And to wrap up our Portland interviews, we were lucky enough to meet and spend an afternoon with Ian Williams, the owner of Deadstock coffee, a sneaker-themed coffee shop that brings together the local community. This interview was particularly cool because not only is he also called Ian, but he’s also one of the biggest Allen Iverson fans out there.
Ian has an inspiring story – he started his career at Nike as a janitor and after 3 years of hard work, he landed the job as a footwear developer. Having outgrown what he wanted to do in that space, he realized that what he liked was the community and in 2014 he left Nike to open a coffee shop. He wanted to create a space for people working in the sneaker industry to come together and that’s how Deadstock Coffee was born. He later opened Concourse Coffee as well, themed around his other passion, basketball.
Choosing a pair of sneakers for his interview was easy – according to him “this is Ian as a shoe”. It has a little bit of everything he likes: coffee, his favorite silhouette with gum outsoles, and his favorite player, Allen Iverson. And to make one of his Questions ‘Mocha Toe’ even more special, it was only right he dipped and dyed them in his own coffee.
At the time of our trip, Ian was still one of the owners of the Concourse, where we did his interview. Today he’s the owner of just Deadstock Coffee.
“My name is Ian Williams, I’m the owner of Deadstock Coffee and Concourse Coffee – where we currently are. I’ve been doing coffee since 2014-2015. I left Nike in 2014 to start a coffee shop and then opened in 2015.”
At Nike, I was a footwear developer, which it’s kind of like an engineer. I worked on performance products below $100 for basketball, training, running and tennis. We did all the cheap shoes, the stuff that was inspired by the Kobes, inspired by the signature lines. It didn’t have any logos but it might have the same design language.
And in my job, I worked with the factories to get those shoes made. So like, you have a marketing person who goes out and says “we need this”. The designer draws it and says, “Is this what you want?” Then they hand it off to me, the developer, and I would work with the factory to actually get it made. So it’s like the connection between the brand and the factory.”
And how did you become a shoe developer?
ian Before I became a developer I was actually a janitor, like a custodian at Nike and I actually knew the guys who worked in that job. While I was working as a custodian, I had the opportunity to make a shoe. They came out in 2009, they’re called the ‘Wet Floor’ Dunks and it’s inspired by the bucket. So this is the picture we hoped would be the cover, it’s me with the mop and the bucket. But that’s what this article from Barista Magazine is about.
And how did you transition from being a custodian to a developer?
ian I just kept asking for opportunities like “Can I help you clean the storage closet? Can I help with your next event?” And I helped put together some marketing ideas. From cleaning, I got to meet people who worked in specific jobs, so I would just ask them what I could do to help. People recognized that I really wanted to do that as a job, so they eventually passed me that opportunity. I was very, very thankful, and then I just learned on the job. Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.
“I just kept asking for opportunities like “can I help you clean the storage closet? Can I help with your next event?” And I helped put together some marketing ideas. From cleaning, I got to meet people who worked in specific jobs, so I would just ask them what I could do to help. People recognized that I really wanted to do that as a job, so they eventually passed me that opportunity.”
How was your experience working at Nike?
ian You know, I’m definitely thankful for the experience that I had when I was working there. But for me, I just outgrew what I wanted to do there. I worked very hard to get to that position. I mean, to be honest, it took me three years of being a janitor – it wasn’t like I got the job and then six months later I was a developer. I was doing it for a very long time. So it took a while.
I had that job for five years but during that time, I just realized that what I wanted was community. I didn’t care so much about the job, I just wanted to be in the community. So that’s where the idea for doing a coffee shop came from.
Coffee shops are where people come together. It has nothing really to do with the actual coffee itself, it’s just more about the people being in a community space. Coffee is just how we make money. But then once we started to do coffee, I realized that it was something I could actually do and get better at as well.
“I had that job for five years but during that time, I just realized that what I wanted was community. I didn’t care so much about the job, I just wanted to be in the community. So that’s where the idea for doing a coffee shop came from.”
'Deadstock Coffee' is such a big reference in the sneaker community. How did you come up with the idea of a themed coffee shop for Deadstock and later on, Concourse?
ian The reason for Deadstock was because the sneaker community is so big here in Oregon, in Portland specifically, because Nike, adidas, Under Armour, Mizuno, and Diadora all have offices here. Keen, that does outdoor stuff, Colombia as well. There are so many different agencies and companies like, Li Ning, And1, K1X from Germany had offices here as well.
There are so many footwear companies here and people who work in and around the industry, this is where they live. So I wanted to create a space where people who work in and around the industry could go and not have to talk about work. We all work and do the same thing, so when we go to a place like this, we all have similar interests but that doesn’t mean that we have to talk about that as a job, you know?
