The email signature for Justin Kittredge reads “President, CEO and Janitor” for his new company, ISlide. Those three titles speak volumes on his leadership style, entrepreneurial spirit and humble work ethic. After starting at Reebok as an intern in a storybook manner, Justin recently made the move from employed executive at a sportswear titan to building his own brand in Boston. We caught up with Justin to discuss his time working for Reebok basketball and his transition to becoming his own boss in this installment of Industry Interview.
Nice Kicks: How did you get your start in the footwear industry?
Justin Kittredge: I was lucky. I did an internship at Reebok out of college. Honestly, the main reason why I wanted to get the internship was because I read that you played ball at lunch time (Laughs). That was the most intriguing piece of the internship that I knew of. But it was good. I worked at an internship in the marketing department, graduated, and then I got a job and worked at Reebok for over ten years, mostly in product marketing and retail marketing as well. The experience I got from working at a major company for so long was invaluable.
Nice Kicks: How did the internship at Reebok come about?
Justin Kittredge: I definitely was not qualified for the job. I was actually a hotel/restaurant management major looking for a marketing job. The guy that I interviewed with asked me to play in a 6 AM intramural game the day after the interview. I had the game of my life and he offered me the position right afterwards. It was very serendipitous. When I had that opportunity, I realized it was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to work for a large footwear/apparel brand right in my backyard of Boston. I spent every minute at Reebok learning as much as I possibly could and trying to do the best at the business we had. I ended my time there as Director of Basketball Product. I was doing something that I was very passionate about. I’ve always been a big basketball guy. Going to work every day wasn’t really going to work, it was just enjoying what we were doing. You deal with the bureaucracy of a large company, and I understood that, but at the end of the day I always tried to tell myself that I was working on basketball and that there were some people that would probably kill for the job I had.
Nice Kicks: Looking back at your time at Reebok, what projects stand out as your favorite?
Justin Kittredge: Number one was probably EuroCamp. To spend a week in Italy with NBA GMs, presidents and players in a laid back atmosphere is something I could definitely do 365 days a year. Aside from that, I think the process of sitting down with professional athletes and talking about what the inspiration could be from their shoe to seeing it come to fruition over the course of 18 months when it actually hits retail with marketing behind it. Just to see a guy like John Wall tweet about it and talk about it on his own and to see how proud he was to have his own shoe – to have a team make that dream a reality for him. Not even just John, even guys like Jason Terry or Jameer Nelson who still have things that are very close to them. To add those elements to the shoe and see how proud they were to wear the shoe was great. That took so much hard work from the design and development team, the marketing team, and even the team overseas in China.
Nice Kicks: What basketball insights did you pick up from your time in China?
Justin Kittredge: With basketball, they say that China is the fastest growing country in the world. There’s no question. I’d go back every six months for factory trips and go out and play ball. I’d see the infusion of the sport all the way down to the kids. We’d talk to the kids and they were extremely knowledgeable about the NBA and the sneaker game. When it came to limited edition releases or player exclusives, that normal Chinese basketball player was very knowledgeable and it gave us a lot of insight. They really mirrored exactly what the US was all about and I think their goal is to have more and more players come over from China to play in the US. As time evolves and they start to get better coaching down at the youth level, I think we’ll start seeing a lot more players from China making it overseas.
Nice Kicks: During your time at Reebok, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson were two of the biggest basketball players in China. What was it like seeing their presence in China?
Justin Kittredge: They were polar opposites on how they were perceived over in China. Yao is someone that was very admired. He was looked up to as more of a mentor in the country – a very upstanding individual who had great morals. A guy like AI was who the kids emulated and who they wanted to be. Those were the shoes that they wanted. When it came to buying kicks, it was all about AI. There were knockoff AI stores in China that I was flabbergasted to see.
I worked more so with Yao as he came over. He was very patriotic, he loved his country and we always tried to infuse some sort of country relevance into all of his shoes. I think that at Reebok, people assumed that Yao’s shoes would just blow out but it really wasn’t like that. They emulated him and respected him as a person, but wanting to buy his shoes was really non-existent. They wanted AI, they wanted Kobe. Now they want LeBron, KDs and Kobes. It was very interesting to see the perception of a guy like Yao that is such a country icon, related to selling shoes, because it wasn’t what anybody thought it would be. But it just shows the similarities of the China and of the US. They still want the guys that are edgy and have a little bit of attitude and swag to them.
Nice Kicks: What was your biggest takeaway from your time at Reebok?
Justin Kittredge: The relationships that I was able to make at Reebok and all across the basketball community. When I started at ISlide, I was able to get pairs to guys like Avery Bradley, Michael Carter-Williams and even entertainers like Jeremih, Clinton Sparks and Motley Crue. The relationships that I was able to bring over to the start up world got the key influencers asking us about getting their designs onto slides. This is just the beginning. We’ve had players from the Bruins and the Patriots asking for slides. If I didn’t have those relationships from the beginning it would’ve been much tougher to get the word out. Even so, we’re still just two months in. Once the world really knows that we’re around I think you could see this company really start to create some buzz in the market.