For our next installment of The New Black History, we sat with Frank Cooke, former member of the NRG team at Jordan Brand and current curator and creative within the sneaker industry.
If you’ve been excited about a release from Jordan Brand in the last few years, chances are that Cooke had something to do with it. As part of the team responsible for the NRG, or “energy,” launches from Jordan Brand, including the Air Jordan 1 “Satin” and high-profile collaborations from the likes of Travis Scott, Aleali May, and Nigel Sylvester, Cooke quickly made a name for himself in the world of sneakers. But it didn’t happen overnight. Learn Frank’s journey through the industry and what black history means to him in the video clip and full interview below.
Please tell us your name, where you're from, and what you do.
Frank Cooke: Franklin Cook, I'm from the Philadelphia area. I'm a curator and creative.
What's your background? Tell us a little bit about your journey and how it got you to where you are today.
FC: I started out at 14 or 15 working at a Footaction—a sales associate, part time gig on the weekends. And it was fun, man. Back then, that was the “boutique.” That was the prime place for people to shop for shoes. I've always collected shoes, and I've always wanted to be in this industry. I went to Clark Atlanta University, got my degree in public relations, which really doesn't have anything to do with my career now...
But during college I worked at Wish Atlanta, and that time was just awesome. Streetwear was fresh, this was like 2006, 2007. The scene is just a new subculture out there, and everybody was loving it. And so after that, after I graduated college, I went out to Nike, and it just wasn't happening. It was 2008 and it was the recession, a lot of jobs were being cut, and they were just trying to figure it out. So I moved back to Atlanta and I joined Wish full-time as a buyer. And at that time, collaborations weren't as big as they are now, but I'm thankful for that time, because I've learned so much and built so many great relationships with great people; people that inspire me. So a lot of those projects kind of molded me for my career at Nike/Jordan.
Without that background and without those great people I've met, I wouldn't have had the chance to be at Nike and Jordan. And it's just such an electric place to be, on campus, because you get to see Tinker (Hatfield) walking around. And these are legends, right? So every day you're inspired by this crazy campus with this crazy product and great people. And it led to something great.
What does black history mean to you?
FC: It's the foundation, you know? It's the foundation of why we do what we do. And it's always good to add to that. I always want to see black youth create the new black heritage. Get their ideas out there. And again, black history, for all the times that our leaders have fought for where we are today and beyond. And I think that foundation of perseverance and going through struggles helped me a lot with my career and how I navigate. If times get hard, you have that to kind of be inspired by it.
And how would you define the new black history?
FC: It's forever evolving, you know? I think that there's so many different factors. So now you have social media, now you have these different outlets and these different platforms. And if something happens in society, we get to see it firsthand in real time. And I think spreading the news and spreading new inspiration is a tool that we can definitely use to have black history move forward. I'm so inspired by so many young black artists, whether it's music, art, fashion—and all these breakthroughs, like what Virgil Abloh is doing to Louis Vuitton. I think it's amazing that we're getting these chances. And I'm excited to see what the future holds.
Do you feel like you're a part of the new black history?
FC: Absolutely. Every day I wake up. I just want to contribute to the world, you know? I just want to... I'm not perfect, but I just want to be the best version of myself and evolve every day—get better every day. I strive to do it. And I am. We're going to get there and break down walls for kids that look like me to have a dream. There are definitely still leaps that we have to make in the corporate world. I just want to make sure that we kick down doors for (black) creatives.
Do you often get questions from people that come to you looking for mentorship or advice because they look like you, because they've heard your story, and are inspired by you?
FC: Yes, for sure. I'm always open to answer those questions. I'm always open to give advice. I think one of the biggest things in navigating through your career is having mentorship. You're not always going to figure everything out on your own. And it's always good to not only act on your actions, but to also listen to someone else's story. So if they've been in a situation before you, or they know the right steps, you can learn from it.
What does “the culture” mean to you? And secondly, because you've been in places celebrating black culture—Philly, Atlanta—what part of that culture has helped create your aesthetic?
FC: Culture, to me... it's everything. Culture crafts style. It also crafts trends, and there's so much talent from the culture. Whether it’s musical inspiration, or just street stories, man—everything comes from the streets. And these organic subcultures, there's nothing like being up on something first and then you see it in the world, right? And not only that—the culture, for me, what sets me apart, is actually living it. When you see something grow as big as this industry has grown, and you're there from the early stages, it's like, "Man, I would never have thought that we would have gotten here."
But I like community over culture. It takes a community, man. Having this platform—footwear—and being able to speak to the younger generation and inspire. And I know that there's someone out there who has the same dream, but they're going to do this even better than me. So watching kids in my DMs sending me, like, "This is a design I thought about"—and hopefully those kids go on the right path to do internships and get into whatever brand, or there's so many different jobs that I don't think our communities know about. You can be a developer. You can be a buyer, you can be a product line manager, you know? Entertainment marketing… there's a lot of different things that you can be.
How do sneakers influence your creative process?
FC: With sneakers, it's kind of the first thing people look at you and say, like, "Oh, that person's into this." Like Forrest Gump said, "You can tell a lot about someone by their shoes." And that's kind of what sneakers provide.
Can you give us any insight on some of the products that you've worked on, for those who may not know?
FC: Oh man… Jordan 1 “Top 3,” “Wings” Jordan 5s. Aleali May Jordan 1s, Travis Scott 4s, Nigel Sylvester 1s... And there's some other ones that I really love. I love the Satin story. I think that was one of the greatest releases of all time. We duped New York, and that never happens. That was very exciting. At 10:18 on a Tuesday morning, and there's no line, and you open up the doors in New York, and then nobody finds out for another hour and a half. And then immediately at 12:30, they're on the streets for $2,500, right in front of the door, and the line's four blocks long. That to me is like, that was one of the most exciting releases I've seen in a long time.
How does your creative process inspire the sneakers that you wear?
FC: Some of my favorite shoes exude a lot of color. I think color and materials and learning the functionality, not only of the innovation within the shoe, but also how different materials work and how they last over time.
I just want to take sneakers as far as you possibly can in imagination.
I loved my career at Jordan, and it was a good run. But for me, it's kind of like yesterday's home runs. I don't think it's going to win tomorrow's game, you know? So now that I'm in this kind of open space, it's good to get back to other brands—and it would just kill me to work there and I can't just throw on a Reebok Question, or throw on my homie's collaboration. So now it's good to open up. Now it's a breadth of silhouettes that I can influence and show my work on.