Grailed x Eric Emanuel: How to Make It in America
Grailed x Eric Emanuel: How to Make It in America
- Words Gregory Babcock
- Date November 20, 2019
Ahead of our exclusive drop with Eric Emanuel, launching on November 22 at 12 PM, we sat down with the designer to get his story. Starting in upstate city of Syracuse, NY, Emanuel's story spans from his early work in hand-producing customized jerseys to his current main successes—including multiple sneaker collaborations and full-on operation in New York City's garment district. From his work with Allen Iverson and Reebok, to his commitment to the simplicity of the iconic basketball short, it's clear that the best is yet to come for Emanuel's eponymous label.
For someone who doesn't know who you are and what you do, can you just give us a quick description of what you do and how you got started?
I am a New York based sportswear designer. I specialize in basketball shorts—that's my forte. I got my earliest start doing these custom snakeskin jerseys. So I would just take a jersey and redo the appliqués with python skin. It was sort of a luxury sportswear element. That sort of burned out for me. I wasn't really in love with it. In a similar space I found something that I truly love and wear everyday—which was basketball shorts—put the focus heavily there, and here we are today.
Where did you start in New York? You went to school here, correct?
I went to FIT, the Fashion Institute [of Technology], for all four years of undergrad. I was in the marketing program and I sort of used FIT as a vehicle to meet people in this fashion world that I wanted to enter. I met people that made patterns, I met people that knew how to cut and sew, all of that, and I sort of assembled a small team to run with and get things going, even though I had no prior background in manufacturing.
I was going to say, getting into the practice of custom jerseys is kind of an interesting thing to get into. How did that FIT experience bridge into what you ultimately started to pursue?
Ultimately, it was just an idea of something I wanted to pursue and I just ran with it. I got extremely lucky just because the first jersey I ever made, within a week, was worn in public by A$AP Rocky. So that was sort of the light bulb moment where I was like, "This may work," so I just kept pushing forward. But it truly was just an idea of capturing something.
My biggest inspiration was Fabolous and his music videos and how to spin that image and make it more current.
You mentioned Rocky, you mentioned Fab. Even with those early hits at what point did you realize that your ideas, your own brand, is something that could work?
It still took time for it to pick up steam. It was more so a stage piece. Everyone wore it on stage for their concerts and then you would see people buying them after here and there. It was this luxurious item, it was eye grabbing, it was whatever. But, it didn't necessarily translate to everyone in the streets wearing it. It was expensive. So it was really just a piece.
After that, I would say when New Era first came to me and asked me to do a capsule of fitted hats. That was a moment where I called my parents and I was like, "This is going to work. This is going to happen."
Walk us through that New Era collab, I think that's one of your first big watershed moments. What was the process behind that coming to life? How do you get into something like that?
I just got a cold email one day from someone at the New Era office and they wanted me to do something. I had the idea for these wax canvas hats. New Era originally thought it was too simple, it wasn't going to work, but the hats sold out that first week in—I think, like, 10 minutes. It was the first time they'd had a line back at the New Era flagship store on Fourth Street, so it brought a certain amount of energy back to New Era. At the time we collaborated—and even now—everyone was and is wearing dad hats, but I stuck true to just having the fitted hat.
What about the fitted hat do you feel like is resonant? Whether it's past streetwear or current streetwear, you mentioned that dad hats are popular, why kind of go against the grain there?
It's the only hat you should want to wear. It's what they wear on the field, so why would you want to wear anything else? You could give me any other brand in the world to make a hat with, I would always choose New Era because, again, it's what the pros wear. It's the most American, it's still a family owned company. New Era is the best.
Speaking of on-field, let’s go back to your jerseys. I know that you've heard this before, but obviously Don C is a great comparison for someone who's customizing jerseys. I think we live in a world where—especially because of the internet and how big streetwear has gotten—people are always trying to claim they, “did something first.” How do you sidestep that critique while fighting for a shot and still doing what you want to do?
