have different sayings. There’s a lot of things that overflow and mix up and stuff like that, but at the same time there’s still a lot of stuff that’s only going on in your own town. It’s more global, but also your own town always has aa very strong and distinctive way of going at things and liking things; specific music, a specific way of dressing, all those kind of things.

So what do think is Dutch or even Amsterdam streetwear? How would you define that and where do you think its roots are? We were talking earlier about how one of our favourite things about travelling is trying to spot these small details and nuances that make places and subcultures different.

Amsterdam streetwear? A lot of runners, definitely, but that’s not typical of Amsterdam, that’s very European, so a lot of runners, a lot of tracksuit type things. But that’s street culture I’m talking about, I’m not really talking about only brand being people, just people from the street, that’s the culture here. And then we have a lot of the baggy things [points to the leather bumbag around his neck].

It’s interesting how a city that is so well known for its cycling hertiage, that hasn’t seeped into its street culture in some shape or form.

[laughs] Yeah, that’s never been, but that specific type of cycling that you’re talking about, this shit is fucked up here man. It’s too narrow. You’re gonna kill yourself basically, that’s what’s gonna happen. It’s not gonna work [laughs].

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 04

Patta has over 10 years in the game now. What do you think has been some of the biggest changes in streetwear or street culture over that time?

Well what has been a big change is the influence of high end fashion; the influence from street culture into that culture and vice versa. It’s been tapping a lot from each other lately and there’s been some recognition here and there, which is pretty alright, but I think that the main thing nowadays is just trying to be original now. It’s really tough. And as you said earlier on, since social media and all those types of things, it’s way easier to start a brand, but consistency and longevity are things that are really important these days, in my opinion. I can only create a brand really on those pillars. I think longevity and consistency is really really important. You can do one good shoe, you can do a couple of good t-shirts, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you can keep it up and stick your neck out and try to be a brand with a specific direction, that’s something that’s really important these days.

When we started it was kind of the start of the internet days, so we were really at the crossroads. The brands that had come before that had another field and it was a different way of how you approached them also; their way of communication, the way they were built, the way they got respect, it’s a whole different story.  Fuct, Stüssy, Supreme, the Japanese kings like Neighborhood, W Taps, all those brands, it was a different environment when they came up and that’s also why you see that they stick with each other a lot of the time. We’re from a different generation. We’re the generation of the Patta’s, the Pigalle’s, the Palace’s. We are a little bit before them, but I guess we are all in the same type of vein, the same generation.

Yeah, definitely. I think as much as you say it’s a different generation, and especially with the brands that you just mentioned, the thing that’s at the core of all of them is a crew, a family, which was the core of Stüssy, Supreme and all that lot as well. I think that’s one thins that has transcended all of this, and is potentially even more important now that things move faster thanks to online. That isn’t a question, but there you go.

[laughs] Yeah. There we are again. That’s better, you know, it’s like talking [lauhgs]. But you are totally right though.

[lauhgs] True. So I wanted to touch on sneaker culture, which I’m guessing is the same over here, but in the UK it’s blown up. It’s really interesting how you picked up on the lines between streetwear culture and hi end being blurred; it’s the same with sneaker culture and mass culture. It’s gone from a subculture to mass. What effects do you think that huge, fast growth has had and do you think it’s sustainable?

To be honest, the big boom was, for us, in 2008/2009. That was a big boom, like BOOM!. We were selling sneakers like crazy, like crack! That shit was craaazy, but then we went into a slump in 2011/2012, it was getting less, and now actually it’s picking up again. For me, it’s a different way how I see it, the big boom we had, and now it’s coming back a little bit again. So there has been a gap for me.

It still hasn’t reached what it was?

No, but it’s gonna get there and it’s gonna be way bigger too. This is gonna be the second big wave and there’s gonna be a crazy downfall after again [laughs], but now this time we’re prepared. It’s like “Yo, that shit’s no fucking joke!”. 2008 was like baller, it was like crazy! [laughs] “Sneakers? You want… BOOM! [makes an explosion action with his hands and starts talking really fast like a bookie] “Sneakers, what, you want sneakers? Sneakers here boom boom, sneakers, sneakers, sneakers, sneakers, take it, take it, take it, take it!” [laughs] “DING DING DING DING DING!” Happy as fuck! And the a year later it’s like “Damn yo! So empty!” [laughs]. Also, that’s a good learning experience, that you don’t need to be depending on those factors, ‘cos it’s all waves. It’s gonna go up and then it’s gonna go down and then it’s gonna go up. There’s no reason, there’s no way. There’s gonna be a big boom, everybody’s gonna be fed up, it’s gonna go away for a while, then somebody’s gonna be like “Yo, we’re gonna pick up sneakers again”. The one big change between then and now is that the whole sneaker culture has also been picked up by fashion. That’s what earlier we touched on too. It’s like fucking Riccardo Tichi’s making Nikes, you got Nike Soccai, you got Raf Simmons and adidas. In that perspective, it’s way more broad, so this wave is gonna be higher than ever.

I find it really interesting that you’re referring to the wave as still yet to come. I thought we were in it personally, from a consumer perspective.

No, this is nothing yet. We’re now gonna reach the mass of masses. It’s crazy. Think about it… Kanye West comes out with his shoe and now it’s gonna be at fucking Foot Locker and all those types of things. Imagine that. There’s gonna be line not at the boutiques this time, no, there’s gonna be lines at the Foot Lockers and shit like that. That’s the wave homie! That’s like bigger than ever man.

