Ethics. As far as brand names go, it’s about as simple as they come. Deceptively so, even – because, in reality, those two syllables are the kind of thing marketing departments dream of. A single word so expressive, conveying so much with so little that multiple focus groups will be assembled in the hope of generating something even half as resonant.
But these branding exercises don’t work. And they don’t work because, when there’s nothing behind the word but data and demographics, there’s nothing to buy into it. Nothing to believe in.
Not so with Ethics. Langston Galloway‘s brand of vegan, planet-friendlier basketball shoes is very much the real deal – the product of a life lived immersed in the sport and an honest, personal philosophy.
Following the success of its first offering and poised now to make its second release, the lgTWO – a low-top basketball shoe with thoughtful touches and technical aspects embedded throughout – FUTUREVVORLD spoke to Galloway, now on break from playing with the Skyhawks throughout the summer and fully committed to working on the brand, about its founding, its future, and everything that word can really mean.
“Around four years ago I was working with another brand, putting something together, but that didn’t work out,” Galloway explains of how the brand first came to be, speaking in warm and open tones through Zoom. “But when I looked at what we had, I realised that this was a good shoe, you know? That this was something.” And so Galloway and his team threw around some ideas, toyed with some names – not looking to create a brand, exactly, but thinking about creating something that spoke to his own values. Among the first, or at least the first to stick, was Ethics Laboratories – a name that spoke to both the philosophical side and to the research element involved in creating performance footwear from sustainable, vegan materials.
But it didn’t stay stuck: Ethics Laboratories was “way, way too long,” too much of a stumbling point for the kind of word-of-mouth base they were hoping to build and, Galloway also suggests, “strayed too much into the territory of other people’s brands,” when shortened to Ethics Labs or similar. But things were moving now – momentum was behind the team and, with his own selection of sneakers amassed providing inspiration, Galloway was flush with too many thoughts and too many ideas to stop.
“So we went back to the drawing board, just started throwing things at the wall, trying to come up with something that made sense. But, in the end, we just kept looking back,” Galloways says. “I kept asking, ‘What is something that resonates with me?’ and it just kept coming back to one idea: ethics.”
“How do we create something that carves out a lane for ourselves and get us noticed, but also how do we create something that is sustainable?”
And so the concept of “ethics” became Ethics the brand. A distilled version of multiple ways of seeing that word: combining Galloway’s personal work ethic in the here and now with the ethics instilled in him from a young age that have carried him through his life so far.
“Ethics are kind of where everything starts. No matter who you are, you’re the product of ethics – your parents, your grandparents, whoever,” Galloway begins, “there’s a foundation put in place when you’re young, by people and through circumstances, that will set you up for life. From there, you build your own. And that’s what Ethics is all about.”
Of course, that’s not all it’s about. Or, at least, there’s another layer to that. Because, also central to the brand, are ethics in terms of how the eventual product would be made – from material construction to chain of supply. “We kind of connected it back to myself with that standpoint as well,” Galloways offers, continuing to pull on a central thread that explains just why the brand seems to be resonating on a level beyond consumer hype.
“I’m vegan. I’ve been vegan for the last six years. And so, basically, the whole point – the founding idea – of this shoe was to answer one question: how do we create something that carves out a lane for ourselves and gets us noticed, but also how do we create something that is sustainable? Something that is environmentally friendly and cruelty-free without sacrificing feel or performance?”
What the Ethics team – which also includes sneaker designer Brett Golliff – landed on, then, was something that didn’t fall victim to the quality pitfalls or impact issues of mass production. A “cut and sew shoe,” as Galloway puts it,” that “brings back the older reminisces of how basketball shoe used to be made – how they used to look and feel.”
“We wanted to capture something special,” Galloway explains, talking initially about the lgONE but in such a way that it could easily apply to the upcoming lgTWO with its vegan leather overlays expertly-crafted to the toe and ankle sections. “We wanted to recreate that nostalgic fee a real shoe has when somebody picks it up and holds it touches it, but also to be mindful that this is a modern shoe designed for the modern game.”