With honesty. Don C opened the door for luxury sportswear. Don C is who made it happen. He was the one that busted the door down and I simply followed—he was an inspiration more than anything. He was doing the hats, I was doing the jerseys. The work was capturing that same essence, but I obviously didn't want to make the hats. I didn't want to just copy them. I wanted to find my own lane and work it that way.
When thinking about finding your own lane, how do you, especially when you're younger, determine the lane that you want to go into? And then, obviously, as you've been in the game for a little while, how are you evolving that approach?
I think people put too much on “knowing the next step.” I've never known the next step. It always just happens. It falls into place. When I wasn't in love with the jerseys anymore, I was stuck on basketball shorts. I just rode that. For the first summer it was slow and then it picked up slowly but surely, and now it's colossal as far as shorts go.
It's just following through. If it's not working at first, continue to do it until it does work, and it eventually will. But, as far as planning, I don't plan it. I just do whatever I feel like for that year, month, whatever it may be. I'm blessed in the sense that it's worked out.
You’ve chosen basketball shorts as your flagship product. I mean, why basketball shorts?
Basketball shorts are a piece of clothing that I've chosen to wear at least once a week since I've been wearing clothes. I always, at least one time in the week, find myself wearing basketball shorts. There was no one really making a traditional simple short like that. Everyone wants to make it complicated—throw zippers and whatever else on the style and make heavy shorts.
Whether you're at home, going to the beach, whatever it may be, this short works everywhere. I sort of was ahead of the curve on that. And now a lot of people, obviously, are making basketball shorts and that's awesome. I think it's an everyday item. It's something I love and I'm lucky that I could wear basketball shorts every day.
Basketball shorts, jerseys, headwear, on-field headwear, we're talking a lot about sportswear. Are you a sports person? Are you a sports enthusiast?
No I'm not. I love Syracuse basketball. The NCAA is my favorite time of the year, when college basketball is in full swing. Aside from that, I know a lot of the athletes and I'll follow them just because I know them, but I really don't have any true passion for sports.
I love the logos—it's Americana; they're all extremely recognizable and they bring people together. You could see someone on the street in a Syracuse sweatshirt and you go up to them and say, "Hey, are you from Syracuse,” or, “What's your affiliation with it?" It's a conversation starter more than anything. I think sport just brings people together more than people are aware of.
It’s that culture of sports. You don't have to love the stats to love the sport and the culture around it. It's well known that you're from Syracuse. It’s a huge college sports town. How has growing up there, being around that team influenced what you choose to do?
It taught me pride. It's taught me hometown pride. In 2003, they won the national championship and that was the first time I really saw the city come together for a moment. When you throw a— whether it's a major league baseball, NBA, whatever, logo on—a lot of people wear that with pride because it's where they're from, who they're a fan of, their idol, whatever it may be. With sport comes pride. Coming from Syracuse, we'd catch as many basketball games we could, and it was just the best environment for me. Granted, there was not much else to do up there, but it was just the best environment, high energy, everyone happy, it was the best.
You mentioned earlier that sportswear, for you, or sport culture, is Americana. Can you go into what you mean by that? I guess maybe it goes back into that point about pride.
The logos are just so recognizable that, even if you're overseas, you're going to see the Yankees logo or Braves logo, whatever it may be; they've always remained so classic. When teams try to introduce new logos, a lot of them are just hideous. But the teams that have stayed true—like the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox—it's just a classic, timeless logo. That's why, when I've done things, I keep it as simple as I can. Like the Braves hat, it's the same colorway, same everything. I usually just change the textile.
Thinking about where we are right now in New York City, you're from upstate [New York]. It makes sense for you to come down here to work but I think it's also interesting that you also produce all of your clothing here. Why have you chosen to produce here in NYC’s Garment District as opposed to, say, somewhere else like Los Angeles, or even moving it abroad— which would be the cheapest—and in some ways easiest—option.
