This April: A Two-Week Residency At Neiman Marcus, The Launch Of Bungee University And A VH1 Special
by Melissa Jacobs
Darrell Alston gazes out the airplane’s window, a green hoodie shielding part of his face. It’s a sunny day in February and Philadelphia sparkles as the plane rises above it. But Alston isn’t seeing that city.
He’s seeing Dallas. That’s where Alston is meeting with the head shoe buyer of Neiman Marcus, the luxury retailer. Alston packed 50 pounds of sneakers and one goal: to make a deal with Neiman Marcus.
Bungee Obleceni is already a success. In 2021, Darrell Alston became the first Philadelphia designer to have a sneaker launch in Foot Locker. In 2022, Bungee set a sales record with its trunk show at Neiman Marcus in King of Prussia. “Being at Neiman Marcus was a dream come true,” Alston said. “To see my sneakers on the shelves was an amazing experience for me, my team and the Bungee community.”
That trunk show was only four hours. Now, Alston wants another shot at getting Bungee in front of Neiman Marcus customers and showing them his 2023 sneakers. To do that, Alston needs the green light from the head buyer.
Alston isn’t going to Dallas because the buyer said yes. He’s going because the buyer said no. Despite the sales record, the buyer didn’t think the sneakers were a good fit for Neiman Marcus. In a polite but thorough email, he listed 10 reasons why Bungee isn’t right for Neiman Marcus.
He did, however, agree to a quick meeting. That meeting is what Alston plays out in his mind as he sits on the plane, silently looking out the window. This isn’t the high voltage, tongue-wagging version of Alston that people see at events, on magazine covers and on social media. This is the quiet, contemplative side of Alston, the one who prefers to be alone when he designs and finds his flow on the other side of solitude.
In fact, low key Alston fuels superstar Alston. They coexist in synchronicity, as they do for many CEOs and creative types. But in Alston’s case, many people think that he is all flash-and-glam. They discount his business acumen and his work ethic. Maybe that’s because he’s Black, because he was incarcerated, or both.
Whatever the situation, most of Alston’s business meetings are with people who already know the worst thing about him. Alston has always been honest about being his past. He was incarcerated for more than a decade for selling drugs. It was while he was in prison that he started sketching sneakers and created the business plan for Bungee. That part of Alston’s life will be featured in a VH1 “True Crime” special airing in April 2023.
For a brand that was born in a jail cell and launched during a pandemic, Bungee Obleceni has achieved remarkable things. National department stores want to carry Bungee’s sneakers, and the company is almost sold out of its current inventory. Alston’s shoes and clothing have been worn by DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ludacris, Keenan Thompson and other celebrities.
While Alston is appreciative of that love, he cares equally about the people who come to Bungee’s events and spend their money on the sneakers and apparel he designs. If Alston had his way, he wouldn’t just pose for pictures at events. “I want to interact with customers, helping them find the right Bungee sneaker in the right size,” he said. “And then take a picture.”
This is no small point with Alston. In fact, the success of the sales records at Neiman Marcus and the COVID-restricted Foot Locker launch are tinged with Alston’s disappointment that he didn’t get to spend quality time with people who came to show their support, many of them from his hometown of Paoli and the surrounding area. “These are people who have been with me for a long time – or they are new Bungee customers, in which case, I want to meet them,” Alston said.
Alston has been able to interact with students during the lectures he’s given at local high schools, the University of Pennsylvania and at Penn State, where he was the entrepreneur-in-residence for the fall 2022 semester. He also conducts workshops for people who are still incarcerated but working on their business plans.
On the plane, Alston looks away from the window to say, once again, that he doesn’t want to repeat the photography-centric events that Bungee had in the past. “I don’t know how or when, but I want to spend time with our customers,” he says. “I’m going speak that into existence.”
And he does. The meeting with the Neiman Marcus buyer goes perfectly. He loves the 2023 shoes, praising their quality and design. What could have been a 15-minute meeting turns into one hour, after which the buyer is so impressed that he poses for photos with Alston and compares him to national designers.
Two weeks later, Alston gets a phone call with amazing news. Bungee will have a two-week sales event at Neiman Marcus in King of Prussia from April 6 – 16. Instead of just posing for photos, customers can schedule VIP styling appointments with Alston. They’ll be taken to a private room inside Neiman Marcus where Alston can help them with their sneaker choices.
Right after that, on April 19, Alston launches Bungee University, a series of Zoom classes in which he’ll teach people how to design and sell sneakers and apparel. “When I started sharing my story on social media, I got a lot of questions from people who also want to start their own brands,” Alston said. “So, I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the sneaker and apparel business.”
Because at its heart, Bungee isn’t just about selling sneakers. Bungee’s mission is to inspire, educate and confirm the belief that, with hard work and dedication, people who are sitting in dorm rooms, jail cells or office cubicles can, in fact, make their entrepreneurial dreams come true.
Want more stories about style in our region? Read The Insider’s Guide To Consignment Stores, Skirt Boutique, and the new Terrain.
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[…] to read other fashion-focused stories? Read about hat maker Zoya Egan, sneaker designer Darrell Alston, and the best consignment stores in our […]
[…] Want to read other style stories? Read about milliners Tiffany Arey and Zoya Egan, and Paoli sneaker designer Darrell Alston. […]