Interview by Jefferson Ellison, done in partnership w/ AVLtoday.
Opie Way is a shoe brand and manufacturer based in Asheville, NC. That statement alone is enough to give someone - ME - pause. Asheville is known for many thing - Beer, Liberal White people, The Biltmore House, etc. but I wouldn’t say it’s ever been known for it’s sneakerhead culture. I mean sure there are the cool kids who do the drops and the sneakers and the yada-yada, but as a general rule, conventional wisdom doesn’t tell you to bring a luxury sneaker to The Land of the Sky. And yet, that’s exactly what Opie Way has done and you know what… it works. Not because I say so but because the shoe says so. While Asheville may not be the type of city where everyone is decked in Gucci, there is a keen appreciation for well made things, and intentional business. And while no business is limited to their hometown… there’s something to be said for down home charm and the Opie Way sneakers has it. A classic leather sneaker, made with vegetable tanned leather in small batches by a straight man and his wife. Hello, charming! A classic wardrobe staple made with integrity is always a good idea. And if you don’t believe me, allow Justin James to convince you….
Tell me the story behind your company’s name. How did you come up with it?
This brand is really special to us, something that we poured our entire life into. It took us months to land on a name for the company - so we took our daughters' nicknames and combined them to make our brand name.
What initially sparked your interest in designing shoes?
I was the kid in school that lived for getting new sneakers. There was nothing like getting a pair of shoes on Christmas. If you were to ask me what I wanted to do when I was a kid, chances were I would have told you I'd design shoes for Nike. It's always something that has fascinated me - it's the first thing I notice when anyone enters a room. It's just my thing.
What’s the most challenging part about creating footwear?
We're doing all of the design and manufacturing in house. The entire process is lengthy, expensive, and exhausting at times - but the hardest part for us is learning. Most designers that had manufacturing experience in the US have either retired or passed away. It's truly a lost trade. In fact, one thing we like to say is that we're keeping this trade alive.
How does living in Asheville inspire your collection?
We're both Asheville born and raised. It has always felt like home even when we moved away for a few years. Our brand is focused on details - and although we want to manufacture on a large scale - our shoes are still very much 'hand crafted.' In a way - that's a vibe we get from this city and it's something that we reflect in our product.
Why is it important that your products are created, produced and manufactured in America?
For us, it's about sourcing and producing as close to home as possible. A lot of people don't realize that WNC used to be a massive manufacturing hub for the country. That changed by the 70s and 80s when production was outsourced overseas, and manufacturing left quickly Apart from doing things close to home, there's an important history that we're carrying on our shoulders, and it really feels like it's our job to do it justice.
If you could have anyone in the world rock your shoes, who would it be and why?
Tough call - there are so many. I'm inspired by artists the most. Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) is perfect for our shoes. Kanye West wearing our shoes would be a huge deal for Justin (don't judge).
How does your design process set you apart from other shoe companies?
Aside from doing the entire process in house, we have built an amazing group of suppliers and mentors through the industry that makes it easier for us to source some of the most incredible materials available.
Tell us about your new collection. How did you come up with it?
Our newest collection for F/W 2020 consists of some really ideas we've had for quite some time. It's based on classic casual sneakers that you can dress up or down - beat them up or keep them clean - and constructed similarly to really nice quality boots.
What’s your favorite thing to do on a Friday night? Pre/Post Covid.
Pre Covid - beers/drinks at any of the breweries downtown and the meat and cheese board at Sovereign Remedies. Post Covid - beers/drinks at home with the fam.
What’s your favorite type of music to listen to while creating/ designing?
Music is a huge, if not the most important, thing that keeps me on track at the factory or designing. It's all over the place. Pink Floyd, Mandolin Orange, Frank Ocean, Saba, Willie Nelson, Mac Miller.
I read that your grandfather was your first investor. Does your grandpa get free shoes for life?
Free shoes for life, business trips whenever he wants to go, whatever I can do to tell him thanks. He's the man.
The way you tan your leather sounds intriguing. What is it like working with vegetables? Which vegetable produces the coolest color? Which vegetable is the most difficult?
We work with primarily (2) tanneries based in the US. Although we don't do the tanning, we get to choose the color variation and the 'feel' of the leather in most cases. You tan with quite a bit of nuts, bark, or roots - the crazy bright colors are typically done with leaves or powdered vegetables. The hardest color for us to source is white, hands down, because it's the hardest to get correct.
On your website you mention that shoes oftentimes tell a story. What kind of story do your shoes tell?
Vegetable tanned leather is really cool because over time it molds, takes form, and patinas (changes color with wear). I wanted to give the feeling I have about shoes to other people - so the best way for me to do that was to create products that age and wear well. Over time these shoes are going to mold to your feet, change color a little bit around the creases, soak in coffee and beer spills, your jeans are going to fade on them, and they're going to go everywhere with you - that's a story in itself, am I right?
We know you have a few collaborations in the works. Can you tell us more?
Really excited about (2) in particular. One is going to be based here in Asheville and it's going to push the limit in such an amazing way. One is going to be with another brand based in NC who is famous for their denim - and it's going to be so detail oriented it's crazy!