At first it was out of pure laziness. I didn't know where to go and I didn't know how to manufacture anywhere else. So this was in my backyard, I went and used it and, ultimately fell in love with it. There's amazing people up there. So while it's a little bit more expensive, I still can be so hands on. Every day I sit up there, we'll play Mahjong, we'll work hard to create this beautiful thing. They've all become pretty much family to me since I'm there every day.
I feel like Americans give a lot of praise to people who are able to produce in the States. In this case, what are some of the challenges that you've discovered kind of keeping production here in New York?
The only challenge, really, is cost and real estate. If you go to Los Angeles, they have facilities that can cut, sew, screenprint and everything else all at once. It's like a little epicenter. However, here, there's so many moving parts, so we'll have the fabric shipped in, they'll cut it, they'll sew it. Then we pick that up, bring it to the screen printer, then bring it to someone else to get it packaged. There's just a lot of moving parts in New York, which, if you go overseas, they can land a product completed. LA, again, same thing. They have full-finish factories. New York, I'm sure they have some; it's not what I use, but it's very difficult moving around the city.
To pivot, I think your brand does exist in the streetwear world and I think people think of streetwear as something that's kind of a little bit more cheaper to produce. In contrast, I feel like what you're doing is certainly not that. How do you find that balance between creating something that people love—that is exciting and luxurious—but is also something that kind of is still in that market and can compete with those other streetwear titans?
It's just about keeping things simple, clean and classic. The logo itself is not too ostentatious. It looks it could be from a school. So when you're wearing them on the street, it doesn't look you went out and bought something overtly high end. It looks like maybe it's a pair of gym shorts from your old alma mater. I think that's why the logo has transcended so far, just because it's nothing more than classic.
It's a difficult balance though, sure. I used to make cashmere tearaway pants—all this luxury-leaning stuff. Want to know how much I sold? None. No one wants to pay for that shit. People complain about the price all the time, but it's so expensive to make product here, and they have no idea what else goes on behind the scenes. So it's just about making the most classic product at, I wouldn't say a reasonable price, but it's...
Made with a level of care and this “homegrown” quality that you're trying to pack into every pair?
I imagine that you're hands on with almost every single product. I know you do small batch drops, for example. I'm assuming you're hands on with every single, maybe not every single pair, but…
In some way, shape or form, I've had my hands in creating every single pair of shorts that are out in circulation.
You're at the factory every single day?
I would say four out of five days in the week. Yeah.
As we think about New York and the streetwear space, frankly, New York has a lot of streetwear brands. Obviously Supreme sits atop that pyramid, but there's also Aimé Leon Dore, there's Awake New York, Noah. What is the best way to stand apart from those other brands, even though you're all existing in a similar ecosystem and—most likely—exist in the same guy's closet?
I just live in my own world. I appreciate all of that stuff, but I just, I don't know, I just live in my own world. It's like a little bubble. I live up in the garment district. I work in the garment district. I just keep to myself and keep pushing forward and it's very easy to find inspiration from all people around New York, including Teddy [Santis, founder of Aimé Leon Dore]. He does a wonderful job, so it's easy to be inspired by people like that who are, again, in your backyard, doing the same thing on a different platform.
You talk about being in a bubble. I feel like when I think about “streetwear” and “bubble,” I always go back to the belief that streetwear is a bubble industry. I'm not trying to be reductive, but it seems like with what you're doing in the streetwear space, there are so many other brands that are jumping in—even brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton—who are trying to create streetwear-inspired clothing. What is your take on that? Do you feel like streetwear or sportswear is a bubble? And, if it is, having competition kind of from all angles—both streetwear brands and these luxury players—where are you sliding in? How are you evolving to deal with that?
I think the most beautiful part about the product is that it doesn't necessarily live in one space. It's a basketball short at the end of the day, and it's a very classic one at that. So while everyone's worried about creating all this hype and whatever it may be, I'm just focused on making a short that lives forever, made in America. Similar to how Champion used to manufacturer in Rochester, things like. Eventually I would love to just grow and be seen as a heritage sportswear brand.
Is the heritage a key part of sportswear for you? Is that kind of where you want to see Eric Emmanuel go in the next 10, 20 years—you want to embody that heritage element?
