STARBURY | JOIN THE MOVEMENT words_Nick DePaula images_Kerstin Carter (As published in Issue 20 : Rob & Big - October , 2007)
In an age where steroids, dog-fighting and gambling scandals are all the rage, it's not too often you hear stories these days describing athletes with the terms "generous", "considerate" and "selfless." But, Stephon Marbury is just that - a man on a mission to help. Once labeled by all as greedy, selfish, ill-tempered and a perennial loser, Marbury has matured not only on the court this past year, with promises of the playoffs next season, but also off the court by defining his path as a giving philanthropist. The Starbury Collection now features 10 footwear styles as well as a broad-ranging athletic and casual apparel line. Not only is this line sold exclusively at Steve & Barry's stores, but it is also going a long way in offering affordable shoes that people can buy and still have money left over for the week's groceries. In 2007, with the sneaker industry ever-blossoming, it seems almost ill-fated to promote such a thrifty line of sneakers. As teens and young adults are increasingly image-conscious, and sneakers across the board are valued by measures of their price and exclusivity, just how could Starbury find any success? For all of 2006, the National Footwear Top Sellers Report conveyed that the price of the top 20 sneakers bought was at an average of $120.64. The discrepancy in consumer taste is easily identifiable, and as 19 of the top 20 fell under the Jordan umbrella, Starbury has surprisingly received an overwhelmingly positive welcome. As Marbury boldly proclaims, his footwear line is the "same exact kicks that you rock when you're wearing Jordans or you're wearing Iversons." At a fraction of the retail price, just how can they still be comparable? The answer is quite simple - they're not. But, the brand's designers, a firm called Rocket Fish (comprised of former Nike and PUMA designers) did count on tried and true cues for basketball, like the synthetic leather upper, efficient flex points, mesh inner sleeve, heel cushion insert and herringbone-patterned outsole. With a calculated set of proven design elements, the Starbury I and II could aspire to perform on court while possessing the familiar and similar traits of other higher-priced brands. Take into account the distribution dollars and advertising money saved by only making the shoes available at Steve & Barry's, and here we arrive at the most generous price of $14.98. Don't kid yourself, however. There isn't remotely the same attention to detail or quality in place as is found in the latest $100 and up batch, including the Iverson Answer XI, Zoom Kobe II, Zoom Lebron V, or the highly-anticipated Air Jordan XX3, and not even close to the $80 And1 Smooth, but I will quickly commend the Starbury Collection for making a shoe that is very on par with any athletic shoe from the $50-$60 range. If you take a close look at any modestly priced sneaker available today, Starbury shoes can certainly be favorably compared to equivalently graded leathers, cushioning setups and build quality from competing brands. Most importantly, Marbury doesn't personally demand any astronomical up-front endorsement fee of note, but rather a modest fraction of each sale, as he'll be quick to point out, while dropping a few other superstar's names into the conversation who are known to do differently. Since the brand's inception, Marbury has earned a few million dollars through sales and revenues, and by combining profits he also earned from a series of children's books, he is donating practically every last penny right back into the city he calls home. In a series of $1 million donations, Marbury has benefited the New York Police Department, the New York Fire Department, New York City teachers and emergency medical technicians. He also donated over 3,000 pairs of Starbury shoes to varsity basketball players from the 175 high schools that make up the Public School Athletic League, the league Marbury played in not too long ago as a youngster. Since Marbury, who bought tailored suits for rookie teammates when the NBA imposed its much-debated dress code, is also the man responsible for the largest donation to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, it's truly impossible to dislike his history of kindness. Within the first ten minutes I spent visiting the Starbury website, the continually-updated counter at the bottom right tallied up another 25 pairs sold, bringing the grand total, at the time, to 2,111,365 pairs. The Starbury Collection's premier was just last September. So, is this where our industry is headed - cheap shoes that work? Or, are these shoes just that - cheap? I gladly put both the Starbury I and II to test on-court, and while they perhaps don't live up to Steph's claims that they're the "same exact kicks" as our industry's most storied sneaker lines, I was pleasantly surprised with all that is to be found in a $15 sneaker.
