Converse and Barriers Launch First Collaboration Capsule Honoring Black Heroes

Barriers founder Steven Barter has big goals.

The streetwear fashion designer has created a winning formula for his brand, celebrating and educating the masses through products featuring black history creators like Mansa Musa and Haile Selassie to Angela Davis and Assata Shakur and even Fred Hampton and Jackie Robinson. For Juneteenth, the brand has teamed up with Converse to release a capsule collection that continues to celebrate and share stories and details from the African Diaspora.

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“They were excited about the ideas that we talked about,” Barter said of the collaboration. “Converse is a heritage company that was in everyone’s childhood and I want the same for my brand. I push black history and culture and speak the truth from my point of view.

The capsule is made up of two styles of sneakers and clothing. A sneaker is a brown high top model with a cotton logo and cowries, which were used as currency in African countries and for spiritual practices; the second pair, the classic Chuck Taylor, is dark denim with colorful laces and a Pan-African flag, and the Big Dipper on the sole, a nod to Barter’s belief in stars. Both pairs share the words “wisdom”, “courage” and “vision” on the ankle and heel of the sneakers.

The shoeboxes have a constellation design and a graphic of a young Barter, his sister and brother looking at star designs which also appear on graphic tees and hoodies with the brand’s signature phrase “Live Free Barriers”. Obstacles and exchange are supporting the launch with a short film featuring model and singer Selah Marley, daughter of Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley and granddaughter of Bob Marley, with voiceover by Damon Dash.

“Before the internet, people looked to the stars for answers, [they paid] pay attention to the signs,” Barter said of the use of constellations in the collection. “Slaves used the North Star to sail to freedom, but with Converse, we ask what is your North Star? As a creative, we have to find something we want to achieve. What is the goal that guides you? ?”

Barriers Founder Steven Barter - Credit: Courtesy Photo

Barriers Founder Steven Barter – Credit: Courtesy Photo

Courtesy picture

Barter followed her own North Star on her fashion journey. He started promoting his Barriers brand in 2013, but things started to fall apart in 2015 when he produced a T-shirt featuring characters he considers heroes, like Huey Newton after reading the founder’s book of the Black Panther “Revolutionary Suicide” party. Barter said the T-shirt didn’t sell well back in the day when people weren’t as keen on depicting these characters, but it opened his eyes to the heroes’ journeys past.

When Black Lives Matter protests began around the country in response to the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Barter walked away from the idea because he didn’t want his designs to profit from the movement.

“The movement goes way beyond the money,” Barter explained. “It seemed like it was a trend for people to start taking advantage of these stories, even companies that have never pushed the culture in the past. However, after talking to a mentor, he told me gave great advice and told me I had my own vision and my own path. I realized that I couldn’t let that stop me from getting my message across. I know what my brand stands for and that goes far beyond following a trend. Going forward when you work with these companies, they see it as a black thing and I see it as doing it the right way. I’m grateful [Converse] took the time to do this because a lot of brands don’t try to tell a story like this.

Barter opened up about his journey to where he is today, connecting with rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z who said he wrote his first studio album, “Reasonable Doubt,” his whole life. Barter feels the same way about Barriers, as he too drew on his life experiences to create this art.

Her inspirations come from either her own experiences, such as traveling to countries in Africa or facing racism as a child on Long Island, and the stories of her family and peers, including her aunt, Desiree Barter, who is the principal of the El Hajj Elementary School Malik El Shabazz, who Barter says inspires him to educate the next generation about the people he represents in his clothes.

Prior to Barriers, Barter worked for Nike for six years. He then made the jump to Los Angeles with just $800 to focus on the brand, and lived with photographer and filmmaker Aiden Cullen for a time, and with A$AP Nast and A$AP Bari when deployed by the latter of his Nike x Vlone Air. Force 1 sneakers.

As the brand grew, Barriers held installations in New York, London, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and again in New York in May 2022 where it offered its Women’s Month capsule featuring Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks, a collaboration with the late reggae musician Peter Tosh and a jazz collection with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Also in 2022, Barter hosted a pop-up with the Who Decides War brand run by designer Ev Bravado who he grew up with. “I never thought we would have a collaboration at stores like The Webster,” he said.

The presence of these characters helped establish links with the estates of Jackie Robinson and Public Enemy, among others, who will be working with Barriers on collaborations in the near future. “I want to be part of family trips,” he said. “It’s super meaningful because I speak to the lifelines of these heroes.”

Converse x Barriers - Credit: courtesy photo

Converse x Barriers – Credit: courtesy photo

Courtesy picture

But all of this is Barter’s first chapter. He has big goals for his brand and where he wants to take it, beyond fashion and products.

“Ten years from now, I don’t want to be known just as a fashion brand,” he said. Although he’s been tight-lipped about how he wants to take his self-funded, direct-to-consumer business, Barter said whether it’s through fashion, media, music, books or art exhibitions, the future will include doing even more to celebrate Black Heroes and educate more children about the lives and legacies of these characters – he dreams big and follows his North Star.

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