Timberland Honors Hip-Hop Trailblazers Who Made Blue Collar Boots Cool

Celebrating the consumers who tied the yellow boot to pop culture

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Every brand is tempted to create its own version of Timberland’s new tagline, “This Is Not a Boot.” Whether that lives on a billboard ad or in a brand purpose statement from their CMO, marketers want to convince consumers that purchasing their product represents an ethos that cannot be confined to consumerism.

By connecting the 50th anniversaries of hip-hop and the shoe that has been a fixture of New York City streetwear, Timberland avoids “This Is Not a Boot” coming off as a corporate cliche.

To commemorate five decades since launching the original yellow boot, the brand is paying homage to the communities that brought it into the mainstream while recognizing how the shoe has cropped up in various cultural contexts. The concept is inspired by This Is Not a Pipe, the 1929 painting that encourages its audience to reject literal artistic interpretations.

Specifically, the campaign stands up against the tendency of people and brands with large platforms to steal fashion and pop culture from Black communities, a trend that’s only been magnified by social media, where creators lift dances and beauty routines and market them as their own.

An upcoming Timberland docuseries, also dubbed “This Is Not a Boot,” will recognize diverse product adaptations while acknowledging where all the boot buzz actually began.

And through sending senior footwear designer Chris Dixon leading community design workshops for Black and brown students, sparking social media debate on how to properly tie the shoe and partnering with BIPOC designers to introduce the Royalty boot honoring music history, Timberland shows that popularizing a fashion staple on a global scale should not be a thankless task.

“We’re honoring our history by giving back to the communities that popularized Timberland, while inviting future generations to participate,” said Timberland CMO Drieke Leenknegt. “Personalization is what the consumer wants and what matters to us.” 

Catalyzing customization 

Oved Valadez, co-founder and creative director at creative agency Industry, worked with Timberland to craft its new branding, “Built for the Bold.”

Instead of reserving the title of “bold” for those who are loud and flashy, the campaign stresses how a simple creative concept can foster decades of consumer chatter and cross-cultural interpretations of the same product. 

“While Biggie, Nas and DMX were pushing the way you wear Timberlands in New York, Japanese fashion popularized wearing the boots with perfect symmetry,” said Valadez, who also pointed to blue-collar worker adaptations and the 1980 Milanese fashion movement Paninari that allowed the boots to gain traction in Italy.

“You have these individuals who are pioneers of the boot culture, but you also have the rodeo champion who wore the boot for utility and doesn’t even know who Nas or Biggie are,” he added. “You had all these movements happening at the same time, and they all had their halo effects.”

Timberland, which consumers have nicknamed “Timbs,” “Timbos” and simply “the yellow boot,” acts as a blank canvas for stylistic debate. This month, the brand will encourage social media users to broadcast their lacing methods, custom additions and inscriptions using the hashtag #MyTimbs.

According to Valadez, this discourse bleeds into backstage operations at the brand and agency, which he said underscores the degree to which the brand is embedded in culture. 

“How do you tie them? Do you keep the tag on? Do you keep them clean or do you beat them up?” he said, adding that the team captured the product 17 different ways. “When shooting a side view of the boot, there were many internal arguments, and we are starting that dialogue among creators and on TikTok.”

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