Gentry Humphrey cemented his legacy long ago as a sneaker industry legend. However, after spending 32 years at Nike and Jordan Brand, he has his sights set on a different footwear category.
Next month, Humphrey will introduce his new brand, Code, to the market. Whereas his previous work with Nike and Jordan Brand was sneaker focused, Code will deliver dressier options for young professionals who have long been immersed in that culture. To accomplish this, the brand has blended elements of sneaker culture with more traditional casual lifestyle silhouettes.
Speaking with FN, Humphrey said he’s been working on this idea since retiring from Jordan Brand in September 2021. (Although retired, Humphrey — at the request of Michael Jordan — continues to run Jordan Golf through a consulting firm he set up.)
“The goal of Code is to make sure that we provide footwear 24/7 for our consumer,” Humphrey told FN.
Code’s target consumer is 23 to 38 years old and lives in urban centers such as New York City, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo or Seoul. They are also a sports enthusiast — often a former athlete — and are professional and career driven.
This specific consumer, Humphrey explained, has not been catered to correctly.
“These young millennials, sneaker culture is all they know. But what I found talking to consumers is that as they are entering the state of their life where they have to be young professionals,” Humphrey explained. “I felt like there was great opportunity in being able to keep the essence of the world that they’re familiar with, but give them something elevated. This allows them to still feel comfortable and they don’t have to wear footwear that looks like their dad’s footwear.”
Code will debut with three silhouettes, which come in various material executions.
“Our shoes takes on three different personalities,” Humphrey said. “We can make a shoe in all white and it will look like a luxury athletic shoe. We can make a shoe in all black and, based on the materials we use, it’ll work perfect with a suit. And then we do our fashion versions. We can put studs and crazy colors and suedes and make it look runway- or red carpet-like.”
The first silhouette is named All Day, which the brand described as “refined and relaxed.” It is a versatile shoe, with the ability to be dressed up or down, and is inspired by traditional court sneakers. Pricing will range from $100 to $135.
The Executive is the brand’s statement shoe, a more traditional look infused with signature Code styling. Prices will range from $135 to $160.
The third shoe is the Entrepreneur, a hybrid dress-casual look that Code said works for a night on the town or heading to a business meeting. These will come with a price tag ranging from $160 to $200.
“At Jordan, just as important as building product that performed well on the court was the sense of style that was connected to it. When you enter this genre, there’s not a lot of style. It’s very conservative,” Humphrey explained. “You’ll see wingtips and things that are traditional. I’ve taken a hybrid approach. There are cues that might remind you of things that live in the sneaker world, but they’re elevated so they look different.”
The first shoes will arrive on June 5, initially direct-to-consumer through the Code website. However, Humphrey said he is in conversations to bring the line to select brick-and-mortar doors, including retailers in the boutique channel and one department store.
To market the new brand, Humphrey is taking a page from the core athletic brands with strong storytelling.
“In the world that I came from, it starts with a point of inspiration,” he said. “When you’re able to share that inspiration and the stories about how you got to where you ultimately are, people then develop a level of respect for what you created.”
One key aspect of Code’s story will come from Humphrey’s background in basketball.
“I still send a lot of things through the mindset of a basketball player. This line we’re launching is called ‘For the Love of the Game.’ It is centered around a mindset around the sport of basketball, and the athlete that plays basketball,” Humphrey said. “We created a color palette that represents what it takes to be a great basketball player — grit, determination, passion, all these things — and we set up color codes for that. And the brand campaign, it speaks to this notion of the tunnel walk.”
Beyond product, Humphrey said he will use Code to help others find their footing in the shoe business.
“It took a 32-year career for me to really understand the impact that I had on sneaker culture and street culture, and to realize the next steps and what I could do to make a big difference,” Humphrey said. “In the next phase for me, it’s about how I give back to young creatives that have that same mindset that I had — and have. How do I pay it forward so they don’t have to learn things the hard way? Creating this brand allows me to do that.”
Paying it forward with Code will play out in a number of ways.
“In my previous career, I sat down with athletes and we created signature footwear for those athletes. In creating the best signature footwear, you dive deep into what they’re all about. You find nuances, you create a story that relates to their world and then you bring that to life on a product so consumers ultimately have a piece in their world,” Humphrey explained. “I love that opportunity, and I think there are chances to bring those same type of opportunities to creatives.”
He continued, “I could potentially create a product offering and allow that person to collaborate with us, tell their story, sell their story and give them the same royalties that an athlete would get. I can also help show them the ropes, that it is not only good enough to have great design, but you’ve got to have the business acumen that is attached to that.”
To accomplish this, Humphrey said Code has entered into a deal with Los Angeles-based school Inner-City Arts, which will connect the brand with young people with footwear industry aspirations. Also, Humphrey said he consistently scours the internet for people with either the skill set to succeed or exemplary interest in leading their own brand.
What’s more, he said Code will uniquely approach collaboration and partnerships.
“You’ll see us do various things with entertainers. We’ll work with them the same way that will work with young creatives,” he said. “We might have a special code name for a certain entertainer’s shoe, and when you go to the site, you plug in that code name and you’ll get the story behind how we worked with that individual. We’re going to have some fun with it.”