One of the best parts of opening up a retail store is the relationships we get to build. From neighbors who live above the shop to regulars who cruise the neighborhood, our NY shop has afforded us the opportunity to meet so many great people these past 9 months. One of them is Chris Echevarria of NYC-based footwear company Blackstock & Weber. We became familiar with his company a few months back, when Throwing Fits (who we recently worked together with on a pair of fatigue pants) collaborated with them on some exclusive loafers. Chris came by one afternoon last fall and scooped up a pair of sweatpants, and next week he came back and got a second color - and then a third shortly after. Over time, these regular visits allowed us to build a relationship with him and discover his early touchpoint with the brand many years back, when we were still working out of an office behind Self Edge and he was a customer there. We realized that despite not having worked together before, our circle of mutual friends and acquaintances in the downtown NYC fashion scene was greater than we initially thought. It’s always nice meeting someone for the first time that you feel like you should’ve linked with a long time ago.
We reached out to Chris in January of this year to pull some Blackstock & Weber loafers to style out our SS21 lookbook shoot and he graciously lent a few to us which ended up working perfectly with the vibe of the season. We loved how well his shoes flowed with our collection that we talked about the possibility of stocking some of them at our NY store, and are excited to announce that beginning today, Blackstock & Weber tassel loafers are now available at 3sixteen NY. This is the first time Chris’ loafers have had an in-person retail presence and we are excited to put them in front of our customers and friends. If you live in NYC, we encourage you to stop by and check them out and try them on for yourself - we are believers and we think that you will be, too.
As we look forward to a collaboration project that will release later on in the year, we thought it would be great to put together an interview with Chris to talk about his journey towards founding his own footwear brand. He suggested meeting on a sunny Tuesday at City Island in the Bronx, one of his favorite places in NYC. Over Henny Coladas and copious amounts of fried seafood, we chatted with Chris about how he got to where he is today and what his sights are set on for the future.
Introduce yourself for the people, please.
Check. Okay, my name is Chris Echevarria, and I’m the founder and creative director at Blackstock & Weber.
Let's start off with your journey that got you to where you are now.
I've been destined to be in fashion my whole life. And a lot of people say that shit but I was the kid that always wanted to pick out his clothes ever since I was three, four years old. I went to fashion school, to FIT for menswear design. And while I was taking classes I started working at this men's concept shop down in Tribeca called the J. Crew Liquor Store. I started on the sales floor where I developed a relationship with Mickey Drexler – he would come by and ask me about my fits and we got to talk about brands outside of J. Crew that we were feeling. That gave me an in to scout potential brand partnerships for J. Crew that ended up a part of their “In Good Company” offerings. From there I moved into trend forecasting for a bit and then started working in wholesale for what was a little brand back then called Stone Island.
Talk about that for a second, because you were there for the brand's crazy ascent stateside.
So it was me and a bunch of friends, we got put in charge of this brand that had a ton of potential but almost no exposure in the US. We were young and hungry - I was 24 at the time - and my best friend since kindergarten reached out to see if I would be interested in an opportunity at M5 Showroom. I said yes and that ride ended up being pivotal in my life, just because I had never been to LA, I'd never been to Pitti. I've visited Italy, but never in that context. I had never seen what goes on over there two times a year. Experiencing Pitti just sparked this entire thought process of "Yo, this is an entire business." And if you can see all of these people that are running their own shit and creating what they want to create and people would just come and buy it - I wanted to do that.
I was with M5 working on sales for Stone Island for three years, and the growth we saw, the cultural impact the brand would go on to have, it was incredible. It went from just me and my boys wearing Stone Island to seeing it on every street corner in Soho. Opening up two flagship stores. We threw parties everywhere, traveled everywhere. Got to see Travis Scott’s growth up close, that was crazy. But I think the best part of my experience at Stone Island was being able to do this with my friends.
So you left Stone Island in 2016; what came next?
I started a sales agency called Past Present Future. One of my clients was Sanders, a traditional English shoemaker that’s been around for almost 150 years. I was the rep for them stateside – and right away I saw there was this gap: retail stores weren't really treating shoes as if they were a necessary item, it was like an add-on to other things they were buying.
Nobody really fucked with the brown shoe category. Most buyers were like, "Oh, sneakers, sneakers, sneakers” and couldn’t wrap their heads around how to mix dressier things in casually. I wasn't subscribing to the sneakers only shit because in my mind, those two things didn’t live separately. You didn't have to be one person or another. I felt like it was ok to have an appreciation for both of these things and they're not mutually exclusive. With that in mind, I started developing my own footwear collections through Sanders. It started off as Sanders - Past Present Future collaborations. And those did really well.
