by Abe Schwadron | @abe_squad

In early 2002, Baltimore-born brothers Chad and Evan Birenbaum were at a crossroads—keep on a static, stale path to a solid corporate job, or do something crazy, take a risk. “I think Chad and I just hit a point in our lives where we said, if we don’t do it now, we’re probably never going to do it,” says Evan. Doing it meant dropping everything to start a footwear and fashion line, without knowing the first thing about how to make a single garment or shoe.

By the summer of 2008, 100 Styles and Running was a reality. Since, the guys have developed a following for their, well, styles—from boots to hoodies. In their own words, 100 Styles and Running is “a fashion company and design with a focus on luxury-crafted men’s shoes for individualists, hipsters and fashionistas.” Chad is the head designer, creative director, and production engineer, while Evan specializes in business development, brand management, project management and the brand’s business operations. 100SR’s unique “The Kid” logo, which has become synonymous with the brand name, is a visual metaphor that represents what the brothers Birenbaum describe as “the-kid-in-us,” when times were fun and care-free. Fitting, since the clothes and kicks they make produce a similar feeling of comfort, presented in all-grown-up style.

Impressing fashion-types and boutiques is one thing, but to dig out a niche in the market, 100SR needed to widen its appeal. Enter Mark Jarrell, who helped St. Benedict’s to three New Jersey state prep championships in the late ’90s and went to Providence and Fordham before playing professional ball overseas. Partnering with Mark, now an AAU coach for the New Jersey Playaz, helped 100SR edge into the post-game lifestyle wear market. If you haven’t noticed, basketball is suddenly a hotbed for fashion statements, be it Kevin Durant’s backpacks or LeBron and Wade’s thick-rimmed glasses.

With a renewed commitment to off-court style, the guys are already feeling the love from pro athletes. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz tweeted a picture of himself rocking a 100SR sweatshirt before modeling it courtside at a Knicks game earlier this season. And Denver Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried (pictured above) is a big fan, too. “It’s unique,” says Faried of the brand. “Every time I wear the stuff, I got guys asking about it.”

Given the buzz, we decided to ask, too. Evan, Chad and Mark caught up with SLAM recently to talk about the inspiration and direction for 100 Styles and Running, and what the future holds for the up-and-coming company.

SLAM: What is 100 Styles and Running?

Evan Birenbaum: The brand started in 2008, it was really a concept between Chad and I. We wanted to bring a footwear line out that really was based around the individual and not the masses. Chad has a really interesting design approach, and really we wanted to look for that quality product that really transcended amongst individuals.

Chad Birenbaum: As far as design approach, when we first started we only had footwear, we didn’t have any clothing yet, and Evan and I thought there were a lot of shoes out there that were really cool, but also really uncomfortable. And at the time there wasn’t really an indie lifestyle division yet. You had your Pumas, Nikes and Diesel started to get in a little bit with the fashion element. And Evan and I were buying shoes and they were cool looking but they were so uncomfortable. So our biggest thing was “form following function.” We were all about making it comfortable first, and then making it a dope-looking product. For the most part, these shoes were cool looking but they were terribly, they would tear up your feet. So, we literally worked for six months on different comfort components, and researched materials and rejected a lot of things, until finally we were happy with the product.

SLAM: What was the inspiration for starting the brand?

EB: We were both working, and really wanted to put ourselves into something. We always wanted to go into business together, as a passion. Chad used to tape up his shoes and draw all over his Jordans and stuff. It’s funny, when I was about 8 and my brother was 12, he pushed this piece of paper in front of me and it was kind of a re-designed Air Jordan. I remember even saying, “Hey man, we’re going to go into business together one day.” Fast-forward that, we were in Paris in ’02 standing on top of the Arc de Triomphe in France and we just kind of turned to each other and said, “let’s go into business together.” And we decided we wanted to go into fashion. For a couple years, it was disaster, but we hit our sweet spot when we got into footwear, which is really what we wanted to do, we just didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t have the resources to manufacture footwear. But we got started on an interesting path learning how to develop shoes—we got lucky there.

SLAM: Where did the name “100 Styles and Running” come from?

