The fruitful union of coffee and sneakers has long been a point of inquiry here at Sprudge. But nothing could prepare us for a 2021 Black Friday drop so momentus, so unimpeachably cool and true so as to beg the question: did Deadstock Coffee and Adidas just release the greatest coffee sneaker ever?
The shoes in question—officially the Deadstock Coffee x Adidas ZX—launched in vanishingly limited quantities of just 150 pairs made, and is now completely sold out, as per Deadstock founder Ian Williams. “They’re gone,” he tells Sprudge. “And I mean gone-gone.” But the shoe itself is worth taking a closer look into, an intricate interplay of coffee references, embellishments, and evocations with a throughline of design intentionality. From the real burlap jute to the screenprinted “three stripes” to the easter egg details throughout (including a speckled midsole that speaks to the barista experience on-shift), I’m convinced there’s never been a coffee sneaker quite like this one.
We just had to learn more, so I spoke with Ian Williams of Deadstock Coffee inside the soon-to-open Concourse Coffee, a new coffee bar project from Williams and the Deadstock team located in Portland, Oregon.
Hey Ian, thanks for talking with me. Can you tell me a little more about the origin story of this project?
So… Adidas originally approached us in like, May of 2020, maybe even April. But we’ve been pushing an idea to do something with Adidas for maybe three years now. There were like three different plans at one point, and all of them didn’t come to fruition, but then they approached us with this idea that they felt was going to drive energy and inspire reselling. I kept trying to explain to them honestly—you know, if we do fewer pairs overall, there’s so many followers and fans of Deadstock and nobody is going to get rid of them. Nobody is going to resell them.
Originally we were supposed to be part of a larger coffee pack. I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell this story, honestly! But they approached us with designs that included latte, mocha, and matcha colorways, and we were like—this isn’t really what we do. So from there the next evolution of the plan was for us to come out with our version of the shoe, and then there’s going to be another shoe that gets released online by Adidas directly. Ours was Deadstock specific, designed by us, and now they’re going to do general releases via Adidas.com in colorways like lavender latte, which honestly, they look really cool!
This sneaker came out on Black Friday 2021, but that wasn’t always the plan, right?
Well, the original thought was for the shoe to release during the SCA Event in New Orleans. But the first version of the shoe we worked on had some problems, and it got bumped, and then the SCA got bumped, and then, well… we all know what happened to SCA this year. It got “canceled”—I mean people-canceled, canceled by people.
We had always wanted to take this shoe out to Japan for the Tokyo Coffee Festival [Ed. note: Deadstock has a longstanding presence at the annual Tokyo Coffee Festival.] We’re booked to go out there in April, and we’ll be teaming up with the local Vietnamese food cart here called Matta, who we have done collabs with in the past… but the thing is, we’re already out of shoes! So the release for Tokyo probably isn’t going to happen.
The shoe is a victim of its own popularity?
Bro, we had a line around the block the morning it came out, and 1,500 people tried to buy it in the first minute online. We are just super out of shoes now. They’re gone.
Tell us more about the creative process with Adidas. Who did you work with there?
We’re the shoe designers, and then we have a designer on their side working with us for technical stuff. Originally the idea was not fully formed, but one of our really good customers who works for Adidas, Thomas Ayme, was looking to get into design; he was already over at Adidas as part of the skate team. Adidas allowed us to work together with Thomas on the project, which was amazing, because he’s one of our regulars! We also worked with product manager Annie Asirifi, as well as with a senior color designer there named Rafael Mayorga on this project.
From the very beginning, our idea was to do a burlap and Grain Pro something. That color combination is so easily iconic. We went through many evolutions to get to where it ended up, though. Thomas had some cool ideas inspired by the white and blue colorway on the wall in front of our cafe, and we also looked at doing an all-white shoe that would be dippable in coffee. But when we got samples back, this version you see today was the one we thought looked the best.
All the details are intentional. The stitching around the tongue is like a burlap bag; the tongue label on the front looks like the country of origin label on a bag of coffee, and you can see this “code” here, which is like a country of origin label. The numbers stand for the year Deadstock opened, and it also includes the airport code Thomas flies back and forth from Germany with, as well as the year he was born.
When you look at the “three stripes” on the side, usually on Adidas shoes those stripes are stitched, but we chose to have them screen printed just like you see on a jute bag. There’s real jute fabric on the tongue and on the of the shoes, alongside buttery suede and nubuck, which is super high quality.
On the back of the shoe, we went with a semi-translucent green material that matches the GrainPro bag. We’ve adopted the gum bottom as one of our house colors at Deadstock—it’s great behind the bar and it tells the coffee story. And the midsole you’ll notice is actually speckled; that’s because as baristas, we spill coffee all day.
I love that detail.
