Justin Son didn’t name his brand after the phrase “sorry not sorry” to be sarcastic. He did it because it’s a reflection of his shameless personality. Through his burgeoning streetwear label ESENES Worldwide, Son expressed his whimsical taste through Cubone-inspired “Boneheads” clogs, Dunk-esque Wildfire sneakers and fitted caps adorned with distorted MLB-inspired logos.
Son is also a shoe fanatic, with a closet made up of everything from retro Jordans and running lifestyle items to boots, but one style he has consistently worked into his rotation is the Acne Studios Derby boot, a style that it is prized for its bold aesthetic and enduring quality.
We caught up with Son to discuss how the lowbrow art scene has influenced her designs, her favorite ways to style the Derby Boot, and how ESENES Worldwide is a creative way to express her youth.
Who or what made you love sneakers?
Growing up in the Bay Area, it was my peers who put me on sneakers. The culture is so strong there that sneakers were a status symbol and people would envy you if you wore a good pair of Nikes or Jordans. I remember noticing it because a lot of people I knew were camping and queuing for hours just to get on the plane.
Do you remember the first silhouettes you were in?
I loved skateboard silhouettes and remember rock brands like Osiris and Vans. I was the weird art kid who was influenced by the lowbrow scene, and that made me play more playfully with my sneakers. I always changed the laces for neon colors or graffiti on them. A kid once gave me a dollar just because he liked the way I styled my shoelaces. People used to roast me for wearing Vans before they were hot, and then The Pack’s “Vans” came out and everyone started jumping on it.
It’s the nature of fashion, especially in streetwear. A niche group will gravitate towards an obscure article, make it hot, and people will understand later
Exactly. It also happens in art. As a business person, I have to find a balance between making things that I know will sell in the present and being patient with items that I know may take a little longer to sell. people understand. When I first made my Wildfire Dunks, they sat for a long time. Six months later, my DMs were inundated and I had to do more colorways.
“Anyone can go out and buy $800 Louis Vuitton sneakers, but paying for a versatile and functional product with durable leather is a better investment.”
You grew up in Oakland, California, but lived in New York for the majority of your adult years. How did the sneaker culture of these two cities influence you?
New York definitely elevated my personal style beyond streetwear. The fashion culture is so strong here and has taught me to mix up and down together. This is also where I learned how to make shoes from my internship at Vida Shoes International, where I learned how to make tech packs and design shoes from start to finish.
The Bay encouraged me to be creative. Going back to the history of Vans, I just remember always picking up a pair of white Slip-Ons and drawing my own designs on them because airbrush graphics and cartoons were such a big part of it. of my life. And tapping into my youth has always been part of ESENES’ philosophy.
When did you first adopt the Acne Derby boot in your rotation?
Two years ago. They never left my rotation and now I try to preserve them. I prefer the distressed look when it comes to sneakers because on the one hand I wear my sneakers, and on the other hand they give the shoes more history instead of just being a status symbol. Anyone can go out and buy $800 US Louis Vuitton sneakers, but paying for a versatile and functional product with durable leather is a better investment.
You mentioned how much you love that the Derby is made with real leather. What do you like most about this aspect?
Genuine leather will help a shoe last, and that’s something I really want others to appreciate. I hope people adopt the “quality over quantity” mentality, because it’s sustainable and will ultimately save you money. I understand that young people will continue to feed off the sneaker game and collect, but I’ve tried to be more thoughtful about what I buy since my taste has matured.
What are your favorite ways to style the Derby?
Lately I’ve been loving wearing them with baggy jeans and a football shirt. However, I own a lot of gorp clothes as I often hike upstate, so I like to pair them with utilitarian outfits as well.
Do any good memories come to mind when you watch these Derbys?
They remind me of the last two summers and being able to walk around all day with them and not having sore feet. I’m also training to box at the moment and remember playing them at one of my friend’s amateur matches six months ago to support him and see what I would get into.
ESENES recently released an upcoming boot silhouette which will be released later. Did the Acne Derby inspire this design?
Shit yeah. A lot of the shoes I buy today are either inspired by them or want to adopt them in some way. What I love about the Acne Derby is that it has a diamond toe shape so I’m going to incorporate that into this silhouette. We could call them the Derby Mustang. They’re dressy but have whimsical details like curved overlays that are true to ESENES’ playful nature.
“Sneakers are for me a means of expression, because they allow me to continue to build my identity as an artist and designer.”
Does the Derby show another side of your style since ESENES is a light and whimsical brand?
They reflect the evolution of my style. There’s a part of me that always loves loud graphics and wild colors because it reflects the Bay Area in me. But you could say the Derby reflects how my style changed in New York and was inspired by my peers and my culture here.
Leather boots are so painful to break. Do you have a secret way to break them or do you have to muscle through the blisters?
Get rid of it. All boots need time to break in, but that’s part of their fun. Once worn, they become super comfortable.
Why are sneakers and their stories important to you?
They represent so many aspects of my life, whether it’s where I grew up, my taste in design, or my personality. I rarely wear Jordans, but I remember when the Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” was retro a few years ago, I had to buy a pair because of the sentimental value they had for me. Sneakers are for me a medium of expression, because they allow me to continue to build my identity as an artist and designer. Everyone needs a pair of sneakers to go out of the house and I’m happy to be able to play a part in influencing this functional aspect of people’s lives.