Yeah, I just want it to be a “Made in the USA” story that lives forever. And granted, there's going to be a time where something has to be made somewhere else, but as long as I can keep it in New York, I will.
We've talked a lot about America. I want to move over to Germany. One of your big crossover moments is your work with adidas. I think most kids want to know, how do you kind of kickstart a partnership like that? That's obviously a huge global brand. How do you, here in New York, pivot into something so mass with someone like adidas?
It was just a dinner. I ran into someone that worked with the company. They thought I would be a good fit for this new lifestyle basketball shoe they had.
At first I didn't believe it. I didn't think it would happen. I think it was two months later, it happened; I signed the contract. Then weeks after that, I was in the room designing the shoes and whatever. It's not as easy as you would think. I can make a pair of shorts, I can make whatever. Shoes are difficult—and I wear sneakers every day.
It was just a surreal moment. But yeah, adidas reached out, we worked on the shoes, did two full collections. From adidas, which was a beautiful partnership, I pivoted to Reebok. That was probably my happiest moment just because I was working alongside Allen Iverson and [in the design process] he had his say, I had my say. It was the most beautiful moment, was working with Allen.
With adidas you have four sneakers and you're designing apparel. Knowing that you're designing your own apparel here in New York and you have full control, what are some challenges that you have when you're working with a partner like adidas?
With footwear design, the only thing I had done in that realm previously was sit on Nike ID as a kid and play around. When you think about getting your own shoe, you have all of these ideas, but a brand like adidas is there to sort of dial it back and show you, "Look, you could do this, you can't do this, this isn't going to work here." So, I would sit in the room and basically color it up. They would then come to me with the material story of, "This will work well here. This works there." It was an extreme collaborative effort.
Whereas on the apparel side, I'm actually working with this guy, Lars, who used to do all of Arc'teryx Veilance. He's super technical and I'm not very technical, so we sort of found this happy medium between the two. He helped me, I helped him, but I listened to them for the most part. I would just talk about the story that I wanted to get out there, and they would help me meld the end products.
I think every kid at some point who's into sneakers wants to explore sneaker design, but it’s not really clear what that process is in the real world. How do you determine what sneakers that you're going to work with? Does the brand say, "These are the silhouettes that we want to use," or do you suggest some? Do you kind of meet in the middle and then you make a decision?
With adidas, I got to make a selection on one and then they would provide me with the other shoe. So there's one shoe I loved and then there was one shoe that I was like, "Eh," but we still made it work; we made it as beautiful as we could.
The shoe I chose with adidas was the Rivalry. It was Patrick Ewing's first shoe. It used to be made in France. It's a wonderful shoe. I prefer the high top over the low top. It's just classic. So that's why I went with that.
Then we worked on the Crazy BYW, which was one of the most beautiful lifestyle basketball shoes I had seen, so I immediately sort of jumped at that even if I was hesitant at first. That was a shoe that they were pushing me to do as well so it all worked out.
Pivoting back over to Reebok, obviously Reebok and adidas are in the same brand family. Why Iverson? Did they come to you with Iverson? Or were you just like, "Listen, I grew up in the 2000s, I saw Allen play, I want to work on that shoe."
Reebok came to me and they wanted to work on shoes. I immediately just said, "I want to do an Iverson." The first shoe they talked about doing was the Iverson Question, which is an awesome shoe; we're going to move on that silhouette and work on that in the near future.
But I wanted to do the Iverson Five just because it was the shoe that they rolled out with the first sort of entertainment influencer. They had Jadakiss and Allen in the same sneaker commercial for that model. It was a moment that I remember going to my parents and saying, "Look, can we go to the mall? I need these shoes." It was the first pair of Iverson's I had actually purchased.
My first iteration is done in a hot pink, which was sort of my core color; it's a color I work into a lot of things. It was loud and it was just my personality on his shoes so I was worried [Allen Iverson] wouldn't like it. He ended up loving it.
