Back in 2004, every one of my classmates owned a pair of K-Swiss. Whether they were tongue-twisters, stripe-shifters, or a plain pair of crisp white Classic VN, they were unavoidable, in the UK at least.
For those not au fait with K-Swiss, a little background: Founded in 1966 by Swiss immigrants Art and Ernie Brunner, K-Swiss (a name which derives from their leather provider Kuenzli and their nationality) became a mainstay in the world of tennis in the 1980s, before a more lifestyle-focused u-turn in the early 2000s.
Based out of the American west coast ever since, the label is readying a 2023 renaissance following a relatively quiet decade or so, and is tapping into its noughties and tennis archives to do so.
“Our core competency is tennis. We were born out of tennis innovation and we still have it at the core of our business today,” Brian Keating, Vice President Of Product Design at K-Swiss, tells Highsnobiety.
“There aren’t many brands focused on court sports, and there are even fewer focused on heritage court sports. This is where we fit in.”
As the first-ever label to release an all-leather tennis shoe, K-Swiss’ on-court credentials can’t be questionned. Today it sponsors and dresses some of the sport’s biggest names (most notably world number 13 Cameron Norrie) on the biggest stages, and while it’s keen to keep itself rooted in performance wear, its off-court silhouettes are now also a major focus.
“We are going to lean into two really great eras for K-Swiss: the 1980s and early 2000s,” continues Keating. “With Y2K trending at the moment, we want to celebrate some of the really innovative shoes we’ve released. This will not only amplify our sneakers’ 2000s aesthetic, but do so through a unique tennis lens.”
Collaborations have become a must-have in the world of sneakers nowadays. Last week K-Swiss launched a three-piece partnership with Nepenthes’ Engineered Garments, which saw the New York-based label have its say on the Classic GT sneaker, the oldest K-Swiss shoe on the market.
“I became interested in K-Swiss when I saw it for the first time while working at a store in the 80’s in Tokyo that was selling the brand,” recalled Daiki Suzuki, EG founder.
“I wanted to maintain the authentic K-Swiss look so I kept everything except the D-ring straps on one side. White is always a classic choice but I love the brown leather, suede combo as well, since it reminds me of the K-Swiss model I first came across and came to love.”
These types of collaborations are just the beginning of a new era of partnerhips for K-Swiss according to the brand’s Collaboration Designer Jon Tang, who revealed that there are plenty more in the pipeline.
“We’re always looking for partners who can not only elevate K-Swiss, but that can tell a story in an authentic way,” he says. “We have so many archival tennis silhouettes from the late nineties and early 2000s that we’re planning to bring back so we can really tap into our own market and show consumers what Y2K tennis looks like specifically.”
It’s important to remember that the Y2K trend is exactly that: a trend, so what happens when it passes? “We’ve been around for nearly 60 years so we have these moments in time that we can tap into in terms of authenticity,” says Keating.
“That’s the beautiful thing of having history and authenticity. We’ve been around for so long that when these various trends pop-up we have the ability to tap into our archives and play with our heritage.”
K-Swiss’ revival might well be in its infancy, but believe me when I say it has potential.
Whether its revival comes off the back of the ongoing Y2K fascination, as a result of its unique position in the world of tennis, or even thanks to collaborations like EG is neither here nor there. What’s important here is that K-Swiss is back and it’s making moves in 2023.