Collaborations between brands might not be a novel idea by now; well if it ain't broke, why fix it amirite? But a team up between a sneaker company and a video game? Consider our interest piqued. Japanese sneaker label, Onitsuka Tiger collaborated with Capcom's Street Fighter for a fresh take on their iconic Mexico 66 model.
The launch sees two variants of the yellow and blue colourway, a nod to the outfit of Chun-Li, the iconic character from Street Fighter. The sneaker also comes with a graphic print of the dragon belt worn by Chun-Li running down the sides.
But this collaboration goes beyond the physical. The inception behind the partnership was a mutual interest in creating a product that exists in both the digital and corporeal realm. Every pair of the Onitsuka Tiger x Street Fighter sneaker purchased comes with a redeemable code that allows you to unlock the same sneakers for Chun-Li in Street Fighter V.
Esquire Singapore was in Tokyo for the launch of the sneakers, where we sat down with both director and head of Onitsuka Tiger Company, Ryoji Shoda, and Capcom managing executive officer, Yoshinori Ono.
We talked about how the idea for a trans-reality collaboration came about, why Chun-Li was chosen over Ryu or Ken, and how important collaborations are in this digital age.
ESQ: How did the collaboration with Street Fighter come about and why Chun-Li?
YOSHINORI ONO: We decided on Chun-Li because it was a character that could appeal to both men and women. She is also a strong female character who is globally famous, which made it a quick and easy decision.
RYOJI SHODA: It wasn’t like we had a specific collaboration in mind when we approached Capcom. But I wanted to collaborate with a game, one where we can see the collaboration cross between the realms of the physical and the virtual. And Capcom too was looking to do something similar. That’s how we found each other.
ESQ: When you purchase this collaboration, besides the sneaker, you also get a code that you can use to redeem a new outfit for Chun-Li in Street Fighter V; one that sees her wearing the sneaker made in collaboration with Onitsuka Tiger. Would Capcom ever design a sneaker for a character in the virtual world that would be sold in the real world?
YOSHINORI ONO: Right now the sneaker goes from the physical world to the virtual one. But the apparel that Chun-Li is wearing in the game is not sold in the physical world. So she is wearing an outfit designed by my team, and we were in talks with the Onitsuka Tiger team about translating it into the real world. If the top management of Onitsuka Tiger says okay, we would love to do more, where you would see an apparel version that comes from the virtual world into the physical one. But for now, there are no plans for that.
ESQ: What did you like most about working together with Onitsuka Tiger?
YOSHINORI ONO: For me, I have always seen Onitsuka Tiger as a fashion sneaker brand. During the collaboration process, I could feel that they value technology and design, and that’s something that we do at Capcom. So even though our output is different, that is something that I thought we had in common.
ESQ: Do you think collaborations are important when trying to build a sneaker brand?
RYOJI SHODA: We are very selective of our collaborations; we only work with brands that we feel a kind of affinity with. We look for brands that have a synergy with us.
For other brands, it is quite common to look for that one iconic product or a drop of the month. But what we try to create is a brand that people come to for Onitsuka Tiger products, instead of a specific collaboration. So you don’t go to Onitsuka Tiger only because of that collaboration, but rather because you love the brand and their products.
The customer might have a different brand image for us, and that’s perfectly fine for the customer to help lead that direction, but the one thing that is very important to us is comfort. So for every sneaker that we make, comfort is paramount. The sneaker that we chose for this collaboration is not a martial arts shoe, nor is it a performance sneaker, but the comfort is still there and it is incorporated in a way that doesn’t distract from the design.
Collaborations are no doubt important and help new customers discover the world of Onitsuka Tiger.