Ocie Collins knows boots. After putting out his first clothing collection and fashion show at just 22 years old, the New York City-based designer migrated to Mexico, where he began concentrating on shoe design. But it wasn’t until Collins started volunteering with CatRock Youth Leadership Academy — a program that focuses on getting underserved teens from the Bronx into nature — that he began to understand the true impact a single pair of boots could have.
Combining his expertise in footwear design, manufacturing and entrepreneurship, Collins recently launched a program called SEND as part of his CatRock Creatives initiative. Social Entrepreneurship Through Nature and Design and offers kids a chance to be involved in every step of the product design process, from conception to marketing. “We’re looking to empower youth to become problem solving creators who look past the status quo,” explains Collins.
We caught up with Collins to talk SEND’s newest initiative: the Ok88 BK CatRock boot, an urban-inspired hiking boot set to give back to the underserved kids who helped create it.
How did you get involved with CatRock Youth Leadership?
While working as the lead tailor for an outdoor brand’s flagship store, I happened to meet Craig Meisner, who runs the CatRock Youth Leadership Academy. This was just as I was stepping into my thirties, and I’d finally found this balance between the time I spent in the city and my time in nature, but something was still missing in my life. It was that part of me that leads others into new experiences and pushes them to be their best — that’s what brings out the best in me. That chance meeting with Craig is when all the pieces fell together in ways I could never have foreseen.
Why is it imperative to get more kids outdoors?
Growing up as biracial kid in Wisconsin, I both figuratively and literally lived in two worlds: On the weekends, I lived on my grandparents’ 200-acre farm and during the week, in Section 8 housing. Most of my friends were from major cities and saw the outdoors as something that just wasn’t for them. The woods were for “other” people. I was always the one leading my friends on adventures and pushing them to try new things outside and, 90-percent of the time, they loved it. That made me realize that in the nature, there are no white sports and no black sports — it’s here to be enjoyed by all of us and if you listen, it can teach us something. Nature’s magic sometimes works best on those who haven’t gotten to experience it yet.
Your background is in design and manufacturing, so how did you end up merging your love of fashion with the outdoors?
On my first big trip with CatRock three years ago, we took 50 kids to Vermont to snowboard and hike for a few days. While getting one of the boys ready for the the final hike of the week, he showed me how his boots were cracking and opening up on their sides. The two of us took some duct tape and got the boots back into working order, but that moment really stuck with me. If this kid has proper footwear, he’d be able to conquer the outdoors, and I had the expertise to develop and manufacture that footwear and to bring the outdoor world more functional and fashionable clothing.
What kind of projects are you working on with your students through the SEND program?
A few weeks ago, we did a indigo dye workshop at the Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator, an offshoot of the PRATT Institute in New York City. One of the main objectives is to show our teens that there are tons of great career options right in our backyard, the fashion capital of the world. The kids took a tour of the amazing facilities there and got to see what a small-scale factory looks like. We had the kids bring in white cotton-based garments that they could decorate using natural indigo dye. The quote that I hear during every class we have is “I thought today was gonna be boring but this was actually really fun!”
Can you tell us a little more about the OK88 BX CatRock boot?
Ok88 stands for “Double Happiness,” the idea being that every time someone buys something someone else receives something. The BX CatRock boot ($188) will be our first Ok88 product, and it seeks to address the fact that underserved kids don’t always have access to outdoor gear. For the first 100 pairs of the BX boot sold, we’ll give a free pair to a teen in our outdoor program. After that, OK88 will donate 50 percent of net profits to supporting and growing outdoor programs that serve underserved teens.
Are the CatRock kids involved in the process?
The teens in the program are also serving as my design and marketing team for the BX boot. They’ve helped design three of the six styles that will be debuted this week. They also did a video presentation discussing their styles in both English and Spanish, which was sent to the design team in Mexico, where the boots are being made.
How can brands or partners get involved with CatRock?
We are looking to help brands tell authentic stories while creating a sustainable revenue stream. Brands and partners can get involved quickly and easily by going old school and donating directly to CatRock Youth Leadership Academy. The new-school option is to create a product or campaign in collaboration with the SEND program. Kids will get to be involved in the process and the brand will help create awareness and revenue for our outdoor programs.
Pre-order the BX Catrock boot at TheOk88.com. Images courtesy of Ocie Collins.