To me, Allen Iverson was, and I've said it before, my Michael Jordan. I didn't want to be like Michael Jordan. He's cool. He made wonderful shoes. I've worn them all. But his personality on the court was killer, but Allen [Iverson] had actual swagger. Allen on and off the court was who you wanted to be like. When you would see him at a press conference, the way he carried himself, his demeanor, everything—he was one-of-a-kind. Then, when you saw him hop on the court, his sort of “fuck you” style was just everything.
You talk about kind of the culture, the persona of Allen Iverson. You were talking earlier about how sport is culture. How do you feel like Allen embodies that mentality?
I think now we live in a time where a lot of rappers want to be athletes, a lot of athletes want to look like rappers. Allen was the first person where on either side of that spectrum, no matter what, he was himself. I think he showed everyone that it's okay to be yourself. Even if people don't like it, just do it. He's still that same man today.
How is it working with Allen? I mean, how hands-on is he in the process of collaboration?
A lot of people tell you that you don't want to meet your idols, that it'll be a terrible day. But the day I met him, he was the most amazing, genuine human being ever. Whether it would be with kids that ran up to him or just to me working hand in hand with him, he was wonderful. He's a legend.
Thinking about these valuable partnerships that you've done, What do you look for in a collaboration partner? We've talked here about how some partnerships are kind of hand-in-hand—they're really true collaborations—and others are simply co-branded exercises. What do you look for in partners that you want to work with?
Nostalgia. If I can tie it back in—and everyone uses this line now—but if it ties back to my childhood at all, if it was an item I was obsessed with, wore, whatever it may be, I'll do that. It’s that, and “classic-ness.”
I just did a Mountain Dew collab, and I was thinking, “how do you keep it classic?” It's pretty difficult. But that logo is so iconic and that's very Americana. It's a logo that I love. Then, moving forward, I'm interested in working with A Bathing Ape and it's just, that's my childhood. Those are things that, when I was growing up, got me into what I am into today.
Even with people I haven't collaborated with, what I look for is something that makes sense to me. I'm not just going to slap mine and a partner’s logos together. I think a great example of what I’ve done that worked was the collaborative logo with Iverson logo where we took the “3” out, threw the “EE” in in its place, and it worked perfectly.
Collaboration is such a pivotal point in the wider streetwear front. Another aspect is limited drops. You obviously do limited drops. Streetwear—as a whole has thrived and inspired the fashion industry at large with the “drop” model. As a consumer, we see drops from the outside; we're just going to the website hoping we get something. Shoppers come away with a win or simply strike out. From the brand side, what is the perspective on a drop day? How crazy is something like that? Noting that how feasible is that to keep going?
This summer, we didn't miss a single week. We released shorts every single Friday at noon, which was amazing, but it's sort of hard. You get to the middle of the summer and you're burnt out. You want a break. And I'm so hands on that we didn't get a break.
I would say the biggest issue with drop culture is people complaining. And it's just… do you think I don't want to make enough shorts for my fans to have them? That's more money in my pocket. At the end of the day, yeah, I want everyone to have it. But sometimes it goes so quick, I underestimate how much people will want to buy in a drop and it's sold out. All the way around, I think dissatisfied customers would be the worst thing about drops today.
I's just unfortunate that all these people want the product and it's sold out and there's nothing I could do. If I made an extra 150 pairs of shorts for a drop, maybe everyone would be happy. But if I made an extra 150 pairs, I might've overproduced that piece. So it's finding this happy balance of how much to make and when to make it. I’m not trying to keep product from people.
I think what you say right there calls to mind what James Jebbia has described with Supreme. It’s not that it’s so much about intentionally underproducing, it’s trying to prevent overproducing—especially in those early days. The same thing happened with Kanye West; at the beginning of his Yeezy collaboration he talking about how adidas will be creating Yeezys for everyone. But that hope obviously took years and years to become a reality.
I think that's a wonderful thing because now I could go up to the mall in Syracuse, New York, when I was a kid and we had no cool shoes, no nothing. Now thanks to what Kanye has done, it’s allowed for more Yeezys. A lot of people will view that as, "Oh it's not cool anymore. Everyone can have it." I think the coolest thing in the world is an accessible product.