So, ‘Deadstock’ means something that’s rare, special, something that you save. So if we opened a bunch of Deadstocks in Portland it would be weird, right? So it should go to places that are special. The next plan was to actually open in Tokyo, we had five pop-ups planned for 2020 during the Olympics. We were going to be out there but then because of COVID we had to change our plan.
Then for Concourse, we had access to a new space and I really wanted to do something cool. I wanted to do another coffee shop but not necessarily themed around sneakers, unless I left Portland. I was thinking of ideas, what the space would look like, and a friend reached out to me and said they had a whole bunch of panels from the actual LA Sparks hardwood basketball court that they were going to throw away, and he asked “how many do you want, like one or two?” and I was like, “20!” Then we drove to LA and picked them up. So now we have these panels up on the wall but the rest is in the warehouse. So it was only right we opened a basketball-themed coffee shop.
“There are so many footwear companies here and people who work in and around the industry, this is where they live. So I wanted to create a space where people who work in and around the industry could go and not have to talk about work.”
So, you and me (also Ian), we're both huge Allen Iverson fans, and before the interview, we were talking about how the first time you really liked a sneaker was because of him. What does he mean to you and how has AI impacted your relationship with sneakers?
ian I was born on the East Coast in a city called Newport News in Virginia, and Iverson is from Hampton, which is right next to where I lived. So his high school was rival with my brother and sister’s high school, and my sister’s friend in high school used to date him at the time. So I watched him play basketball and football when I was a kid. After that, he went to play for Georgetown, which is really close to home, and when he got drafted he went to play for the Sixers in Philadelphia, and my family’s from Philadelphia. I was already a Sixers fan as a kid, so my favorite player goes to go play on my favorite team? That love will never go away. Yeah, my Iverson love is very deep.
A lot of people see Michael Jordan as the best player, the GOAT, or the reason that they played basketball, or whatever. But for me that’s Allen Iverson. I mean, I hated Michael Jordan, because of AI. When he crossed him up as a rookie and everybody was mad about it. Everybody was like “you play Michael Jordan tonight, are you gonna be nervous?” And he was like, “no, I’m a competitor, I love MJ! This is the person who I looked up to, the reason why I play basketball. But because I love Michael Jordan, I also must beat him to get his respect.”
That level of respect to me is how I carry myself in whatever I’m doing to this day. I love the industry of coffee, but because I respect you, I’m always going to be trying to beat somebody. And I expect them to do the same to me. Because of my love for AI, I will always secretly hate Michael Jordan and Kobe because that’s what Allen Iverson wants me to do. To me, the greatest version of respect that I can show you is that I dislike you. But if I see you I’m gonna be like “you’re the one, you’re the reason I do this, now I’m gonna have to punch you in the face” (laughs).
“A lot of people see Michael Jordan as the best player, the GOAT, or the reason that they played basketball, or whatever. But for me that’s Allen Iverson. I mean, I hated Michael Jordan, because of AI.”
How did you first get into sneakers?
ian The city I grew up in is called Newport News, but its nickname is ‘Bad News’. People call it ‘Newport Bad News’ because it’s not a good place. The people who were wearing nice sneakers were drug dealers and stuff like that, and where I grew up, to have nice sneakers really just means you have a lot of money, it’s a status thing.
But for me, I just saw people with nice shoes and that’s what I wanted. We didn’t have a ton of money, but I got one pair of shoes per year. My favorite basketball player had his own shoe, so the first one that I was able to get as a collector’s item was the Reebok Question, and I was 10 years old or something.
I actually got them a long time after they came out, I think the Answer II was out when I finally got Questions. When I was 10 we moved to Oregon, and the thing was, nobody cared about Iverson. I mean now I know why, but back then I didn’t understand that the Nike World headquarters was here, so everyone was wearing Nike or adidas, and nobody wanted anything to do with Iverson. All the Iverson stuff was only sold at one store called Foot Action and all his shoes would just sit in the store.
Foot Action was the “urban” shoe store. So they sold Iverson’s, And1, Lugz (laughs) stuff like that. They did sell Jordans but Footlocker had all the running shoes and all the other stuff. I would actually go to Foot Action, and ask them if I could have their window displays after they were done. They’re all torn up but I have a lot of old display posters, like window graphics.
And do you remember which Questions were the first ones you got?
ian I wanted the blue toes, but I got the red toes. Not the suede ones, the leather ones – red toe, ice blue outsole. In my school, we had to wear uniforms and they didn’t match anything on my uniform at all, but I did not care. This one time I got a concussion and I was passed out sitting in the principal’s office, and his daughter came up and drew on my shoes. I was so out of it that I couldn’t move my foot. She just started drawing on my shoes! That was a bad day (laughs). And of course, it didn’t come out, back then it was like: soap and water. That’s all we knew. If it doesn’t come out with soap and water I don’t know what to do (laughs). Now we got Reshoevn8r, Crep Protect, Jason Markk, all these different shoe cleaning products but back then it was just like soap water, toothbrush, rag, and finger (laughs).
