Uptowns. Jordans. Foams. Classics. Maxes. Gazelles. Stan Smiths. In today’s world, these aren’t just sneakers – they’re cultural legends. These iconic kicks helped elevate what began as a daily aspect of life for Brown and Black folks living in inner cities to a global culture. But as the masses have embraced sneaker culture and streetwear, the roots and the people at the heart of the movement tend to get overlooked. In their latest collaboration with reggaetón superstar and legend Yandel, Ewing Athletics and Product Line Manager, Jonas Guerrero are trying to change that, by paying homage to a community that has worked alongside the Black American community in elevating sneakers to becoming the art form that they are today: Latines.
“As a Latino, I’ve always been big on [shining] light on our community. I want to tell Latin stories,” the 37-year-old designer tells POPSUGAR.
Telling Latine stories through sneakers is a sentiment that Guerrero admits, that even to him, at times sounds ironic. After all, sneaker culture has its roots in hip-hop, an art form that has included contributions from Latines since its inception. But, akin to the way genres like rap and reggaetón have become more commercial over the years, Guerrero has observed a similar transformation in the sneaker game.
“Before it used to be more about individuality, standing out, you know, having a voice. Now, it’s all monetary,” he adds. “You can have x amount of money and buy anything, whereas before you had to know someone to know where to get it.”
But while Guerrero brings that old-school passion and mentality to his work, his latest sneaker design, the Ewing x Yandel Rogue, which is set to drop in early 2024, bridges the gap between the past and future. Guerrero cites the Nike Mag, a shoe he refers to as the “holy grail” of sneakers, along with reggaetoneros Wisin y Yandel’s classic album “Los Extraterrestres,” as influencing his design process and getting him into a more alien, futuristic mindset. This is reflected in the Yandel Rogue’s gray, white, and scuba blue colorway.
“It’s a shoe for the future,” he says. And at a time when Latine artists like Bad Bunny have become some of the biggest stars in the world, a collaboration with an icon like Yandel, who not only remains relevant but helped reggaetón reach global heights, is a fitting way to acknowledge where Latines are going while honoring the many contributions our culture has made to street style over decades. The Puerto Rican artist has been having quite a successful year. Yandel became a two-time nominee at the 2023 Latin Grammys, recently signed a deal with Warner Music Latin, and also made history at the Empire State Building in New York by becoming the first Latin act to perform at the venue during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“A big portion of [the Ewing Athletics] consumer base is Latino. And while we’ve done all these rap collabs, I wanted to pitch something based on Latin music.”
“A big portion of [the Ewing Athletics] consumer base is Latino. And while we’ve done all these rap collabs, I wanted to pitch something based on Latin music,” says Guerrero. So he pitched them the Yandel collab. And as fate would have it, the reggaetonero was already a fan of the brand, having purchased a pair of Ewing Athletics kicks a week prior.
“I’m a big fan and collector of sneakers and a big fan of NY Knicks legend and NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. Now, I get to have my own shoe in collaboration with one of the shining stars in the sports world,” Yandel states in a recent press release.
But for Guerrero, who is Puerto Rican and Dominican, this project is more than just a collaboration with an artist he grew up idolizing. It’s the culmination of everything he is – his story. The child of first-generation immigrants, Guerrero grew up in the Bronx. Unable to afford the more expensive brands like the Jordans and Nikes his peers were wearing, he would take markers to draw his own “Jordan” or “23” on his Filas and British Knights. As he got older, his creations became more complex with bandana print and or knock-off Gucci print.
“I was trying to make it my own,” he says.”I’ve always been into sneakers and individuality. I’ve always been unique and wanted things a certain way.” But despite this early penchant for customizing kicks, Guerrero never thought that he’d be in a position to design his own.
“My goal was never to be a designer. I always thought, ‘I’m a poor Dominican kid from the Bronx, I can’t be a designer.'”
“My goal was never to be a designer. I always thought, ‘I’m a poor Dominican kid from the Bronx, I can’t be a designer,'” Guerrero admits. Not only did he not have the right college degree for it, but he also never saw people like himself in those positions. Fortunately, he was able to beat the odds and leverage his passion for kicks into an internship at Complex Magazine, where he wrote about sneakers. This opportunity would eventually lead him to Ewing Athletics.
“With time, as the people here started seeing what I was capable of, they gave me an opportunity,” Guerrero recalls. That opportunity started small, giving his opinion on new samples. But his earnest passion for sneakers was evident, and eventually led to more responsibility and the opportunity to turn his creative vision into a reality. Even so, Guerrero is candid about his struggles with imposter syndrome and having to work to overcome them.
“It’s something that’s been difficult for me because, like I said, I never saw myself doing what I’m doing now. A lot of it was not believing that I could do it. Now, I know what I bring to the table,” he says. “I go super hard, and I don’t take it for granted because I know that this could all end in an instant.”
With that mentality, Guerrero knew that it was important to nail the collaboration with Yandel, not just for himself, but for the brand that believed in him and their customers. The Yandel Rogue marks the biggest Ewing collab so far, and it’s also the brand’s first time partnering with a Latin music star. Therefore, Guerrero felt extra pressure to do his due diligence and tell the story as best as he could. And that meant telling it in Spanish.
“When you open the box, the comic that comes with it is in full Spanish. The little hang tag that comes on the sneaker is in full Spanish. It’s something that we’ve never done before. It’s us telling our story through the sneaker,” says Guerrero.
And at the end of the day, the narrative of that story doesn’t belong to any one person or group. It’s the story of the underdog. It’s Patrick Ewing’s story, who put the city on his back and is forever loved and honored even without bringing back a championship. It’s Yandel’s story, going from being a barber in the town of Cayey, Puerto Rico to being one of the most successful Puerto Rican artists of all time. And it’s Guerrero’s story, every immigrant’s story, really, of people coming to a big city full of danger and promise and finding a way to make it. But even with a successful collaboration under his belt, Guerrero knows that he can’t stop pushing, and that success is not something you achieve, it’s something you do every day.
“I just want to inspire the youth, you know, people that look like us,” he says. “You know, like it’s never too late. You can’t put an age on success.”