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Luxury sneaker brand Koio uses teen's 'ode to Chicago' poem to create summer's hottest kicks

By David Syrek, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Fashion Daily News

CHICAGO - Luxury sneaker brand Koio has teamed up with Young Chicago Authors and Taisaun Levi, the 2019 Indy winner of the city's premier spoken-word contest, to create a special edition of the classic Capri Triple White sneaker digitally printed with Levi's poem.

The project began last year when Levi was a student at Chicago's Crane Medical Preparatory High School and participated in the YCA's Louder Than A Bomb contest. Levi, 19, now in her second year at Columbia College, explained that, "The poem is not only an ode to Chicago and an ode to my neighborhood, it's also an ode to all these things that people usually see as something negative, but it isn't for me and someone coming from Englewood."

"It's all these things that people see, like, there's all of these people on the bus selling stuff," she said. "That can be really annoying, but no, this is an ode to these people, an ode to the sock man, and to the people who sell oils and do all of these things to make a living for themselves. It's a praise to all of that."

"When we received the original piece of paper with Taisaun Levi's handwritten poem, it was so intensely moving and powerful," said Johannes Quodt, Koio co-founder and co-CEO. "We discussed many different ways to incorporate it onto a shoe without losing its authenticity, and after many prototypes, we decided to print the handwritten poem all over our Capri Triple White sneaker, ripped up to emphasize the creative process of poetry. Our decision to collaborate with Young Chicago Authors was in admiration of the institution's role in enabling and promoting personal growth through creativity among Chicago's youth."

Kevin Coval, Artistic Director at Young Chicago Authors and Louder Than a Bomb co-founder said that LTAB, which is billed as the largest youth poetry festival in the world, tries to deemphasize the competition, but also wants to reward people for their excellence, and that this collaboration made sense. "We usually have an award for the Indy champion - who is competing against maybe 900 other young writers from the Chicagoland area. But I don't know if it's been anything as cool as the shoe collaboration," he said.

"What I like about Taisaun's work in general, and the poem specifically, is that she isn't afraid to tell her truth," Coval said. "She does it in a way that I think is relatable, but it's also very powerful. Her attention to detail is really brilliant and on point, and her ability to craft and tell her story is, I think, extremely noteworthy.

"I think that one of the cool things is that the collaboration is also indicative of Taisaun's vision for the shoe and the collaboration with Koio. She basically acted as a creative consultant to producing a high-end sneaker. To have the shoe is great, but that experience of creative direction is invaluable," he said.

 

Speaking on the process and cost of the pricey kicks, which retail for $250, Levi said that she didn't think it would take so much effort to release just one shoe, and that the behind the scenes process was very intense and intriguing. "You have to consider every single aspect of releasing the shoe, how the show will look, who's buying the shoe, and what are we doing for people within the community," she said.

"The type of shoe that Koio makes is very expensive, so it was very important for me to get discounts for those who are in my community, because we simply can't afford it - well, even if we can - it's still very expensive," she said of the discount code she got for a limited number of shoes. "I was like 'OK, we need to figure out a discount code or something because this is way too much to be paying for a shoe - especially considering everything going on right now - and the money can go elsewhere.' That was just good to think about."

One hundred percent of the proceeds of the sale of the shoes are going to three organizations. Levi chose GoodKidsMadCity, the Chicago anti-violence group led by Black and brown youth from the South and West sides, Black Lives Matter and Young Chicago Authors, which is splitting its third with Levi.

Each pair of the Koio Capri Triple White YCA shoes comes with a print of Taisaun's original poem and is available at koio.co.

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