It’s funny because at some point I was buying so many Questions, and just Questions, and once I started working at Nike, I could only wear Nike or Converse. But probably in my last two years of being there I just started buying Questions again and holding on to them. So I would buy one pair here, when AI had his jersey retired I bought the ‘Banners’, I bought the one they did for Halloween, and some random ones. But then I started to reach back, so I got that first Kobe colorway with Packer, I got the SneakersnStuff, all that stuff. Now I think I might be up to 20 pairs of Questions. Mid, lows, I don’t care, either one.
The ones I’m sad I missed out on are the Currency ones with the anodized green, blue toes with the stash pocket, those were fresh. But then I did get the Dipset ones, the Cam’rons with the purple camo, I got Bape Questions. I got a couple of the Ice Cream pairs, the purple one with the dog or Fox or whatever. They’re so good!
“I wanted the blue toes, but I got the red toes. Not the suede ones, the leather ones – red toe, ice blue outsole. In my school, we had to wear uniforms and they didn’t match anything on my uniform at all, but I did not care. This one time I got a concussion and I was passed out sitting in the principal’s office, and his daughter came up and drew on my shoes. I was so out of it that I couldn’t move my foot. She just started drawing on my shoes! That was a bad day”
And why out of all your Questions and sneakers you have, you chose to talk about this Reebok Question Mid 'Mocha Toe' specifically?
ian There’s these famous colorways of the Jordan III ‘Mocha’, the Jordan 1 ‘Mocha’, and then there are all these other new colorways like Jordan ‘Dark Mocha’ 1s, and even this new Jordan ‘Mocha’ III that has the pink in the heel, I don’t understand why – it’s like neapolitan ice cream (laughs). Now everyone is doing coffee dip and all that stuff, but for me, there are a couple of things in sneakers that I will pretty much always go for – reflective and I love gum on the outsole.
So with these you have coffee, my favorite shoe with the gum bottom, and my favorite basketball player. When I first saw these, I was sending messages on Instagram to Reebok. I don’t understand why I don’t have 50 pairs of these yet (laughs). I feel like I’m vocally one of the largest Iverson fans on the internet, why aren’t these in my house yet? I’m just like “you should just bless me with these” (laughs). When I saw these, I thought “This is Ian as a shoe” (laughs).
“So with these you have coffee, my favorite shoe with the gum bottom, and my favorite basketball player. When I first saw these, I was sending messages on Instagram to Reebok. I don’t understand why I don’t have 50 pairs of these yet (laughs). I feel like I’m vocally one of the largest Iverson fans on the internet, why aren’t these in my house yet? I’m just like ‘you should just bless me with these’ (laughs). When I saw these, I thought ‘this is Ian as a shoe’ (laughs).”
Deadstock Coffee just did a shoe in collaboration with adidas. Tell us a little bit about that.
ian Because I’ve worked in footwear for so long I know people who work at all the companies. And fortunately, I had some friends over at adidas, and super long story short, it actually took three years to get this shoe done. They were like “you guys are gonna get a shoe” and I’m like, “okay, when?” and then they were like, “nevermind” (laughs).
I was trying to do a skate shoe because my brother was a skater. My brother is 11 years older than me and he’s been skating since I was a kid and I would be looking at my big brother skateboarding. I wanted to be like him. I think skating is cool, but I suck. I’m the worst, but I always thought it would have been really cool to be able to do a shoe with Nike SB and with adidas skateboarding. But it didn’t work out, which is okay. This was the next idea we had, and they wanted us to do one that was like latte, matcha, lavender. I thought is was kinda dumb (laughs). Why don’t we do something that we will actually enjoy? And this is what we came up with.
It took its inspiration from being a coffee roaster. So the burlap is for the bags in which the coffee is transported in, then the green is for the Grainpro bags, which keep the coffee inside the burlap fresh. Since the coffee bags are screen printed, we had to have the shoes screen printed as well. And actually, on the first sample if you look at it, the print is really thick and we had them make it look more washed out because it doesn’t have to look super good since with real coffee bags, they don’t care, because they’re just going to open the bag and throw it out.
The speckle is because we spill coffee on the shoes, and even the way the tongue is stitched is how coffee bags are closed. We also got the country of origin label inspiration here on the tongue. On the inside, we have ‘coffee should be dope’, which is also written on our wall out front.
We did 150 pairs but to have our logo here in the shoe was a big deal for us. It’s Deadstock x adidas, people need to know that this isn’t a custom shoe, these actually came out. And it’s just cool to be able to have the brand logo on there. We sold them at the coffee shop on Black Friday, and they sold out in an hour and a half. Then we put up two sizes runs online and it sold out in 20 seconds. We had around 1.500 people trying to buy them in the first minute. It was pretty cool!
Reebok Question Mid ‘Mocha Toe’
Owner: Ian Williams