Does price factor into accessibility? I mean, is the more accessible something is, doesn’t that mean it usually is more affordably priced?
Not necessarily. I don't think they go hand in hand, especially when you're talking footwear. $200 is a lot for a shoe, but that's what shoes cost now. As far as shorts for me, it's priced at $88. Honestly, it should cost more with the margin that I'm running. But I do it just because I think, if I were buying a pair of shorts, that's probably what I would pay.
So you're always putting yourself in the shoes of, maybe a younger you, or the consumer thinking, "Okay, I have X amount of money to spend?”
You don't want to price everyone out. I think price plays an important role in everything. You don't want to cheapen your product, but price matters.
I think a lot of people view hype drops, as a way to build a brand and to create buzz—artificial or otherwise. The idea that scarcity allows a brand to continue to percolate and continue to be successful. Do you feel like keeping things tight and keeping the drops limited is what's helped boost your brand or help keep it relevant? I know you have confidence in the product, of course, but do you feel like that kind of hype cycle helps build a brand—including your brand?
Yes and no, because again, you have a lot of people who go home empty handed and they're upset—that could hurt you. Ultimately, we sold a ton of shorts this summer—more than I could've ever imagined. In the beginning, I went small and I kept it tight because I didn't know what was going to happen with releases. But then, the doors opened wide and we were cranking shorts out all day every day. The product drop numbers were what they were be we were producing the most shorts we could produce in New York with the means that I had.
I saw this summer you were doing a lot of real-life retail work. I know you've partnered with Patron of the New in the past. What is your perspective—knowing you sell mostly online—on physical retail and bringing your product off the internet and into real life?
We opened this summer, the first weeks of shorts, with a pop-up for three weeks on Elizabeth Street [in New York City]. Every single Friday, we would have a line down the block. It's amazing to see who's actually buying the product, to smile, talk, whatever with that visitor.
But as far as wholesale and retail: One, my product's not really made to wholesale. It's too expensive to make that it's not worth it. Two, I just work with stores where I like the people, so Patron of the New, I love Jonathan [Pak], I love him. UNKNWN in Miami is Jaron [Kanfer] and Peter [Eliason]. They're just friends. I just work that way. I don't take it as seriously as most people, like, "Oh, here's my line sheet.” No. For me, it's a text message to someone and we get the business done.
In the industry you're known as a very casual guy, very personable. Do you feel like that is an X-factor to a brand’s success? Being able to get things done in a text message or two, to be able to shake a hand and really make that connection?
Absolutely. I think, at the end of the day, it's a namesake brand. I am the name. If I was a dick walking around every day, I don't think I would have as much success. But I think it's also the fact that I have this vast network of people that I've met—just because I lived in New York and through friends—that I've been able to grow. I think the most important—more important than money or anything else in the world—is your network. I'm blessed to have a lot of friends around me who—it might be someone that takes my product shots, it might be something else—all of these people have put me where I am today.
It's not just me, I get by with the help of my friends.
We were talking earlier about exclusivity, and I think for something like Grailed, a lot of what we do is we allow people to buy things after they sell out on drop day. What is it like, being a designer, to see your items: One, sell out on their drop dates, and Two, reappear on, or even with a price premium, in the aftermarket?
It just shows... I use that more as a temperature check. Is the product working? Are people trying to obtain it? If there is a secondary market, it's obviously a great sign.
Speaking on Grailed though, I have the kid that's working with me, Brian, he'll go through on Grailed, and find me stuff to buy or take a look at. Grailed is just an interface that has allowed for something a bit different. It used to be all about forums—whether it was in the world of men’s style, shoes—all that bullshit. Now, Grailed has built this community online of kids who share the same interests, or maybe they don't even have the same style. There are so many different people using the app that it's just cool. When I was growing up, we really only had eBay to go buy used clothes. This is a way more streamlined approach.