STARBURY I | WORTHY EFFORT In the inaugural debut of the Starbury's as-of-yet short lineage, the Starbury I aimed to tackle the biggest of corporate giants in the footwear world. Marbury also hoped to silence early critics of his sneakers by wearing the same exact kicks in NBA games for a full 82-game season. Hampered by a heel injury during the pre-season, he sternly guaranteed the shoe was not a factor. While it does mean a ton that Marbury actually plays in his namesake sneaker, it's also worth pointing out that like most NBA players, he wears a brand new pair every game. For the everyday consumer, can you really get a full season's worth out of your $15, and how does this bargain buy truly compare? The upper of the Starbury contains all of the essentials needed for a basketball shoe, almost in bullet-point fashion. Synthetic leather upper? Check. Flex point insets? Check. Mesh inner sleeve tongue? Ghilley Lacing? Check and check. Though the simplicity in design from the Rocket Fish firm is surely calculated to a tee, it hasn't gone unnoticed. In December of 2006, the New Hampshire Business Resource Center named Portsmouth-based Rocket Fish as its Innovation Rocks! award winner for leading design. "This is a quality and socially-responsible product," said NHBRC Director Roy Duddy during the award ceremony. TJ Gray and Ashley Brown are the duo responsible for making up the design firm, and the two combine for over 22 years of footwear experience at both Nike and PUMA. The firm also designed the simple and unique "3" logo, and it's truly impressive how much they were able to cram into such a restrictive price point. The Starbury I's upper has its definite bright spots, such as flexibility, breathability and light weight. With a fairly high cut by today's standards, the Starbury is a bit odd to get used to at first, but the generously-breathable mesh inner-sleeve tongue and well-flexing leather upper make up for lack of cut comfort. The ghilley speed-lacing system is as easy as it gets, but because the tongue is so ultra-thin, you might notice some slight pressure atop your foot when tying the laces tightly. During forward motions, though, the shoe's upper works very well, as the flex points make for a solid heel-to-toe transition. It's on lateral cuts that the Starbury I will cause concern. The upper is so minimalist and basic that on sharp cuts, you'll notice some extra give outward, when you'd hope your foot would remain along the footbed. This is definitely a noteworthy problem if you're an active perimeter player with the intent of constantly attacking the paint, or if you're a frantic defender shouldering the team's liabilities on D. If this is the case, you'll be in need of a more reassuringly supportive sneaker not prone to such give-outs. For the larger players or conservative guards, don't fret too much, but the high-level athletes may want to steer clear based on the lack of lateral support alone.
Along the over-lasted midsole, once again we see all of the basics incorporated into the shoe. Well - most of the basics. Heel cushioning is provided by way of a foam insert, but, not surprisingly, forefoot cushioning is non-existent. I guess I might as well expect Scarlett Johansson to respond to my interview requests (ya know, 'cause she has a sneaker line coming too...) if I expect forefoot cushioning in a $15 shoe. So, I can't complain too much about the lack thereof, considering the price point, and the EVA midsole is very giving in the flex department, so transition is smooth enough for any position or style of play. Even though there certainly isn't as much midfoot support as I'd like to see in a shoe for basketball, as this is a sport in which a player's foot can flex in any inordinate amount of directions and under countless forces and stresses, again, it'd be expecting too much at this price. Cushioning and support are definitely the two categories in which the Starbury fails to live up to its "same exact kicks" claims, though the build quality is somehow actually comparable to our market's retro-laden products. While the midsole and upper may pose some issues in the support category, the outsole is surely can't-miss with its use of herringbone. As dependable as a 1997 Utah Jazz pick & roll, the industry-standard herringbone traction pattern is perfectly sticky on clean courts. Be somewhat weary if your team manager skipped his court sweeping duties for the day, as you'll have to swipe a bit more often at the outsole to preserve traction, but overall, the herringbone gets the job done. On the White/Royal/Orange colorway I played in, the royal blue outsole perimeter is coated on, and you will notice the paint wearing quickly, but who really cares about the outsole, as performance is not affected one bit. It shouldn't be any mystery, by now, that it's overly ambitious of Marbury to honestly believe his shoe is the same thing as the $100 sneakers that dominate the market, but it surely is comparable to those three and four times its price. The Starbury I is an admittedly marginal shoe. There's strong concerns of lacking midfoot support, forefoot cushioning, and lateral support on harsh movements, but those same concerns often mire the $50-$60 echelon of lower-tier hoop shoes, too. So, if you're leaning towards a value purchase for your pick-up game needs, then the Starbury I is indeed the way to go. It's light, flexible, and provides sufficient heel cushioning and traction. But, I'd have to recommend the Starbury II in a head-to-head battle, which conveniently leads me to my next review... Who's Wearing It? Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks) STARBURY II | GETTING THERE We've seen quite a few alarmingly solid updates in the sneaker industry this year, and the Starbury II is no different. We were left wondering just how in the world Marbury was able to offer so much for the oh-so-little price of $14.98 in the Starbury I, and now his overly-commended movement takes a leap even further, by reworking his budget-level sneaker with all of the right upgrades, for not a penny more. In keeping with the same over-lasted construction, the Starbury II features more panels, more dependable traction, and more durability than its predecessor, and I'm not kidding, these shoes are still just $15. If I was working a retail job instead of playing basketball during my normal 2-hour session, my wages could've paid for the shoes - it's just crazy to even think about. Though I can't say enough about how impressive this whole "movement" has been, I was certainly left hoping for a little more from the Starbury I on-court. In the Starbury II, you'll quickly notice the more detailed design, as the I was indeed on the dull and safe side. While aesthetically the patterning is perhaps more enticing, the Starbury II is better appreciated on the court as the improved and reinforced upper is tremendously more supportive on sharp lateral movements and jab steps. The added panels along the upper, coupled with a more pronounced lateral outrigger, allow for enhanced protection against give-outs and outward rolls. The most obvious change from I to II was also the lowered height of the shoe, as the heel counter is firm enough to lock down your foot during play without the need for a restrictive cut. The shoe also features a very stable heel base, allowing for the lower cut. The same thought process is carried over with the breathable mesh inner sleeve tongue and ghilley lacing, and once again, the upper is nicely flexible and transitions well. While the upper received the most cosmetic augmentation, the midsole and outsole underwent a more modest enhancement. Another area of great concern on the Starbury I was midfoot support, and with the II, we've been treated to a much more beefy midfoot shank plate. The added support underfoot is definitely noticeable, as there's perceptibly something there, whereas the I offers dangerously little. The outsole's traction has also received a facelift, as the rubber is stickier for hardwood court use, and doesn't collect dust as easily as the I did on suspect playing surfaces. These were some great adjustments from the Rocket Fish design duo, and while we'll perhaps never see substantial forefoot cushioning, the Starbury II is immensely superior, coming out in less than a year's time from the launch of the first Starbury. As I would come to find out for the second time, the line doesn't quite compare to the market's more advanced and more expensive alternatives, but, there's definitely a consumer out there for whom this shoe will work. For parents tight on money or mothers struggling to raise a crew of young boys, the Starbury II comes into the picture perfectly. If you're a weekend baller, a young kid, a low-maintenance buyer, or simply as broke as Sebastian's jumper, then look into the Starbury II. If you must demand the highest forms of responsive cushioning, midfoot support and season-long dependability, then sure, you'll want to stick to sneakers at or above the $100 retail range. But, if you are a bargain shopper used to forking out $40-$60 for an all-purpose tennis shoe or an efficiency-level basketball shoe, then you should absolutely consider the Starbury as your next sneaker selection. I'm far too young to have children of my own, but under the ridiculous circumstance that I was responsible for a nine year-old mini Hypebeast Nick, I wouldn't think twice about buying a pair of Starbury IIs for him. There's a bargain movement underway that cannot be commended enough, and with the chance to outfit a kid in shoes, shorts, shirt, and hoody all for the price of an equivalent sneaker in the $60 range, it's simply bad shopping not to buy into the Starbury craze. According to the Cone 2006 Millennial Cause Study, conducted by Cone Inc., 69% of people surveyed "consider a company's social/environmental commitment when deciding where to shop." Millennials make up those born in the years 1979-2001, and also make up the trend-setting target consumer that most athletic brands are after. While quality is perhaps not equal to other competing brands, this growing socially-aware demographic may have some true buying power in our industry, should they latch onto the Starbury movement and its $15 sneakers. Who's Wearing It? Stephon Marbury (New York Knicks) Ben Wallace (Chicago Bulls)