Were you wholesaling them to stores?
Yeah, I was making the stuff that I thought stores would like to actually buy, and it got to a point where people were buying more Past Present Future Sanders than they were regular in-line Sanders. Once I was seeing that it was working I figured that maybe I should do this on my own, so I went to Sanders and asked if they’d be interested in making shoes for my own line. They were down. That was the jump off point, 2017. That was Blackstock & Weber.
We made everything from Chelseas to Country Boots to Derbies. I pretty much touched every silhouette that you could possibly touch that they had patterns for - just trying to figure out where I wanted to sit. Our first year of selling all of these styles got super confusing to me. It was a one-person business, and I had 23 SKUs in four or five different lasts. That’s when I realized it wasn’t sustainable.
I took a step back, sold all the product that I had and just sat for a second. And was like, "Yo, if I think back on my life, what's the one silhouette that speaks to me?" I thought about the times that I spent going to church with my grandmother, and then I thought about my time in prep school and what I would wear with my uniform. And I realized that I always had a pair of loafers in my closet. So why not just stick with that?" One last, maximum of four styles: if you do bit, penny, tassel and kiltie, if you do all of those, that's what you have. And once somebody knows their size, they know their size.
So the commitment became to make this one shoe style really, really well.
Yeah. So that's what I started to do. And when I pivoted to the loafer, it was not an existing Sanders style; it was something that I developed on my own.
What inspired the last?
So when I left Stone Island, I thought that I was a big shark. So I bought this car, a CLA45 AMG. Beautiful fucking car. It's the car that I watched on YouTube a zillion times and was like, "Yo, if I were to think of myself as a car, it's me." Small, powerful, you know what I'm saying? And it was a very rare car. Anytime I would go into a dealership, they wouldn't have one for me to see. But one day I went into Mercedes-Benz in Manhattan and they had one and I drove it. And right then and there I decided to get it. No thought as to how it would work out on paper, I just got it.
Long story short, it ended up being way too expensive for me. But one thing that I learned from my time with that car is just an appreciation for automotive design. Specifically, proportions. If you look at a baseline CLA or any Mercedes, you won't really notice anything special about it. It's still a Mercedes, still a great car, but it doesn't have that thing that makes you look twice. AMG vehicles have these little subtle differences only a few people will recognize: a designer, or a very discerning person. And a car guy, of course.
So that was the idea, you wanted the loafers to have something that discerning eyes would notice?
Yes. I wanted it to be a very strong statement at the bottom of your pants.
And what did you to the design of the shoe to give it that effect?
I thickened it up like a turkey in August (laughs). So we got a double stacked leather sole. We went with grain leather instead of smooth leather, because it’s eye-catching and nobody does a loafer in grain leather, which I found interesting after doing some research.
I wanted it to be more rugged, you know what I'm saying? I didn't want this shoe to feel soft. I wanted it to feel like, "Yo, this is a loafer that you can wear throughout the city and can't bust it." It's wide, it's very wide - and it feels like an AF1 on your feet. I didn't want it to feel like a Ferragamo loafer or delicate. I wanted it to be something that you could rely on day to day.
And that’s where things popped off. Why do you think it is?
I think it's because I took a step back and I decided to be true to what I wanted to do, as opposed to looking to the market for direction. I was looking for signs through selling a bunch of products trying to get customers to tell me which way to go.
As a good sales rep should do.
As any good sales rep should do. But I wasn’t a sales rep anymore; I needed a point of view. I needed to put on the designer hat and the creative director hat and say, "How can I make this different in a way that hasn't been done before? How can I pair this with different outfits and make it feel like it hasn't felt before? How can I add energy to this category as opposed to just trying to be another within the category? How do I make it different?" And that's when everything popped off. The 76ers collab, the TF collab…
We got a whole bunch of stuff coming out over the next few months. I'll let y’all tell the people about more of that.
2021 - what are your sights set on?
We're going to stay hyper focused with loafers, but we're going to do more stuff: apparel, accessories, things of that nature. The point of view is a repeatable process; I'm just hungry to show the world more of what I like. We're in a good place and we've got a lot of eyes on us. But all of the things that we'll start to roll out will be things that I think that everybody should either know about or have. I don't have an interest in filling your closet with bullshit. I don't have an interest in showing or giving you something that doesn't have a lot of thought behind it.
Looking further though, the biggest thing to me is that I don't want these things to be period pieces. I don’t want people to look back and say, "Oh yeah, remember 2021 when Chris was selling those loafers? Yeah. That was a time." I don't ever want it to be that. I want my customers to look back at these shoes they bought in 2021 and still be excited to wear them at any time.