Do you think that’s gonna have a substantial kick back to the independents that have been around?

The whole thing for us is that we’re not depending on it any more, so for us it doesn’t really matter. For us it’s like “Yeah, whatever” [laughs]. It’s fun, you know? It’s good to look at, obviously it’s a part of our brand and it’s a part of where we made our name, but we’re not depending on it any more. In that perspective, obviously I hope that there’s gonna be a lot of good product as I’m a fan of sneakers and I just hope that that goes well. That’s the only thing I can say. I just want that there’s good stuff coming out, that would be great. Nike x Soccai is good stuff, that’s good. Some of the Raf Simons stuff for adidas is really good as well. There’s quality in there and as long as that’s there, me as a fan of that culture, I’m a happy man.

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 05

Talking about good product in sneakers, you guys have been behind some of the most loved collabs. What is it for you that makes a good product? What makes you go “Yes”.

It’s different, but you have to understand the history and the DNA of another brand, and then you have to understand your own DNA and history and what you’re gonna bring to the table, and those two things have to blend together. You can’t just take over the whole thing and make a neon shoe just because you want it. You’ve got to have respect for what that brand transcends and you’ve got to have a clear idea of what you want to put extra to it. That’s what I like about doing good collaborations; it’s not taking over, but you’ve gotta assimilate, you’ve gotta make it nice, but you’ve definitely gotta put something of yourself on it because or else it’s gonna be like “So they’ve changed the colour, so what?”. Try and attack every project as a unique project and a unique opportunity. We did really mellow things, but we also did very outspoken things. It’s whatever vibe you feel like. You don;t need to be scared.

It’s interesting that you mentioned knowing and respecting the history of the brand you’re working with because there’s also a wave of brands coming through now who don’t really have that respected history. They’ve been about, but they were by no means the leaders in the ‘80s or ‘90s or whenever. Saucony for example. What are your perspectives on those comeback brands trying to reshape themselves? Do you give them a second chance?

I’m not that interested in Saucony. There are some brands that I’m very interested in and still haven’t seen the daylight, but for me it has to be a combination of two things; I have to like what they have to offer now, obviously, because being nostalgic is all good but if the product is just not right, it’s not right, and then the second is if they have a rich history and I like it, I can go with them any day. That’s what’s up. It’s just gotta be a different way of approaching the market with it. It’s gonna be a different risk – you’ve got to really stand behind it. That’s how we did it with Kangaroo and all those types of brands, everybody was like “You guys are crazy!”, but it has a history with Amsterdam though, so we just looked at their catalogue and just worked on stuff that we think was good and it got respected. That also gave them an opportunity to go with that, so yeah, it can work.

Do you ever feel a pressure when working on a current project, from the success of your previous ones?

No. That’s really funny [smiles]. No. That shit is old to me. Me, I don’t really like to talk about old projects either. That’s been done. I can talk about some of the Patta stuff, but the collaborations and all that stuff, I don’t really like to talk about it that much. Whatever has been done and whatever was great blah blah blah, it’s in the past. Me, the things I’m working on now it’s just so much iller! [laughs] That’s how I look at it yo! I’m like “Yo, this… BOOM!”, but that’s how I look at it. Obviously I think it’s super dope or super ill, but then it has to go to the market and then we’ll see whatever it is. I stand behind it, but that doesn’t mean that it always succeeds. You feel me? Not everything we do always succeeds. We’re a brand who’s building and doing stuff with people, some people have different thoughts and different ways of attacking things, so mistakes are there.

Well I wouldn’t even say it’s necessarily a mistake because it isn’t successful. A lot of good creativity and art isn’t successful. If anything, it means you’re actually doing something for you.

No, and I think that’s the key, what you are saying. That’s really key. You can look at it like a mistake, but that’s what’s important for me, we stand behind whatever we bring out. That’s whatever, it’s all good.

And lastly, while we’re talking future, what’s in the pipeline for Patta? That old question.

[laughs] We’ve got some good stuff coming up, obviously. We’re gonna work with Diadora, we’ve got some stuff with Diadora coming. We got some Dana Luxembourg photo t-shirts still coming out. We’ve got something with Levi’s cooking up, so that’s gonna be nice. I think Stüssy and some more.

One last thing actually. At the moment, a lot of stores, especially those in the sneaker market, are starting to expand into other countries. You’ve done a pop-up in London, are we gonna see a flagship store?

Yeah, we’re planning to open up flagship stores, maybe in New York, maybe in London, we’re just thinking about that still. For us, it’s important that we are ready for it. Let me put it this way, for us it’s not really interesting to go to another country and sell sneakers. It’s like “Yo, alright, cool, we’re Patta, we sell sneakers.” No. Our clothing line has to be ready. We have to have enough product, there has to be enough to fill a store the whole year long. Our collaboration has to be tight, all that stuff needs to be good, then we can go there. For us, we see ourselves more like a brand now, so to be a brand you can’t just be selling Nikes or people are gonna start laughing at us in fucking London. You come there, you have some Nikes, you have some adidas, do collaborations and be like “Yo, this is what it is”. It’s like, nah, our t-shirt line has to be tight, we have to have hoodies, we want to be a presence there, in the city, like how we are in our own city. Everything has to be right. You gotta have your connections in the city, you gotta have people that wanna build for you, for whatever your brand is. Those are things that take a little bit of time, but we gonna get there, we’re easy to take time, it’s like “Yeah, whatever” [laughs].

Interview Gee Patta building brand importance being real The Daily Street Emmanuel Cole 06