Unique storytelling between brands and individuals is found in numbers in today’s sneaker climate. Ismaila Traoré, co-founder and art director for Coral Studios, values the importance and necessity of relaying a powerful narrative through the canvas of a sneaker.
Ahead of the Coral Studios x Nike Air Max 95 V2, we spoke to Ismaila, also know as Ish, about his journey, the significance behind the shoe, and the importance of the Black Lives Matter conversation within footwear.
Read what Ish had to say below. Keep it locked on Nice Kicks for more exclusive coverage with your favorite artists.
Ismaila’s Journey into the Scene
Nice Kicks: How did Ismaila Traoré get to where he is today?
Ish: It was a long, well-throughout- miserable journey that was worth every day of it. Coming from the world of sneaker forums and learning the internet.
I’m from Harlem, New York, and I grew up in Harlem. My mom moved us to Florida which is a creative’s purgatory. I had to be craftier with how I wanted to express myself. Supreme, LRG, and other brands weren’t a premium over there. I had to cultivate with my best friend.
After college, I moved back to New York. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I would be making money off of my perspective. Little by little I was able to groom my perspectives behind the scene by meeting some of the builders of our industry. When it was my turn at the plate, I just swung for the fence because I understood how far the fence was.
NK: What was your first “aha” moment?
Ish: It wasn’t even sneakers.
We went to Art Basel well over 5 years ago. We did a podcast with one of my big homies Tremaine Emory. It was such an open conversation.
It was an invitation for people who hadn’t heard of me and didn’t know my ethos or my company to get familiar with us.
A Look into Coral Studios
NK: For those still unfamiliar, what is Coral Studios?
Ish: Coral Studios is a creative think-tank. We’re a collective who have an opinion on product. We’re multi-disciplinary.
The coral reef inhabits over 30,000 different organisms within its small space. That’s how we want our company to be. Small in space but high on frequency.
NK: How did the Nike collaboration kick-off? And what led to the Nike Air Max 95 being the canvas?
Ish: It was an organic project. It was done with a smaller Nike department. It was done for charity, so there wasn’t a cap on the number of shoes. We were able to express ourselves through a different medium.
The hyped came in after LeBron James wore them, Virgil Abloh also gave us our praises behind the scenes.
The Nike Air Max 95 is a very scary shoe to even want to attack because design wise people have already committed to what’s their top 5 colorways of that shoe.
We understand the whole ethos from the original designer about the human anatomy. We felt those waves on the side of the shoe were more familiar to us than the Nike Air Max 97. We wanted to play that back.
The Coral Studios x Nike Air Max 95 V2 is a hardline evolution. The first one was suede and we realized it didn’t age well.
We realized we had a timeless shoe so we had to juggle. It’s a V2 love letter of sorts for those who stood with us. We provided upgraded materials, an upgraded perspective on it and there’s a surprise within it as well.
The box is easy to break down. Some sneaker collectors don’t keep their boxes and they want to recycle them. Some of them want to keep them but don’t know how to do so. We made our own tech to find a way to break the boxes down immediately. We thought that was an enhancement based on our customer base and people who covet Coral Studios. It’s about giving people more things to love.
A brand would’ve just given people another shoe. We’re giving something good with utility and it even has a QR code to donate directly to the Great Barrier Reef.
Discussing the Importance of the BLM Conversation within Sneakers and Fashion
NK: The conversation of Black Lives Matter within the world of sneakers and fashion was at the forefront of conversation and commitments like never before. From your perspective, what was the significance of last summer within the industry?
Ish: To simply put it, the band-aid got ripped off of a conversation that was well overdue. There were things that were underlying themes. People understood and felt those notions. A lot of people may not have spoken towards them because they didn’t feel comfortable just yet or their inner inhibitions didn’t allow them, or maybe their job hindered them from really having that dialogue.
The way we all got thrust into quarantine and all of these tragedies that happened within quarantine, forced us to have that conversation and that needed discourse that had to happen in order for everybody to be understanding of what’s going on within our communities.
You get that going but you also get the phenomenon and the realization that a lot of the synergy and great historical sneaker stories have been created by African-Americans. We all love Michael Jordan. Jordan has reached places that he doesn’t even know he reached. That culture and not downplaying it anymore that it stems from Black culture. It stems from people who are historically disenfranchised. That conversation needs to be brought and more opportunities need to be given to those who serve these communities who don’t get the result of their cultural wealth given back to them.
There’s enough money and space for everyone. The issue is that the people where the cultural current stems from are not being able to get what’s theirs. It’s like owning a mom-and-pop store and someone takes it and sells it globally but they tell you that the recipe and the name aren’t yours even though you know it is. That’s what it’s like.
How Brand Commitments to the Black Community are Important
NK: The commitments from brands were heavily stressed. What’s the effect of these in the long run of the sneaker industry and even within your own work?
Ish: Naturally, we wanted to make sure that any company we align with moving forward has a full understanding of how serious this is and how words are not enough. It has to be an actionable movement. It’s not a movement on discourse. We need to get to the ground level and affect these kids’ lives.
When you’re young, you don’t realize that you need to see what success looks like on all levels — not just the highest form of it. Jordan is one in a billion. Salehe is one of 50. The odds of being Salehe are higher than being Jordan. But if you don’t know that, you don’t understand the roadmap of becoming a footwear designer.
What’s Ahead for Coral Studios
NK: COVID-19 changed a lot of things up for creatives and brands alike. How’s that been for the collective and how has it shaped what’s to come?
Ish: My partner Henrick Hiort and I have always worked remotely even before the pandemic. The relationship’s been like that since day zero. It was clutch because quarantine didn’t stop how we created things.
We’re expanding our horizons on how we care about product. We’re gonna expand more of the messaging and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be global too, not just the US.