Fifty years have passed since the birth of hip-hop, that mesmerizing fusion of poetry, beats, and soul that first sprouted its roots in the Bronx, New York. Since its inception, the genre has grown like wildfire, igniting the imaginations of a generation and transcending barriers with its raw, unapologetic voice. And just as the soundscape of hip-hop evolved, there emerged a companion, a footwear legend that etched its mark into the very essence of the movement: Timberland boots.
Like a pair of perfectly crafted rhymes, Timberland boots have marched alongside hip-hop’s rise to prominence. With their rugged durability and undeniable style, these iconic boots, introduced in 1973, have become synonymous with the hip-hop movement, adorning the feet of pioneers, trendsetters, and artists alike. From the bustling streets of Brooklyn to the star-studded stages of Los Angeles, Timberland has stamped its authority on urban fashion, seamlessly blending form and function with an unmistakable swagger.
Both hip-hop and Timberland celebrate 50 years in the game this year, and for the first time, the legacy footwear brand is formally acknowledging its relationship with the music genre. In honor of this milestone, Timberland released the “Hip-Hop Royalty” boot, designed by Christopher Dixon, entrepreneur and Senior Footwear Designer of Advanced Concepts + Energy at Timberland.
“It’s a new chapter for Timberland,” Dixon told theGrio in an interview. “[The brand has] never really celebrated hip-hop [even though] hip-hop adopted the brand. And I feel privileged to be a Black designer in a space where not many of us get to share those stories in a genuine way.”
“Just thinking about the synergy of the upcoming year, it was like, man, it’s the 50th for [the hip-hop community] and Timberland. It was exciting, but it was also kind of daunting as well, because you know it’s hip-hop, you don’t want to mess it up,” Dixon continued, explaining his thought process when designing the tribute boot. “Like, a 50th doesn’t come around twice.”
In addition to releasing a boot representing the four pillars of hip-hop — MCing, DJing, Breakdancing, and Graffiti, Timberland is honoring the community values embedded in hip-hop culture. Alongside the merchandise, the legacy shoe brand partnered with Dixon’s lifestyle brand, CNSTNT:DVLPMNT, to curate creative community initiatives empowering young designers of color. Hosted in various U.S. cities, the Timberland x CNSTNT:DVLPMNT Youth Footwear Design Workshop series invites students in grades six through nine to learn the fundamentals of footwear design directly from Timberland designers while creating their own version of the iconic six-inch work boot.
“I see so many kids that were like me, so you know, it’s almost like giving back to my younger self,” said Dixon. “These quiet kids that don’t really want to talk, but you put pen and paper in front of them, and they’ll give you everything that’s in their heart and mind. And it’s letting them know that you might be doodling in class where you’re not supposed to, but here you can do that all you want to. And as a matter of fact, you can do that as a job and get paid for it if you continue to follow your passion.”
Dixon’s relationship with footwear design began early on, when the young sneakerhead would draw the shoes he admired but couldn’t afford. Years later, while pursuing a degree in graphic design, Dixon discovered footwear design as a career path and eventually joined the Pensole Footwear Design Academy (part of Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design) – a hands-on program for aspiring designers in the product creation industry. Recalling how that experience catapulted him toward his eventual career, Dixon couldn’t help but wonder what life would have been like if he had discovered the possibility of a footwear design career sooner.
“I made it to my goal, but just thinking about my younger self like, ‘OK, if I would have had this information earlier, I probably [would’ve] had a smoother path to get to where I want to be,’ he noted. “That idea just made me figure out that I want to make products, but I also want to have purpose.”
According to a 2022 study, only 3% of designers in the industry identify as Black, compared to the 70% their white counterparts occupy. With this in mind, Dixon and other Black footwear designers are intentional about pouring into the generations aspiring to follow in their footsteps. Founded by Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, former footwear design director for the Jordan brand and Nike, Pensole is billed as “the pipeline HBCU for career education and professional development in the product creation industry.” DiverCity x DESIGN, a program within Pensole Academy, works to bridge the industry’s racial wealth gap by providing designers of color the opportunities to receive state-of-the-art training from some of the footwear industry’s leaders like Timberland, Vans, and more.
Just as Edwards mentored Dixon in the early stages of his career, Dixon works to mentor and support succeeding Pensole designers. For instance, Gaganjit Singh and Jesus Mendez, two DiverCity x DESIGN program alumni, each received guidance from Dixon during their rotations with Timberland and have since moved on to work with the brand full-time. Singh, one of Dixon’s mentees, understands the responsibilities of being a Pensole alum.
“It just motivates me,” said Singh when asked about the lack of diversity in the industry. “And I’m sure it motivates [other DiverCity x DESIGN alumni] to do our part to reach out to others and try to help you know that’s something that Chris and D’Wayne really preached. They said, ‘Reach one, teach one.’ ”
This mantra resonates deeply as both hip-hop and Timberland continue to reach and teach new generations. Reflecting on Timberland’s 50th-anniversary milestone, Dixon describes its significance as a celebration of the past, present, and future.
“It’s like a trinity, so to speak, where you think about the past, the present, and the future, and how we can we can celebrate all three at the same time,” said Dixon. “Just paying homage to the past and being present with the designs we’re making for the future. And then, there’s really thinking about the future with the youth, giving them the torch to move it forward, and giving them a platform to share what they think is the future.”
Fifty years later, Timberland boots continue to mirror the very essence of hip-hop culture. And just as hip-hop continuously reinvents itself, pushing boundaries and challenging norms, so does Timberland, remaining at the forefront of style and adapting to an ever-evolving landscape while staying true to its heritage.
Haniyah Philogene is a multimedia storyteller and Lifestyle reporter covering all things culture. With a passion for digital media, she goes above and beyond to find new ways to tell and share stories.
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