The Day Hip-Hop Got Its Newest Shoe Icon: Mvstermind Launches His Signature Sneaker With Dr. Scholl’s
The Day Hip-Hop Got Its Newest Shoe Icon: Mvstermind Launches His Signature Sneaker with Dr. Scholl’s Shoes
By Kea Wilson
Whether you’re talking DJ Kool Herc’s ’70s Bronx block parties or Travis Scott on the 2019 Superbowl stage, nearly every dimension of the hip-hop multiverse has one thing in common: the sneaker. Arguably, a rapper hasn’t really made it until he’s designed his signature shoe. And on Sept. 15, 2018, one St. Louis up-and-comer got his own shot.
Mvstermind is the stage name of STL hip-hop artist, producer and all-around style nova Muhammad Austin. But if you don’t know either of his names yet, you will soon. Because even if you haven’t caught him on stage with the likes of Chance the Rapper or laying down a set at SXSW, you may have already seen his work around—on the feet of sneakerheads and stylish people everywhere.
Mvstermind recently partnered with Dr. Scholl’s Shoes (whose shoes are designed in Missouri—who knew?) to create two iterations of a shoe that’s as meticulously detailed and magnetic as his music. We sat down with Mvstermind and Scholl’s footwear designer, Claude Leco, to talk about what they made together, and the friendship that grew out of their collaboration.
ALIVE: Dr. Scholl’s Shoes found Mvstermind through their “Do What You Love” campaign. Mvstermind, what drew you to the brand? Claude, what sparked Dr. Scholl’s Shoes’ interest in Mvstermind, among the many people who were considered for that campaign?
Mvstermind: For me, I saw a passionate company of individuals who were focused on storytelling and highlighting the passions of individuals who had found their purpose. That’s me, so I felt like I fit in right at home. As a rapper, it can be a tricky line to walk, to give your name to a brand. But when you find a group of people who push your platform, and they understand who you are as an artist and as a human being, that resonates.
Leco: If you ever meet Mvstermind, you realize right away that he has this incredible energy about him. It’s very contagious; it’s very positive, it kind of gets you going. [At Dr. Scholl’s Shoes], we’re all about pursuing your passion, and he lives by that.
ALIVE: Tell me about how the two of you collaborated on this shoe.
L: That began Sept. 15, 2018. That’s when we first met.
M: We put the date on the shoe! [Laughs.]
C: Yeah, it’s right on the shoe. When I got to work that day, I had no clue what I was about to embark on and who I was about to meet. Next thing you know, I’m sitting with Mvstermind and we’re just passing ideas back and forth. Soon a couple hours were over, and we had this incredible shoe. It was really that easy. But then it was time to make it happen in real life.
M: That was an interesting moment for me, because I’m also a music producer; I’m typically the one who has to produce someone else’s ideas. But this time around, my ideas were being produced by Claude. I had to be patient and let the designer do his work.
C: Designing a shoe is an ongoing conversation. When we had the first sketch done, we exchanged numbers, and every other day I was sending him texts like, OK, these are the images the factory is sending me, these are the prototypes they’re sending me, the materials they’re developing, the knits, this is how we’re adjusting the lasts. I made adjustments and fine tuned the design with Mvstermind through each step, and the shoe kept evolving. We actually had a really fast turnaround, from an initial sketch to being in our warehouse in less than 5 months. Every day, we were just talking through every single detail of the shoe, so it would fulfill Mvstermind’s original vision.
ALIVE: Mvstermind, how is producing a song different than designing a shoe?
M: It’s different, but I feel like the art of creation is synonymous all over, and I really got a chance to see that with the shoe creation, at least initially. I had the idea, and Claude was able to instantly sketch that up for me. It’s the same feeling as when someone comes to my studio, and they’re like, man, I need a song that sounds just like this, this is the energy I’m feeling, this is the emotion I want to put in it. I’m the individual who detects their energy, their vibe; the more that I know about them, the more that I can cater to them and really make sure that this song is an embodiment that really represents that person.
In the same way, we were able to bring out a lot of the elements of who Mvstermind really is in this shoe. Claude even asked me these particular questions that allowed for elements of my story to come into the shoe that I hadn’t thought of initially.
C: One of the conversations we always have when we design is, who is the person who’s wearing this shoe? What is his vibe, what is he using this shoe for? And the use of this shoe was to perform, versus most athletic shoes—this shoe is designed to be worn on stage. So it has to be multi-functional. It has to be loud. It has to show his personality so people can see it from the audience. He also has to be able to jump around, jump off stage, run up walls and turn and pivot, but also take the shoe off and put it right back on.
We even got down to the stitch details. [Mvstermind] was like, hey, my mom was a fashion designer at one point and I used to play with the sewing machine, and I used to love this zigzag stitch. So then it was like, how do we incorporate this zigzag stitch into the shoe? How do we get more personality, more history in there? We talked through every detail, down to the translucent gum outsoles so that we could print them with words that represent what he stands for—“Finesse” and “Bless,” one on each sole. That’s something we’d never done before at Scholl’s.
ALIVE: Mvstermind, why do you think sneakers are so important to hip-hop? And how could your sneaker become important to hip-hop?
M: Man, you can take it all the way back to Run DMC, when they represented Adidas. Hip-hop truly represents our culture. Honestly, it’s the pulse and heartbeat of this world in this day and age—it’s a huge representation of who we are, how we move.
The fact that I was able to team up with Dr. Scholl’s Shoes and make some shoes that were accepted by the culture, that was real! You know what I mean? That was big. For me, I definitely do feel like, years from now, these will be the type of shoes that get auctioned off on websites and things of that nature. And then you have Caleres, [the St. Louis-based footwear company that licenses the Dr. Scholl’s name], who backed this local individual. That’s this billion-dollar company who backed Mvstermind in St. Louis. It’s definitely going to be a big propelling element to my brand, and a testament that St. Louis really does have the back of St. Louis.
ALIVE: What’s next for you two?
C: Just growing as a designer is what I’m about. I want to continue to drive creatively, to continue that forward momentum. This friendship with Mvstermind has given me a fresh outlook on my end goal and why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Before I got in contact with him, I forgot why I started doing this; it was my dream to be a footwear designer, and it became my job. But then when I started talking to Mvstermind and started working on the shoe with him, it became a dream again, one that I get to live. For me, it’s to continue to live my dream, to be passionate and creative.
M: That’s fresh to hear. I would also say, stemming off of that energy, I also saw that shift. I would see different images that you were uploading on Instagram, and I’d be spazzing, like, instantly texting him saying, yo, man, this stuff is crazy! So definitely, if these shoes are doing their job and getting off the shelves, I’m pretty sure we’ve got some more collaborations coming down the line. Seeing Claude’s portfolio is really refreshing my mind about where we can take the shoe design in the shoe world. The possibilities are limitless.
Images courtesy of R. J. Hartbeck.