In Conversation with James Chan

In Conversation with James Chan

Read our chat with James Chan, Global Senior Marketing Manager for Reebok Fashion Collaborations, and hear about how some of the most interesting partnerships in the industry come to life.

James Chan must have one of the coolest jobs in the world. As the Global Senior Marketing Manager for Reebok Fashion Collaborations, he’s the man responsible for some of the industry's most interesting collaborations in recent memory. From JJJJound and Tyrell Winston to Brain Dead and Eames Office, James (and Reebok by proxy) has his finger well and truly on the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist.

Born into a family of four boys, James, the youngest, grew up on a healthy diet of his older siblings’ interests – toys, music, fashion, games, movies… you name it. Being in the know as a kid paid off – he was right there for the birth of many subcultures, and it’s this unique perspective and foresight that has led James into this world. Tasked with authentically growing Reebok’s brand voice, he does so by striking up unique and authentic brand partnerships that others might miss.

We visited James at his home office in Melbourne’s inner eastern suburbs and got to talking about his favourite collaborations, took a deep dive into his love of collecting vintage wares, and—almost against his will—got him to reveal his favourite pro wrestlers of all time. Dive into our insightful chat below.

Hi James. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Hey there! My name is James and I am the Global Senior Marketing Manager for Reebok Fashion Collaborations. I wear many hats (and beanies!) on the team, but my main role is to help authentically grow Reebok’s brand voice by working with our brand partners to collectively bring the creative vision of each project to life. I have been at Reebok for five years now, and after three years living in Boston, Massachusetts, I recently came back home to be closer to my family and friends. I have since settled in a new home in Mont Albert, Melbourne which has been a great space for me. From here, I work remotely and live a simple and more meaningful life in AU.

What’s in front of you right now?
I’m sitting here in my dining room and in front of me are some really cool pieces from friend and designer Alvaro Ucha Rodriguez, based out of Brooklyn, New York. He has blessed my space with the Split Lamp and Pétalo Bowl that he designed for Lichen, an interior design workshop also based in New York.

Being immersed and introduced to it all at a very early age has allowed me to live through and appreciate the birth of many subcultures. This has allowed me to have a better perspective and foresight with my work.

What did your upbringing involve, and how (if at all) has this influenced your work?
I have three older brothers, with the oldest brother more than 10 years older than me. As you could imagine, my parents had their hands full with four boys! That said, at a young age I was heavily influenced by my brothers and what they were interested in. Whether it was music, movies, fashion or games, I rode that wave with them too! Being immersed and introduced to it all at a very early age has allowed me to live through and appreciate the birth of many subcultures. This has allowed me to have a better perspective and foresight with my work.

You’ve been at the helm of some iconic partnerships, working with the likes of Eames Office, Tyrell Winston and JJJJound. How does a collaboration come to life?
It all starts off with a conversation and a story.

When we are looking for a potential partner, the connection needs to be organic - whether they wore Reebok in the past or have a genuine desire to work with the brand.

Over the last couple of years, the team has been able to create a network that compliments everyone within it well - whether it is JJJJound, Sneeze, Tyrrell Winston, Brain Dead or Maharishi, they all have their own story and in some way ties back to Reebok.

I’ll use Detroit-based artist Tyrrell Winston for example, the Club C silhouette has been his go-to sneaker for years now, where he often refers to them as an “everyday object” - a part of his uniform in the studio. More personally, the Club C also has a very strong connection to his grandpa, where he would wear Club Cs in the garden or go play tennis in them for as long as Tyrrell could remember. This is a great example of where the passion for the brand has been authentic on both sides.

At Reebok, we have our own stories and an incredible rich history. So, we try to tell our story, while working with the right partners to help tell theirs.

    What are the criteria for good collaboration on a sublevel?
    We’re always on the lookout for upcoming brands, keeping in touch with established brands, and revisiting ongoing conversations that might lead to a partnership in upcoming seasons. Aside from having the genuine desire to be a true partner with Reebok, the ideal brand partner needs to have an organic connection to the brand, have their own unique identity, globally relevant and have the willingness to be hyper-collaborative.

