January 11, 2020

Last updated on January 13, 2020

Off the Top | Travis Kelce

Jamie Delaney

Associate Creative Director @ StockX

The charismatic tight end has made a name for himself both on and off the field. StockX went to Kansas City to learn about how it all started.

The charismatic tight end has made a name for himself both on and off the field. StockX went to Kansas City to learn about how it all started.

The screams of a child shatter a moment of silence in our Kansas City studio.

Not just sad or scared screams, blood curdling screams.

Like they’re trapped in between the walls. Like what you would hear in disturbing, R-rated horror movies.

Panic sets in.

Our crew quickly looks at one another with thoughts of who to call, and then Travis Kelce jumps in. 

“Sorry guys, I’ll turn off my alarm.”

Needless to say the Kansas City tight end is cut from a different cloth. From his skills on the field, to his end zone celebrations, to his consistently notable style off the field, he is a boisterous personality in a sport where uniformity reigns supreme. Or at least it did. Travis is following in the footsteps of other personalities like Dion Sanders, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Jared Allen, and Odell Beckham Jr., injecting personality, humor, and life to a sport that has traditionally been blue collar and stoic. Now the NFL walk-in moment and custom cleats are starting to rival the NBA. To get a better understanding of where all this swag came from, we sat down with Travis to talk growing up in Cleveland, Jordans, thrifting, and getting out from under the mask.

**Please note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

StockX: You’re a Midwestern boy at heart and grew up in Cleveland Heights. What’s your first vivid memory of growing up in Cleveland?

Running around the backyard when I was probably four or five years old. My entire family is from Cleveland, Ohio. So we were big Browns fans growing up. My brother and I both had Bernie Cosar gear head to toe, the full get up. I had the Ninja Turtle light up [sneakers] out there, just going to work on my brother. My brother and I playing catch and one-on-one tackle are my first real memories in Cleveland.

I heard the backyard was called the Kelce Sports Complex.

[Laughs] Oh yeah, that was when we moved to Cleveland Heights. When we moved there I played every sport that you could think of. My parents gave me an unbelievable upbringing and they allowed me to be able to play all these different sports: football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, you name it.

I also read that you and Jason had quite the rivalry growing up and there were some dust-ups, to say the least. Any big ones stand out?

There were so many broken windows, broken doors, both from us competing and just being uncontrollable kids. We competed at everything and him being two years older than me, my brother won most of those battles growing up. But when I got a win, it was like life was made at that moment. I always tried to beat him. It didn’t matter what it was or what my disadvantage might have been. I truly feel like that pushed our athletic growth and helped us in becoming professional athletes. For us, it didn’t matter what the game was, it didn’t matter where we were, we were ready. We were ready to compete against each other no matter the circumstances.

You just had that built-in rivalry just being brothers to sharpen your competitive edge.

We had the in-house Ohio State vs. Michigan rivalry where it was just looking at each other like “I want to kill this kid”. (laughs) Now, I love my brother man.

So I take it Jason introduced you to football? Or was it your dad? 

I wasn’t really that into playing the game of football until I got to high school. I was so kinda lost in all the other sports and playing sports with a lot of my good friends from school and from around the city. Like, hockey and baseball were my two favorite sports growing up. And then once I got to high school, it really became basketball and football. Once I realized how much success I could have on the football field, it really just started to turn over for me. I started to get real motivated at becoming better at the game. And that was when I was playing quarterback back in high school. And then when I finally moved to tight end in college, it went up another notch cause it was almost like an entirely new challenge for me. I really got a great understanding of what it meant to be a professional athlete.

What’s the moment when you realized you could take your game to that next level?

I’ve been very fortunate, my father gave me a lot of confidence when I was younger. He would always say, even if it was a bad game or whatever it was, “Everyone’s going to be looking at you and in 10, 15 years and you’re going to be playing professional, whatever you want to be. You just got to keep working, just keep working and everything will come your way.” And sure enough, the guy was right.It was just a matter of time for me to put in the work to become successful.

I also read that he took you to work at the steel mill.

I wasn’t hands on. It was just a walk through the mill to let me know, “You know, at your age, this is what I was doing.” And it was a crazy sight to see. I mean that’s those guys’ livelihoods. Like that’s how they make money to survive out here. And I have so much respect for what my father has done and what the guys do in the mills up there in Cleveland. And it honestly shaped me to be who I am today, to have so much respect for that work and the people around me.

So now you’ve been here in Kansas city, about six years now. How do you feel like you’ve grown or developed not just a football player, but also a resident of the city?

Just being in the community and trying to do better for the people that are in this community that support the Chiefs. I got told at a young age to lend a helping hand when you can. And that’s through my mother, through my father, through my family and the group of families that I grew up around in Cleveland Heights. So it has always been in my mind, giving back to the community, help making sure the kids have somebody to look up to that they see was once in their shoes. Give them hope, give them drive to be whatever it is they want to be in life.

Do you see similarities between Cleveland Heights and Kansas City?

Yeah, a little bit. It’s very similar in terms of the kindness, the love for their sports teams. The manners that you get, the “thank you’s” and the “pleases.” Things like that. That’s where I really kind of feel like home here in Kansas City.

I feel like every sneakerhead remembers that first big pair they got, whether it was saving up allowance or Mom and Dad giving you them at Christmas. What was your first pair?

The Jordan 14 Candy Canes, their original release. I couldn’t even tell you how old I was when they came out, but I know it was in the ’90s. I was playing on a travel basketball team with gold and black shorts. And sure enough I had these white and red Candy Cane 14s on that didn’t go with anything. So me being the creative mind I am, I just threw some black laces in them to just kinda make them a little bit darker, make them look different than everyone else’s.

Did your style start with sneakers? Or was it clothes?

Definitely sneakers. I was growing so fast that whenever it came to sneakers, I tried to be like “Mom, I got to have the right sneaks on the basketball court, but these ones don’t fit anymore.”  That was my outlet to getting new stuff because for everything else I was just getting hand-me-down jackets and shirts and hoodies from my brother. Thankfully my brother didn’t play basketball so I was getting those shoes all new. That was my angle, and then I started to understand how every sneaker has a story to them. And soon it was just like, “Man, I can’t stand the Jordan fours, he hits ‘The Shot’ in those shoes. Cleveland could have had one that year.”

It sounds like you’re a big Jordan guy. What are your top three silhouettes?

I mean the One is undefeated in my mind and then I’m a huge Sixes fan. I love the Six, there’s just a functional way to them. And the last ones I would probably have to go with the Threes. The Threes are classic.

When did sneakers become more than just basketball and more a style statement?

I would say it was the culture of the group of friends that I had. Every conversation we had was about the new sneaker releases. Whether it was the TMacs or the VCs that just re-released, you know, whatever it was. Shoes were always a conversation starter. Some people have video games like Fortnite but for us it was sneakers. It just built from there. I used to stand in the lines outside of Foot Locker in college just to get some, some new retro pair. Now I think more so I’m more about just collecting and having them be able to tell a story. Sneakers, ball caps. I collect vintage snapbacks from the ‘90s.

It’s funny, I feel like with the vintage trend, especially with like the hats and tees for sports, it’s like there’s more of a personal story. Whereas everyone can go grab the latest sneakers.There’s a different challenge in thrifting and finding vintage stuff that you can connect with.

Oh yeah. I feel like it tells a whole different story. You know what I mean? When you can match up the, the All Star 97 Jordans to the Cleveland Cavaliers All Star 97 hat. Like that’s a crazy story right there. Like they didn’t even have All-Star jerseys! That was the first year they just went with their straight jerseys and threw the All Star patch on it. At least the first time since forever ago. Yeah.

Who did you look up to to influence your style?

Personally I feel like I really didn’t get into the style until I got to college and I got a few dollars in my pocket. Like in high school it was all sweatsuits and jumpsuits. Like I don’t even think I owned a pair of jeans. But once I got into college, I saw what vibe was really kind of popular at that point in time. And then I started doing that and then from there it just went everywhere. I used to go on Karmaloop and just go crazy there. 

Since then your style has definitely evolved. It feels like there’s a maturity to it now. Are you inspired by different looks now or different designers?

Honestly, it’s the paycheck. (laughs) I’ll be as honest as I can be right now and just as blatant as I can be. My rookie year I wasn’t able to get like the “high-end fashion” really. I didn’t even have the connect. Like I didn’t even know what stores to go to once I got in the league. I started going to New York. I started going to LA, Miami and just kind of wandering throughout the stores, seeing some price tags. I was like, “Ah, it’s a nice jacket but not for me.” And then, once I was blessed to get a second contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, I was like, “You know what? Yeah, let me get that jacket now.” 

Do you feel like the NFL has been a little slept on in terms of style? Whereas the NBA got so much attention for like the walk-ins and all the outfits guys were wearing, It feels like you’re part of this pioneering crew that’s pushing the envelope of what to expect from NFL players style. 

I think it’s huge for the sport. I think it attracts a whole different audience, because I know people that will literally attach themselves to football or to a certain team or to a certain player just because of their fashion sense or how they dress before games. Like they see it on Instagram or social media, they like it, they follow, and all of a sudden now they’re a Kansas City Chiefs fan or they’re a Los Angeles Rams fan. 

It’s also getting guys out from under the face mask. And that’s the biggest thing when you talk about off the field branding for football, being your own person is about getting out from under the ultimate team sport. 

What’s like a core tenant of your style? Are you always focused on comfort as a bigger guy?

Oh yeah, always comfort. I’m huge on comfort. Like in terms of jeans, I hate stiff jeans, they won’t look right on me. They’ll look real tight on the thigh and then they’ll look real loose on the ankle. So I’m always looking for comfort.

What about the fits where you’re taking a risk? Is that just part of your personality or are you checking yourself with friends?

Oh you always have to call a friend and be like, “Hey, am I out of line for this?” I got two of my best friends that I’ve known since Kindergarten –  ironically enough it’s Harry and Kumar are their names – I’ll FaceTime them and I’ll ask either one of them at the time like, “Yo, is this, you know, what is this? Is this acceptable? Can I be out in public in this?” Of course they will be like, “Oh yeah.” And then I’ll get roasted. (Laughs)

So you ever bricked a fit? 

For sure, for sure. I don’t know if you saw it. There was a TV show I was on, it was a, I don’t even, it was so far back, I don’t even remember the name of it, but there were a few fits on that where I was just like, “Ah, it’s out there forever.” 

Where do you think your style goes from here?

I think everything’s non-stop evolving. I mean the fashion industry changes by the day really. So the more and more that changes, I feel like the more you know, possibilities, uh, there can be out there for you to dress up as whatever you want to dress up as nowadays is dang near Halloween. Every day you can just dress up as whoever you want to be. A different day is a different view.