As a small, independent brand, almost all our business is based on personal relationships. As true fans of sneaker culture, we are deeply invested in this retail game. We have strong connections to everyone we work with, and to introduce the people behind the tight circle of global Patta stockists, we decided to include retail partners in our Get Familiar series. This time we're sitting down with Pieter, one of the co-founders of Panthers, read down below what the Brussels based retailer had to say.

How did Panthers start off?

Me and my brother started Panthers in 2011, we’re originally from Ghent but made a conscious decision to start our adventure in Brussels. We had the feeling that our story was better off in the capital, we started out in the space where Locker Room is situated right now, our other store which is more focused on Basketball culture. The Ghent shop opened up in 2013, with the original Brussels store changing locations in 2015, the gap left behind was filled by Locker Room.

You mention Locker Room, an additional Retail Space, what’s the story?

The name says it all, the store looks like a traditional locker room, filled with tiles and featuring actual lockers with player names showing off their specific collections. It ties in with our love for Basketball, Locker room allows us to divide the fashion side of things with our love for sports.

What is your connection with Brussels?

I fell in love with Brussels because of its scope as well as its sub-cultures. There has been a lot of negativity around certain neighborhoods in the media, but I think they add flavor to the city. Brussels is wonderful while being rough around the edges at the same time, resulting in a multi-cultural city with a great taste.
These subcultures are on the rise, the past 3 years the French charts have been dominated by Brussel based artists like Damzo and Hamza. Aside from music the whole city is in an uplift, Brussels is always called ‘little Paris’ which is also actually how the city was originally built. The past few years however Brussels stopped copying the French capital and started developing its own look and feel.

What got you into sneaker culture?

Easy, the Jordan XI, for me it’s the sneaker that embodies it all. Aside from one specific shoe it was Wu-Tang 36 chambers, something I got into right after the Fugees. The confusing part always was me being part of the skate-scene, I was wearing globes but when I looked at Wu-tang covers they weren’t wearing Globes, they were wearing Clarks. This slowly got me into Carhartt, Fubu and all those other brands.

Your Panther logo, how did that come to be?

We’ve always had a strong connection with basketball, the sport is in our DNA. We wanted a logo that would represent us, something comparable to how animals are the main subject in the names and logos of NBA teams. Michael Jordan’s nickname was the Black Cat among friends, which we based Panthers on.

What do you look for in a brand before you add them to your brand mix?

Because of our strong position in the footwear landscape, we have the freedom to experiment once in a while when it comes to our apparel brand mix. We love to carry brands that tell a genuine story, while this sometimes leads to us selling brands that are maybe not the strongest from a commercial point of view, this does lead to an interesting mix of brands.

Aside from the storytelling-aspect, style-wise it has to make sense. This decision is always based on gut feeling and I can’t really put in words how to explain how we make these decisions, it just has to make sense. We do have a strong focus on Japanese brands like Wacko Maria and Neighbourhood. We strongly believe that these Japanese brands have the most interesting and authentic stories to tell, especially compared to certain trends we see here.

How do you end up being able to carry brands like that?

It requires patience and persistence, I flew to Tokyo in the hopes of getting an appointment at Neighbourhood, it was only after 3 years of emails, trips and failed appointments that I got the call that we were allowed to carry the brand.

Talking brands, why did you want to carry Patta?

Why Patta? I think you guys fully understand the culture and perfectly grasp the essence of it. A lot of brands turned corporate over the years and Patta never did, it still embodies the same family feeling, even after 15 years.

What was your first interaction with the brand?

I went to a lot of concerts in Amsterdam, all the rappers and other artists I liked only played there. While attending these I’d always spot loads of people rocking Patta, so many you couldn’t not notice. It sparked my interest and I started going to the shop, which was above Ben-G at the time. Something I remember is going there and there being a vintage section, someone was selling his collection so there was one size only, filled with heat I could immediately feel the passion.
A few years later I went to Presynct-5, they were so ahead of their time, too much you could say. A lot of the brands I love today I discovered there, I admit that I wasn’t ready back then but Presynct 5 is where I discovered them. I remember going there in search of a Stussy x Marvel shirt involving Mr. Cartoon, something not a lot of stores had.

What is the future of Panthers?

Panthers is currently growing rapidly, so much that we need to expand and move to a different space. Even though we’ve almost exceeded our limits I keep on hunting for new brands, because we believe that there are more stories we need to tell.

What’s the vibe like in the store?

Music-wise the staff is in full-control, one day there might be an eclectic mix playing while the other day there is Jazz playing. Aside from music we’ve followed some of the things we’ve seen in Japan, taking inspiration from Neighborhoods retail space for example. In the Locker Room store there’s always NBA tv on the big screen, in both stores there is a tablet showing stock of both spaces.

How did COVID-19 end up affecting your store?

It’s been rough, one staff member came back from a holiday and infected us all two weeks ago, leading to us having to close for a bit. When retail was slowly getting up to speed again after the initial lockdown we were doing great numbers, even outperforming last year. After that initial boom we slowly got in a more downwards curve where people just don’t really go shopping anymore.

If you would have to give one piece of advice for young people trying to set up a brand or open up shop, what would it be?

Have a passion and find a way to capitalize on this, it sounds corny but that’s the way to go.

3 Favorite Patta items : Fish Feet Rayon, Grid Relaxed Tracksuit, Universe Sherpa Denim Jacket