    Do you ever feel like group work at university prepared you for greater things to come? 
    Whilst university work helped, I do feel that experiences and relationships are what shape us and prepare you for the future. I have had loads of practical work experience now (10+ years), all of which have been interconnected to one another. For example, I just had a work chat with Sneaker Freaker last week, a magazine publication that I used to work for back in 2012. For me, it’s all connected!

    Moreover, I have had a really strong support network of mentors throughout my career. These individuals (you know who you are) are considered some of the industry’s best and people that I used to read about in streetwear and sneaker magazines when I was younger. I am fortunate to say that I can call these people my friends now and can learn from them both professionally and personally.

    So I think it’s about taking the lessons and learnings (good and bad) from your experiences and relationships with people, and using that as guidance to help you move forward.

    Favourite partnership to date?
    The team and I are proud of all of our projects past and present.

    That said, one collaboration that I am proud of is our partnership with Eames Office. This partnership is deeply-rooted in heritage and brings together the worlds of fine art, interior architecture and streetwear - all things that I am passionate about. The collaboration has been in the works since 2019 and I love how the team had a hand in furthering the Eames Office mission of preserving and extending the legacies of iconic designers Charles and Ray Eames.

    I also had the honor of bringing to life the Reebok x Eames Classic Leather “Everything Connects” US Activation in New York a few months ago. It was great to travel back to the states and celebrate the launch with the Eames family as well as close friends of the brand.

    Over or under (when lacing your sneakers)?
    When it comes to lacing my sneakers, I am definitely an “over” type of lacer. This all stems back to when I was much younger and on the sneaker forums; back when it really was much more of a subculture. There would be forum topics discussing the “correct” way of lacing your sneakers and that’s where I picked up the technique. But it was during my time at Sneaker Freaker where I graduated as a “Lace Technician”, having the task of lacing hundreds (literally hundreds) of footwear samples sent from brands to be shot for the magazine. I look back at all of this and laugh about how ridiculous this all sounds, but it was all good fun!

    Wrestling seems to pop up on your feed every now and then. Give us your top three pro-wrestlers of all time and why.
    Before sneakers, it was pro wrestling.

    I was literally obsessed as a kid, my bedroom was full of wrestling figures, magazines and wall posters. At one point, I wanted to turn my bed into a wrestling ring (with turnbuckles and ropes) - those were the days!

    Without writing an argumentative essay on this topic, I would say Hulk Hogan (considered the biggest name in pro wrestling), Stone Cold Steve Austin (for his badass, scathing anti-authority promos) and Kurt Angle (as one of the best in-ring technical wrestlers).

    Now that was a tough question to answer!

    We see on Instagram that you’re quite the vintage collector (cars, figurines, furniture). What draws you to items of the past?I have always been a collector at heart. I think it is ok to honor your interests and find enjoyment from them. When I am interested in a certain object, I like to immerse myself into that world and try to best understand everything there is to know about it. It’s a search for authenticity and nostalgia. To dive a little deeper, I read a while ago that the word “nostalgia” is made up of two Greek words: Nostros, meaning homecoming, and Alga, meaning pain or ache. Therefore, nostalgia means to long for home, or a place you no longer are - and for me, it’s my childhood. I had an amazing upbringing so collecting these objects takes me back to the good ol’ days!

    Anything on the radar to add to your collection?
    I am grateful for everything that I have now and I’ve become more conscious of living more with less. But to make this question interesting, I do have my daily search filters set for a 1957 Braun Phonosuper SK 4 radiogram. Known as ‘Snow White’s Coffin’ due to its perspex hood, this piece was designed by Hans Gugelot and young Dieter Rams. As rare as they come, I actually saw one on Facebook Marketplace last month for a decent price. By the time I decided to go all in, it was already scooped up!

    You’ve been all over the world. What’s one meal you think of constantly?
    A home-cooked family meal cures everything.

    You’re looking into the crystal ball for James Chan’s future. What do you see?
    Growth and gratitude, love and health, and the ability to continue to honor my interests.