Yeah me too! The idea was to create a product that’s very identifiable for coffee people, but if you aren’t into coffee, it’s still a cool-looking shoe. Honestly, we think about our cafes the same way: it’s for sneaker people, but if you just want some coffee that’s fine too. If you know, you really know. All in all, I’m super thankful this all got to happen because I was sure this project was going to get dropped about 11 times. I’m so grateful.
I notice you’ve got the tagline, “Coffee Should Be Dope,” printed on the inside of the tongue.
Yeah, we went back and forth on this. I wanted “Coffee Should Be Dope” on the shoe, but I didn’t want it to be that bold, for a couple of different reasons. That phrase has become very identifiable, like a catchphrase, and you know actually some people think Deadstock is actually called “Coffee Should Be Dope” like that’s the name of our cafe! So for the shoe, we preferred keeping it as like a hidden detail. I feel very strongly about including just our logo mark on the back of the heel, and on the burlap shoe bag. When you see this logo, I want you to know it, similar to the Adidas “three stripes” or other great logos. That’s been my goal for a long time.
In your opinion, what makes a great coffee shoe?
Well—a lot of them are pretty brown, you know? And in designing our shoe with Adidas, we had a lot of times where we’d say, “This now looks too much like another one.” We talked a lot about the Saucony coffee shoes. [Ed. note: see Saucony’s Cafe Du Monde and Avocado Toast releases.] There’s been a couple of other coffee shoes over the years, but they tend to be just kind of generic, like a brown shoe that you’re calling a “coffee shoe” you know? Whereas with this shoe, if you knew nothing about coffee, you might not understand that this shoe had anything to do with coffee. You wouldn’t know that the shoe looks like a bag of green coffee. But it’s so cool for us—we felt that coffee people needed to have a shoe like this. And if you were a barista showing up to the drop, we gave you a discount in line. It’s more about coffee than hype for us.
Some people aren’t quote “cool” or they aren’t sneakerheads, and that doesn’t matter. And a lot of baristas, they might not even care about shoes, they just need a thing on foot and it’s part of the job. We designed this to have a breathability, but for the mesh to be backed so not so much liquid gets through. The shoe *is* still brown, and we know you might only have it for a year. You might wear them every day for a year, so it needed to be something that was wearable for a coffee person, a roaster, or a barista, because I know for a fact that people with those jobs ruin their shoes at work. In fact, I love that concept, that story, that wear and use changes how the shoe looks over time, and these are made with that story in mind.
Tell me a little more about launch day.
It was so cool, man. We saw people show up wearing fits that were prepared for the shows, and after they got them they sat down and put them on right away. Now I see people walking into the cafe wearing them. We sold most of them to longtime customers who showed up that morning; many of our customers have been around for a long time. And I did set a few aside for longtime supporters, so I can be like “Hey, I have a 9 for you”—there are people who have just always supported us that needed the shoe, you know?
Have you seen the shoe show up yet on any of the resale sites?
No. And I honestly I don’t think they’re going to. Unless it’s a pair that doesn’t fit or something… you know, Adidas I think was hoping for this crazy release that would end up on the stores and go for a crazy amount of money. And I told them, honestly, most of these pairs will be going to people we know, people who are die-hard fans, and they aren’t going to sell them. It’s not going to happen.
It was fun working with the Adidas team and I’m super thankful, but I think they underestimated the strength of this project and what we were going to be able to do.
And to be clear, these are now gone—no more left, shoes are done?
They are gone. Super gone. No more inquiries, please. I still to this day get texts like, “Yo, you got me on the 12s?” and like—first off, every size 12 pair sold out within minutes, our online store sold out within minutes. And many of the people who purchased online were also longtime fans of Deadstock, people who we recognized but maybe just couldn’t get there in person on Black Friday, because they’re on the East Coast or international or something. And it was cool, honestly, I saw a lot of Nike people get in on it too. Nike people still bought the shoe, either inline or they hit me up by text—you know, like, “I know it’s weird but I need it!”
I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to release a shoe with so much detail, a shoe this personal, ever again. Adidas really let us do whatever we wanted… except the green couldn’t glow in the dark, that was the only thing! They even let us have two sets of laces in the box, which is a big deal. The laces come in green and brown!
One last question: What was GrainPro’s reaction to all of this? Did they know upfront you were going to use their bags for a sneaker release?
Honestly, they loved it. They have been super supportive. This idea came from years and years of me trying to figure out how to reuse GrainPro bags, and just, in general, trying to figure out how to reuse all this stuff we throw away in coffee, like jute and GrainPro. I received some very supportive text messages and they’re happy with it.
Yeah I bet. Thank you, Ian, and congrats on the sneakers!
Thank you! I hope nobody texts me asking for sizes after reading this. Because we really are sold out.
Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. He is a 2020 James Beard Award winner, a shortlist at the 2020 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards, and a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists award winner. Read more Jordan Michelman for Sprudge.