So, having talked about the aftermarket and about being your own designer and the longevity of your product—does seasonality matter at all in the way that you design? Or is it just that you expect things to kind of go away into an archive and then come back out and make an appearance?
I mean, I'm coming off the strongest summer of shorts ever and I'm realizing as it cools down, people don't necessarily need shorts right now [laughs]. I sort of knocked that off except for collaborations, of course, it'll happen. I'm done selling shorts on my site for the time being. As it cools down I'm working on sweatpants and whatnot, but everyone makes them so I don't necessarily love it. We are building the most beautiful, full zip sweatshirt. It's amazing. So that was really fun to create. But my true love is shorts.
How far in advance do you plan your design process?
I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow. Really though, let's call it two months. That's being generous. I'm very lucky that, making product in New York, I have such a quick turnaround time that I can sort of—if I'm feeling something at the moment—I'll do it, and boom, we get it out there.
So, we've talked a little bit about your collaborations from the past. You're able to be agile. Who are some collaboration partners that you would love to get in contact with?
When I was a kid, I just wore a bunch of Tommy Hilfiger, but I'm trying to think. I've done more than I could've ever imagined. So anything that embodies that feeling of nostalgia I mentioned, moving forward—that would just be the icing on the cake.
We've talk a lot about sneaker culture and adidas and Reebok are big parts of that. I know you're a Nike fan. It sounds like you’re looking for brands that align with your vision, but also with this kind of “sport as mythology” approach.
I think Syracuse [University]—that would be the only collaboration. I was working on getting the license, but it's a Nike school primarily and licensing is so strange. There's so many rules, whatever it may be. But a Syracuse item would be amazing.
A truly hometown partnership. I mean, Syracuse is about five hours outside of New York City, and we talked about how that” hometown pride” is a big part of who you are. How do you think growing up with that distance from such a major city—close enough to feel the cultural presence of New York City but not close enough to be literally within it— how does that inform what you do and who you are?
It made me value [New York City] so much more, especially when I got here. When I was a kid and we would take trips to the city, we’d visit for two days or so, so I would have bullet points like, "We need to go here, here, here and here." It was mainly BAPE, Flight Club and Clientele. That was it.
Those are obviously retail icons in New York, and it’s funny that you've just done your own pop-up this past Summer. What is your take on New York City retail, be it online or offline?
It's cool. I like to shop online. I really just love shopping online just because you find such a vast, selection. With these retail stores, obviously they make different buys. Some buyers, you may not like or understand what they bought, and how they merchandise it. Thinking on that, even merchandising my shorts in stores, it's just, I don't know how retailers will do it, so I just do it myself.
Talking about the preference for shopping online and thinking about Grailed, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: Is there anything that you've bought on Grailed that you're really excited about?
The most recent thing I bought off of Grailed was a pair of metallic BAPE shoes. I've been buying a bunch of BAPE stuff off Grailed. I was trying to find a pair of Rick Owens Dunks too. Some of my favorite purchases would be vintage Metallica T-shirts, metallic Bapestas—just a bunch of BAPE and vintage T-shirts.
Is there any reason for those buys in particular?
You can't find it anywhere else.
Speaking of where we are now with your Grailed partnership, let's talk about the product collab that you're doing. What are you bringing to this particular product that might be a little bit different from some of the other shorts that you've already designed?
I rarely have made a black short. I think we've done one release prior, it was a black and blue colorway and it sold out in 45 seconds.
Duke University-inspired colorway?
Yeah, it was a Duke colorway for Zion. So this is going to be a black almost, Oakland Raiders- inspired, black-metallic silver short. Again I've really never made black shorts. So this is a new introduction. Why not make it a Grailed piece?
To bring it all together, you were talking earlier about doing hoodies, and we obviously have this collaboration product with Grailed, but where do you envision Eric Emanuel going—both as yourself and as a brand?
As a brand, I think just continuing to make an American-made sportswear product that's classic, that everyone can wear. Whether you love clothes or whether you just need something incredible to wear, I just want what I do to be for everyone.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity