As a founder, and the current Creative Director, of Extra Butter, Bernie Gross has been a mainstay of the NYC sneaker scene for decades. Gross has always invested in storytelling, bringing outside influence and inspiration to the projects he creates at the brand. Importing the collective experience from the movie-going experience, the work that Gross has done at the Extra Butter stores has always been about engaging communities and bringing people together around collective passions.
Bimma Williams: What’s the difference between Diversity & Inclusion?
Bernie Gross: Diversity is “what” and Inclusion is “how” to the same question of, how do we create a safe, productive, and welcoming environment. I heard someone say that diversity is up, but inclusion is still down. I think everyone knows that it’s an important thing to consider, but isn’t taking the right steps to ensure it’s both sustainable and not performative.
Why is Diversity & Inclusion important to you?
Diversity is important but it represents how I was raised and how I see people. My particular background growing up with a diverse extended family has made me not necessarily look at demographics but more so the quality of character. I want to be able to foster personal and working relationships with genuinely good people.
Conversely, I also understand that the type of people that come my way or how they get acquainted with me might not be the most fair criteria. So it’s important I go out of my way to find people that otherwise wouldn’t have the means to succeed or chase their dreams and provide them tools outside of what they would normally come across in their own vacuum.
Should we keep social justice topics and sneakers separate?
I think it’s important that social justice topics are integrated into sneakers and fashion because it’s a conduit to be able to engage with kids that might otherwise not be enthused to learn about it on their own.
The youth search for beacons of inspiration and if they see their favorite creative speak upon these themes, and even better – integrate it into their brand messaging – it gives a perspective that these life experiences are what influences the creativity. That’s impactful. We need to make sure that it’s not just about a superficial transaction. Otherwise, it’s just an industry, and not a community, not a culture.
What influences you right now?
I’m just really inspired by how hungry young creators are. The wrong perspective can see that as overwhelming or even intimidating, but I find it motivating. It just makes me want to stay sharp. It’s fascinating to see how trends can be cyclical, seeing a lot of aesthetics from the late ’90s and 2000s and thinking, “Wait, I went through that!” So I think it’s a great opportunity to storytell through my first-hand experiences, but at the same time understand how to remix it so it speaks genuinely to how today’s youth interprets that era.
What’s next for you?
We opened our new Long Island City location last October amidst the pandemic so we really didn’t get to engage the local Queens community the way we wanted to. I’m really looking forward to doing what we do and create impactful in-store experiences and events.
We also have some dope projects coming later this year – adidas, Saucony, Puma, UGG. And we’re already deep into cooking it up for 2022.
Stay tuned for a conversation between Bernie Gross, Bimma Williams, Frank Cooke, and Jazerai Allen-Lord presented by StockX later this month. And look out for more from the Visiting Voices program in the future.