CB: There’s no secret—it’s a play on the NWA “Hundred Miles and Runnin’” song, but actually, we had another name originally for the company. And at the time I was reviewing style after style after style. And we’d look up at our board and literally just throw darts, and reject things. And to Evan, I said, “Man, my brain is working like a hundred styles and running.” He was like, “What did you say?” And I was like, “My brain’s just going, I’m not going to stop until I get a hundred styles at this point.” We told our publicist, literally the next morning, and he was like yeah, you guys should just run with it. It’s different. On top of that, I was really into NWA growing up through high school, and that sort of mark a period in which I started my amateur shoe designs, drawing sneakers. A good buddy of mine would bring over shoes, like three or four pairs, and I would make a hybrid—one shoe—while listening to NWA tracks. That’s how it started out, so it all kind of made sense.

Mark Jarrell: We have a saying, “Keep it 100,” and that’s a saying that’s so universal. It’s used in board rooms, on basketball courts in urban cities. The whole “Keep it 100″ thing has been the staple, so when people hear it, they gravitate towards the name. And that’s how we kind of bring everything together. We’re just keeping it 100, and that’s something that applies to every facet of life. And it piggy backs on the name.

SLAM: Mark, how did you join the brand?

MJ: I was helping an NBA guy move to China, and while we were there, I ran into Evan, who was in China checking out factories and learning everything about actually making a shoe. We just got to talking, and after two or three months of talking every other day, Evan goes, “you know what, I love your drive and your vision, why don’t you partner with me and we can take the brand to new heights.” So we worked it out and that’s how I actually got involved, and to bring the whole basketball element into the company.

SLAM: How does the brand appeal to basketball players?

MJ: I have a basketball background. I went to Providence, graduated from Fordham and played a little overseas, and I coach the Playaz Basketball Club now, it’s a Nike-sponsored team. And we’ve put out a lot of pros, so I’ve been around the game, I’ve been around NBA players a lot. I get to see what they wear on-court, off-court. And just having organic relationships with them I can actually bring things to them and get their insight. So as far as our brand is concerned, it’s a comfortable shoe. But the biggest problem we have with players is, if you don’t wear a size 13 or under, you can’t wear it. So the Playaz wear our hoodies and our t-shirts, we just want them to be involved, so they can see it’s cool. The biggest thing we’ve heard is that the shoes are comfortable, and they’re stylish. So we can bring comfortable and style—it’s a win-win. As far as players’ fashion off-court, they stick with what’s comfortable and what’s trending, so we try to stay in that lane.

SLAM: What’s your biggest challenge as a brand going forward?

CB: The market in general. In 2009, we had the market tank and a lot of companies went under, a lot of stores went under. For us, it’s re-establishing relationships with people. A lot of the people we initially worked with aren’t around anymore, a lot of the stores aren’t around unfortunately. On top of that, we have to work a little more creatively in terms of manufacturing, because a lot of the factories and things like that just want huge numbers. Being a small company, that’s a cost we have to be creative with. We don’t have Nike money, we don’t have Nike numbers. You have to just get your hustle on and figure out how to do it.

EB: I also think that our customers are changing a little bit as well. We have a lot of brand loyalty, so the people who were originally interested in our company are still there, so we have to continue to deliver to them. But at the same time, with the change in popularity, we have new demographics. Especially with this off-court approach. We weren’t originally focused on that “half-leisure” type of lifestyle. Now, you’ll probably see the brand is starting to move in that direction. It’s a constant evolution, and with that comes a lot of change. We’re trying to catch that market, but we’re very fortunate to still be around. A lot of our competitors are out of business, and a lot of retailers are closing down, so we’re very thankful we can be here today.

SLAM: What’s next for 100SR?

EB: We started as a humble shoe company, and we’ve certainly started to break out into apparel. We continue to focus on quality products that are affordable, and stuff that relates to our customers. We still focus on the individual, so it’s things that we like, that we see, that we want to wear. That’s where our development is coming from—things that represent us.

You can follow 100 Styles and Running on Twitter and via Facebook, and visit 100styles.com for the company blog and official online store.