“From Chicago, by Chicago”: Hebru Brantley on How He Got the Chance to Design a Jordan Melo M11
For 34-year-old Chicago artist Hebru Brantley, it’s all about the hustle. That’s what turned him from being a graffiti writer in the “Windy City” to a self-made business man with a newly released sneaker, designed for the New York Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony and Brand Jordan.
Using a previous art piece featuring his “flyboy” creation (based on his fascination with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen), and Jordan as a mythical creature, Brantley finally got to realize his dreams with the release. “These guys, these athletes became my superheroes,” he says. “That big Sunday afternoon or evening game came back Monday at school or Friday at the barbershop. You’re going to try to reenact it when you’re with your buddies or on the court. You’re going to try to do those moves and yell out that player’s name.”
Here’s how Hebru Brantley got to work on the Melo M11, released at Chicago’s new Jordan 23 Station flagship, and some tips he’s offered so that someday, you can do it, too.
Opportunities present themselves based on your connections and relationships. Choose wisely.
Though the Melo sneaker just dropped, Brantley’s relationship with Nike and Jordan is anything but new. In fact, the collaboration is just the result of all the pieces to the puzzle fitting correctly. Brantley started out working with Nike through installations and projects in Chicago about three years ago, and through that partnership, formed relationships within Brand Jordan. Separately from that, he’s developed relationships with notable figures in different fields over the years. More specifically, he also already had a relationship with Anthony Melo and his wife, Lala, who both have been supporters and collectors of his work for years.
When discussions surrounding the M11 arose and Brantley’s name entered the pool, Anthony ended up being a crucial force in selecting the artist as designer for the sneaker. The combination of Melo’s appreciation and Jordan’s recognition of Brantley’s work is what ultimately sealed the deal.
“It’s all about association. There’s hundreds and hundreds of artists that are far more talented than I, but they may not be able to have or bring about certain conversation or create an association with the people that are the keyholders.”
Develop a routine to creative consistently and often.
No matter where he is, Brantley makes it a point to draw daily.
Understand that followers and likes on social media do not dictate power or influence.
Thanks to the popularization of art culture on the internet, and by musicians that have now become connoisseurs and collectors, artists have become the cool, new-age rockstars again. But, according to Brantley, a lot of artists can get caught up in their current success and allow it to create cockiness and complacency. He feels that some have allowed social media to skew their perception of what’s important. “Yeah, you might shine for this moment, but what do you have after that moment?” he asks. “What’s your five-year plan? All your pieces may be great, but what’s the evolution? The show is good, but what’s after the show? The reality is you have 60,000 of your peers following you, but 59,000 of them can’t afford art or don’t even have anything above maybe a poster in their room.”
Avoid complacency once you achieve success.
“As an artist, you want to grow and show growth,” Brantley says, drawing parallels to musicians like Kanye who have evolved over time. “I appreciate challenge; repetition becomes quite mundane and boring.” Brantley is open to it all. “That housewife that shops at Louis Vuitton and sees one of my bags and says ‘Oh my God, I have to have this’ has no idea who I am, she just likes that bag,” he adds. “That bag is what brings her to me. Everyone is not an art buyer, buying a print.” With this sneaker, Brantley gets to bridge the gap between sneakerheads and art lovers worldwide.
Look at who’s winning and why.
To find your own and create a uniquely niche style and rhythm for yourself, Brantley says it’s okay to throw things at the wall to see what sticks. “I look at all the big boys—look at Warhol, Koons, Murakami, KAWS—they sort of run the gamut between high art and merchandising, or collabs with bigger brands,” Brantley says.
Remember why you’re hired.
Brand Jordan and Melo had enough faith in Brantley’s talent that they gave him full freedom with the M11. Yet, Brantley says, he’s always only accepted jobs based on his level of involvement and creative direction, avoiding those that weren’t in line with his brand. “I’ve had plenty of offers where companies want me to basically regurgitate what they’ve created, and that’s somebody else’s job,” he says adamantly. “Mine is to bring what I do.”
“Being creative is being business-minded.”
“I always knew I was an artist, I just didn’t know I was going to become an artist,” Brantley says. He credits his ability to network and think as a businessperson to make that leap.
Turn criticism and rejection into fuel.
According to Brantley, you have to put yourself out there and not be afraid of what your audience’s response will be. “Your average person doesn’t invest the time to really look at art, so you have to have a bit of a tough skin,” he says. In his opinion, artists should use those setbacks as setups for something better, using them as the source for the drive to keep going.
Hold onto your dreams, even if they don’t immediately materialize.
“As a kid growing up, obviously being a huge fan of shoes and always being into that culture, being from Chicago with Jordan culture as prominent as it is and was, I always wanted this,” Brantley says. “The world needs creatives, so I’m going to throw my hat in the ring to be one of them.”
Images: Instagram, Ephraim Johnson