These are not, then, shoes made to just look pretty. Not designed to sit on your shelf. There are countless other sneakers designed with precisely that – precisely nothing – in mind, and both Galloway and Golliff have been clear since day one that “the world doesn’t need another product” for product’s sake.
“We were never going to be about the quantity,” Galloway reiterates, “but more-so about the quality. We don’t have to put out a tonne of shoes, but we need to put out some quality shoes that make sense for the next generation. For the youth going forward.”
“This isn’t about just my story: it’s about the next, the next ones up. We’re the underdog here and we know we’re creating this this line for the next underdog.”
Where the lgONE and lgTWO are concerned, that forethought and focus on quality adds up to a shoe that’s built for durability. But, just as importantly, to a shoe that has a lifecycle beyond the game and beyond landfill. “You’re playing in these shoes. When they’ve had their run, you know it’s not bad for the environment – you don’t have to necessarily just throw it away. You can recycle it, you can do whatever you need to do going forward.”
Even with the lgTWO’s impending release, there’s no sign or suggestion that Ethics will suddenly start pumping out shoes like there’s no tomorrow – in part, obviously, because a core tenet of the brand is making sure that there is one. Even this, only the sophomore sneaker to Ethics’ name, was a hotly-deliberated question; a question answered, in the end, by the industry itself – the lgTWO being the response to particular demand, rather than created without giving a thought to consumer uptake: “The sneaker industry is going for low tops right now; there’s a lot of demand for low-top shoes. We wanted to have something out there, in response to that,” Galloway says, “to make sure that anyone who would choose Ethics, who follows our values and what we’re about, could make that decision.”
It’s an explanation given with total conviction. With honesty. It isn’t, Galloway is clear, about pandering to industry wants at the expense of their own values – the lgTWO is “still comfortable, still sturdy,” still a shoe created to perform. With regard to this, and possible further inroads into the world of basketball’s highest level, Galloway notes the recent coverage the brand received when Kyrie Irving wore the lgONE in training and reveals there are “a tonne of other athletes that are excited about what we have going on.”
But, beyond the NBA – and even beyond basketball to some degree – the lgTWO could also be Ethics’ ticket to the mainstream: with this release, there’s every chance that Ethics could become a brand of sneaker that people simply wear because they want to. Or, at least, a ticket to the semi-mainstream. Galloway knows that, in terms of the volume the brand creates at and the audience that allows Ethics to reach, he isn’t competing with Swooshes or the Three Stripes of this world. That’s another level entirely – and not one that he, or the brand, has any intention of playing at.
With that in mind, though, Galloway is focused on building something more like a community than a consumer base. “I feel like our brand, isn’t for everybody,” Galloway says, expanding on the idea that while Ethics may have mass appeal, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a brand for the masses. “Everybody can’t rock Ethics. Because, you know, not everybody’s gonna believe in the vision and believe in the bond that got us here.”
But some people, a large and growing number of people, do believe in that vision. “The people that are wearing the brand, people who have believed in us and people that continue to move forward with us – this is for them, too. This isn’t about just my story: it’s about the next, the next ones up. We’re the underdog here and we know we’re creating this this line for the next underdog – the person that wakes up every morning at 5am to get moving; the next person that has a story – that just got themselves out the mud and wants to say, ‘I’m here.’ That’s that’s who we are. That’s who we embody.”
All of which is to say that Ethics is and always has been a brand about people.
Whether they’re basketball players – Galloway is very much keen to see his brand become “the next up and coming thing for a lot of different athletes, not just in Louisiana, not just in certain states or even in the United States, but across the world” – or even just kids who love to hoop and who want something more substantial from their sneakers than a logo, all of this is about them. The underdogs of the future. A future that Galloway and the Ethics brand want to be a part of building.
The Ethics lgTWO is released April 19th, available directly (and only) from the brand’s official website – ethicsthebrand.com.