Exclusive: Greats and Death to Tennis Talk Design Process for an Upcoming Collaboration

After a successful debut collab, Greats and Death to Tennis partnered again on an atypical silhouette in a pair of colorways. Here, leaders of the two brands reflect on the creative process.

Step 1: Grab Some Coffee

Thanks to mutual friends, the relationship began after Ryan Babenzien of Greats and Vincent Oshin of Death to Tennis were introduced at Toby’s Estate Coffee in Brooklyn, N.Y. “We met socially a year and a half ago and said, ‘We should work together,’” Babenzien explained. And in July 2016, Oshin — along with partner William Watson — and Greats delivered their first collab, the Royale Chukka. “We loved the first, and then it was, ‘When do we do the next one?’” Oshin said. “We started on that a few months back. It’s slightly more tricky, a bit more involved.”

Step 2: Get to Work

After finding inspiration in a vintage silhouette, Oshin and Watson brought design ideas to Babenzien in his Brooklyn office. “We had a piece we liked the toe of, but wondered, ‘Which [Greats] shoe could we work with?’ We started with one, and after the first sample, we agreed it wasn’t what we wanted,” Watson said. After finding the right model, the final product was complete in six months.

Ryan Babenzien CEO Greats
Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of Greats.
CREDIT: Greats

Step 3: Know When to Step Back

“In most cases, companies will say, ‘You can’t do this.’ But Ryan gave us creative freedom to do whatever we wanted,” Oshin said. As for Babenzien, he explained that letting the Death to Tennis duo take the lead was a no-brainer. “We felt these guys were going to do something very different than we would on our own,” Babenzien said, “and we could provide an opportunity for them to flex their footwear design muscles.”

Step 4: Learn From Mistakes

The design process required several alterations, resulting in four different iterations of the shoe. “Nobody gets a shoe right on the first crack. It’s about refinement,” Babenzien said. “[In our design], the toe piece goes over the actual sole,” said Watson. “But on the first version, the sole was too thick at the front. The second, there was no sole in the front. They looked good, but didn’t work. If you step on a rock and it comes through the sole, it’s not a good look for anybody.”

Vincent Oshin William Watson Death to Tennis
Vincent Oshin (L) and William Watson of Death to Tennis.
CREDIT: Death to Tennis

Step 5: Share With the World

The partnership will yield two colorways of the sneaker — one in all-white and the other an all-black version, representing the Dr. Death and Mr. Tennis characters. The two looks will hit Greats.com on Oct. 26 and retail for $130.

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