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Before he could probably even tie his shoes, John “Jae Tips” Cotton realized how important it was to wear a fresh pair of sneakers when he and one of his classmates in kindergarten both arrived to school in Air Jordan 11s. 

“It was real early, understanding that I had on something that was cool that people would look at,” he says over FaceTime. That understanding stayed with him. “I always go back to that moment of walking into middle school or walking into high school and people looking at your feet before they look at anything else. People wanna know if you had the new shoes before they even wanna know your name.”

As many sneakerheads do, Jae Tips stayed intertwined with the streetwear community from there on. He had a stint working at Foot Locker, frequented boutiques in New York City like Atrium and Nike’s 21 Mercer location (sadly, both are now closed), and acted as a middle man for his friends in the city to help them secure certain pairs on the aftermarket years before reselling was its own economy.

Along the way he released numerous rap mixtapes and albums (yes, he raps too). The merch releases to promote his music morphed into his clothing brand Savior, which still operates today. Perhaps he is best known for his contributions in the fitted hat community, which include various high-profile collaborations with Hat Club and New Era since 2020. 

Fast forward to 2023 and Jae Tips is releasing his first official sneaker collaboration, a colorful take on the Saucony Grid Azura 2000 ($160). It borrows various elements from a Bespoke Air Force 1 he designed in 2019, a one-of-one that was not an official collaboration with Nike but was picked up by sneaker blogs at the time like it was. His Saucony features similar details like zebra print branding, floral panels, and a checkerboard heel as a tribute to his favorite musician, the late Nipsey Hussle. 

“The Bespoke has been like the chip on my shoulder,” says Jae Tips. “I felt like I needed to prove something to myself that I can be successful and not have to dumb down a colorway. Everyone can’t wear it and pull it off, but if you start putting yourself in a box then people put you in a box too. No matter what sneaker company I worked with, the first shoe would’ve had to be a tribute to the Bespoke.”

Jae Tips’ Grid Azura 2000 receives its widest launch to date today through and boutiques across the globe including Extra Butter, Sneaker Politics, Foot District, and End Clothing. Leading up to the launch, he hosted one-day pop-ups at Lower East Side flower shop Joy Flower Pot, Oneness in Louisville, and Leaders in Chicago. The final pop-up will take place today at Wish in Atlanta. The inclusion of in-person launches to the rollout of his first sneaker collab was important.

“I’ve been to too many sneaker releases and Supreme drops to not understand the importance of how it feels to have a community in the line showing up like they’re waiting for J. Cole tickets or something,” says Jae Tips. “When you drop online, you may run up the sales, but you don’t have that impact.”

Check out our full conversation with Jae Tips below.