To the sneakerhead, Patta is the stuff of legends. For more than a decade the Dutch brand, founded by three heroes of the trade, has supplied Amsterdam (and the world) with the magic stuff: the most premium and coveted footwear and street gear - eventually including their own line and collaborations with some of the biggest names. The brand’s reign of influence over the streetwear world is unparalleled - they shot to the top quickly out of the gate in 2005, gaining big attention from the big players by, really, just going after exactly what they wanted.
Globetrotter Founder Kennedy Ashinze met up with Timothy Sabajo, one of Patta’s founders, at their storefront in Amsterdam, to talk history and influence.
GT: Congratulations on your 10 year anniversary - that’s no small feat in retail.
TS: We started out of necessity. It was necessary and there was nothing else like it. In the beginning for us it was just about sneakers - our love for sneakers came out of our love for hip hop. Me and my brother used to go back and forth to New York all the time and just go ghetto shopping. Just to buy. New York was and is the mecca, especially if you knew the spots, the Jamaica Aves and so on and through all the boroughs, finding the best streets that had the best shit. It was a color thing for us. We were coming back to Amsterdam always with dope coloured sneakers. Friends were like, why don't you start something? So about ten years ago my brother Edson [Sabajo] and Naji started this thing and I joined soon after. In the beginning we just wanted sneakers and didn't have a clue about what retail was and how it worked. We just had our ideas. There were stores everywhere and they were all buying the same shit, and we thought if we go through Nike we'll get the same shit everybody has so fuck that. So we did what we always did. We went and bought our shit ghetto. Which meant going deep in New York, deep in Philly. Thinking about it now there were some funny stories. One time we had to back the rear end of our car to the door of the store. People saw us copping and saw boxes and stashes upon stashes and they were looking like, “these guys have cash.” Mind you we're deep in the ghetto somewhere. The owner was like, “It’s getting too hot so park your car we'll throw the boxes in, you jump in and hurry and get the fuck out.” So that’s what we did. And that kind of mentality is what we took all the way.
So ideally you did your shopping and then went to Fedex to ship your stuff. Of course we didn't know anything about that so we'd duffle bag our shit and step on the airplane and pray customs didn't catch us. They never did. The product was always hot and everyone was talking about it. We had different things that nobody had.
GT: Why? Because they weren’t backing up their cars in the hood?
PATTA: Nah. They're not black. Normally it’s difficult for us to move around but for the first time we had advantages because of being black. We could go in the hood.
GT: How did that buzz start?
PATTA: Adidas was the first one and everyone was like who are these guys? They're not coming to our stores to buy Adidas? WHO ARE THESE GUYS? So Adidas was the first to step in the store with a delegation like yo, what is this? Our mission was to not go to them first, to avoid a weak position. So we just started our shit and made our noise and they would come. In the end they would come because they would see money. And money is the key to everything. So we waited and Adidas was the first to come. They saw what we were doing, they liked it. They gave us the highest account available. Then Nike came and was like yo, what’s good? They gave us the Inline account. Then they came back and gave us the Quickstrike account.
GT: For those who aren’t familiar…
TS: There are three tiers of accounts you can get at Nike. There’s the Quickstrike, you have the TierZero and then the Inline. TierZero is the highest, Quickstrike the second and Inline is for everybody. TierZero is like 30 stores worldwide. So at the end they came to us with the TierZero account. And this was just from us making noise. I think because of our Asics collaboration then everything kind of exploded, not necessarily in Amsterdam but around the world.
GT: How do you see the industry changing?
TS: Bigger companies are taking off and the little guys are dying. But inspiration won't pay the bills. So it’s good because the real go getters will survive and the weak will fall off. Business is hard now. Back in the day I could go to New York, I could go to Tokyo and find different shit but now that’s all done. Nike just goes everywhere with that shit, Adidas goes everywhere with that shit. There used to be an Asian market, there was a New York market and now it’s all globalized. In the cities you always found the same stuff but if you went to the ghettos you'd find the colors, you'd find different shit. There were the little guys and sports owners and they got swallowed by the big stores and now they are the ones doing the colors. As a consumer you can only spend your money one time and the big stores can afford to do the big discounts and do things that the small stores can't afford to do.
So the small stores, you know where that money went. It’s like you have to educate [the consumer] and then you take chances and tell them - this is good cotton, this is good denim, don't buy cheap buttons and cheap zippers. You have to tell them what you use and why you use the materials you use. If everyone goes to someone who's creative and thinks about his product and then it’s much easier for everybody to survive in the market. But most people would rather have a lot of cheap shit than one good shit.
GT: So what’s up with the documentary? [A film about Patta is forthcoming]
TS: It should be ready soon, but it’s a long process. Because when we do something we always want to do it well. We’re perfectionists.
GT: Talk to us about some goods here in the store. I see the legendary Bobbito collab over here.
TS: Yes, Bobbito is our main man, we’ve known him a long time, 10-15 years. We're still tight. We just have to teach the kids here in Europe. So when they see us hyping the name and see us wearing the shit, they’re like, “Who is this Bobbito?” And then they get interested and go look at him themselves and then they know that wow, he did this and he was the first one really to have a store like Patta. So it’s all about respecting the architect. That’s why we do things like that. And our collection is hip-hop influenced. In the 70's, 80's, 90's we were in the streets and [the music] was everywhere.
GT: And what about this city? How does Amsterdam challenge you?
TS: Money. It’s an expensive city, Dutch people are greedy. They won't spend unless they know for sure they're getting their monies worth. With our shoes, they're like, “why are they 20 euro more than the ones we saw at Foot Locker?” And Amsterdam is a small town, kind of like a village. A hip village. You can’t compare it to London, Paris, New York - it’s only a million people. Amsterdam and Rotterdam don't represent Holland at all. If you want to see Holland you have to take your car and go 20 minutes out of the city. Then you'll see the real Holland. Amsterdam is more diverse, multicultural.
GT: And what’s your relationship to the U.S.?
TS: I remember going to LA for the first time, years ago, and Vegas for the trade shows. I was walking the show and for the first time I was approached not only for respect for the game, but also for being black empowered. I'm aware of myself and know myself and the pressure that I've felt always, but never like, proud that black men are doing this. And there are just different dynamics in America - I've always been black and proud, don't get me wrong. Same thing in London. And then you have Holland - we know what’s up. But in the U.S., to have someone black step to you and say, “you're my inspiration.” I never even thought about that in Europe - for someone to put you on a pedestal just because you’re black. For me it’s cool because we really did something, not just because of our color, that also created an awareness. We influence kids and that’s the dopest thing. So in the U.S., that’s when I realized what we were doing was different.