Interview by Wies Kuijpers

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes of one of the coolest sneaker collaborations? We had the pleasure of talking with Jason Faustino from Saucony to explain how to collaborate correctly! Jason Faustino works for Saucony, a sneaker brand that has been around for decades. Collaboration between the coolest brands and the hottest names has become increasingly common. However, I talked with Jason about the importance of DE&I during this process. We discussed how collaboration is the perfect opportunity to showcase young, new, and unique stories—creating opportunities for artists of all backgrounds to share their stories through a big platform like Saucony. 

WK What influenced you to start DE&I initiatives within the company Saucony?

JF It is part of who I am. It has always been part of my life. I never knew I could help a brand regarding this subject. After about a year of working for the company, I started to speak up more, eventually finding strength in it. The people working at Saucony already were good people. They just needed help from someone who was more comfortable talking about the experiences of black, white, and LGBTQI+ people. My efforts started to be mirrored in the company, and eventually, people became more and more comfortable. Ultimately, it is the most important thing when our efforts regarding DI&E show through in all of our work. 

WK How do these values directly translate into the sneakers we see?

JF hhmmm, I am unsure if what I do translates directly into the sneakers. It is more imaginary than that. It translates more into the way we work, our company culture. Together with the people my colleagues, we connect and talk about diversity, equity and inclusion. Moreover, Implementing my values into my work is done together with my collaborative partners. This is where our values shine through in our products. Part of my collaboration strategy is partnering with people/companies who would not necessarily get the opportunity. We work with people with unique stories to tell, allowing them to share their stories through our platform and giving them the space to express their identity via a story through sneakers and fashion. 

WK You are in charge of the global collaborations agreements, product alignment and launch plans. How do you communicate these DE&I values to your customers?

JF At the end of the day, not everyone will care about the background story of a certain sneaker. Sometimes people just buy because they see some eye candy. But if someone picks a pair of Saucony trainers from a sea of rival brands, it’s because of what we stand for. I believe Saucony has always been pretty consistent with its messaging. So, when someone comes to a store to buy sneakers, they already know what they are buying. 

WK How do you bring these values into your day-to-day work?

JF When working on a collaboration, I give our partner complete reign and creative freedom. They can do and tell any story within the limits of sneaker-making possibilities. Some things are impossible; sadly, we can’t recreate flying shoes. But we will try our best to accurately tell their story through the shoes. Then comes marketing, which is my favourite part. Seeing how they share the final product with the audience is magical. While working on the marketing, I help them by reminding them of their original ideas, the origin of their final choices, and how we can tell and explain their story through a well-rounded experience. Not just the shoe but the marketing too. 

WK When working on collaborations, what do you look for regarding the values we are discussing to ensure it is a successful partnership?

JF It’s like dating. Sometimes they reach out, and sometimes, we reach out. There must be some chemistry for the collaboration to work when working together. This does not mean it will never work to succeed, especially within this industry. Everything is an ongoing conversation. The last important factor to me is that they need to appreciate Saucony’s heritage. 

When a collaboration proposal comes from us, we start by scouting and relationship-building. Then we discuss what type of shoe the partner wants to work with. The partner can choose one from current collections or archival designs. More often than not, brands already have a vague idea corresponding to the story they want to tell. After the selection comes to the shoe design process, we do this hand in hand with our in-house design team. My favourite part is witnessing their faces light up when they see their design come to life. All the way to the end discussion of the marketing roll-out, working closely with the sales team. This last part is where the entire process comes together, and the product becomes an experience.

WK Saucony is a heritage sneaker company that has seen and felt the industry’s changes. How do you think these initiatives and working methods have changed the brand Saucony? 

JF The biggest thing I have seen and felt is that we have started talking about it. DE&I has been a significant issue in our culture, but I believe that will change if people see that we are all simply trying to work together. I see it happening in the small things. For example, instead of sitting across from each other, I want to sit next to you and work with you. Ultimately, we are working with “just” sneakers as a physical product. The sneaker is art; it is an expression of feelings and experiences. That is far better than forcing values down your customers’ throats. The key thing for moving forward with DE&I is integrating it into the culture, not only executing it on the sidelines.