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BHM Spotlight: If It Wasn’t for Music, Rap Star Aminé Might Have Been a Sneaker Designer

With DEI at a critical inflection point, cultivating diverse talent is more important than ever before. As part of our commitment to champion diversity across the industry, the 2024 FN Black History Month Spotlight will highlight the new wave of talent that has emerged in recent years, including brand builders, design innovators, content creators and more.

Speaking with FN via Zoom in late January while recording music in Mexico, rap star Aminé reflected on where collaborating with New Balance lands on his growing list of accomplishments.

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“I could say it’s No. 1 or No. 2 because I don’t want to betray music,” the artist said with a laugh.

Although playful with his answer, Amine’s response is fitting. Sneakers were his first love. He’d often spend time drawing styles worn by his favorite NBA players as a kid, years before discovering his music talents around the age of 18.

“Before music, I wanted to become a sneaker designer. That was the goal,” Aminé said. “I took part in design programs as a kid, actually designing sneakers and being taught by mentors who worked at different brands and mentoring kids in Portland [Ore.].”

When he went to college is when that dream started to dwindle. Because he was a self-taught graphic designer, he opted to study marketing at Portland State University, and eventually his career in music would take over.

Despite this design dream seemingly drifting away, Aminé never lost hope on having his own sneaker. He admitted seeing other artists find success with their ideas, such as Kanye West, gave him hope that his dreams could be realized.

Aminé, New Balance 610T "Mooz
Campaign images for the Aminé x New Balance 610T “Mooz.”Courtesy of New Balance

After appearing in several New Balance campaigns, his first-ever sneaker collaboration — a bold take on the brand’s 610T trail sneaker — was released in August 2023. Dubbed “Mooz,” Aminé’s version of the 610T — inspired by his Club Banana label — featured yellow mesh uppers with brown patent leather overlays, which sat atop speckled, three-color midsoles.

Aminé followed up with the New Balance 610S “Mini Mooz” in November 2023, which dropped in three colorways. The green look released in Portland, while the yellow dropped in New York and the brown was made available via his Club Banana website. A total of 503 pairs were released, a nod to the Portland area code.

The multihyphenate was also eager to talk about how natural his partnership with New Balance felt. He admitted he wore New Balance often before a relationship was formed, mostly the iconic Made in USA 992 silhouette.

What made this partnership even greater, Aminé explained, were the people he met at the brand.

“Partnering with New Balance years later was like a dream come true. Before any hype or any money was involved, it was about trust and relationships. When I met everybody at New Balance, I was like, ‘Oh, these are people I want to grab a drink with,’ you know what I mean? I was like I can trust that an idea would come into fruition with people like this,” he said.

Aside from the team at New Balance, the brand works with two people Aminé considers friends: Salehe Bembury and fellow rap star Action Bronson.

“Those two are guys are actually friends of mine, and it makes me so happy to be on a roster with people I really like,” Aminé said. “Whenever I have a new idea or something, I show it to Salehe, or if I run into Action, I’ll show him.”

Although his energy is overwhelmingly positive, his journey hasn’t been immune from challenges. For instance, Aminé said it was hard to make a name for himself as a minority in Portland.

“All the minorities in my city, most of the Black people, we all know each other in some way. They know a friend or a cousin or somebody who knows me, or have some story about me from high school, you know what I mean? It’s very close knit,” Aminé said. “When things are that close knit, there’s a lot of support from that side of the community.”

He continued, “The challenges I faced growing up in Portland, it was extremely hard to feel accepted or to feel like anything was possible for me. The only example of an artist out of the Northwest was Macklemore. I was like, ‘I don’t know if a minority can make it out of Portland,’ I don’t know if it would be accepted or championed like that.”

What’s more, Aminé said he has also had to overcome the stigmas that come with being a rapper trying to make a name for himself as a collaborator in the world of sneakers.

“There’s lots of backlash behind the term rapper. Whenever anyone sees rapper and collaborations, it’s like, ‘This guy doesn’t deserve it.’ That’s not fair in some cases,” Aminé said. “I knew I had to go extremely hard.”

This effort included additional commercials and activations for the 610T “Mooz” shoe that he and his team ideated and shot on their own, including several that he created and then revealed to New Balance.

“The challenge of a collaboration as a newcomer in general is very hard. How do you make people care about a product when there’s a huge saturated market? The way you make people care is you show them how much you care,” Aminé said.

What he attempted to create with his looks is a feeling missing from sneakers today, one that included the thrill of the hunt for a coveted pair and the elation once you had it in hand.

“I miss when I was a kid in 2006 lining up for a sneaker. I miss that era of excitement with products,” he said. “Everything is so saturated these days because we see it all in two seconds and our attention spans are so much shorter. If you can make someone stop and want to pay attention, that’s the goal, to affect somebody’s life in a memorable way.”

Although sparse on details, Aminé confirmed he has more projects coming with New Balance. His goals, however, are greater than just delivering great products with the brand.

“What I’d like to accomplish is a lifelong partnership,” Aminé said. “New Balance is good about supporting ideas and keeping it tasteful. That’s one of my favorite things about New Balance, the decision making with the marketing and products is super tasteful. I don’t want to work with anybody who isn’t tasteful.”

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at peter.verry@footwearnews.com.

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