Asia is home to a vast assemblage of streetwear entities and outlets, but one of the pioneers in the field is ACU – a Shanghai-based lifestyle brand. Once located on Changle Road in Luwan District, it was one of the first stores to bring iconic brands such as Original Fake, CLOT, UNDEFEATED and Burton iDiom to the Chinese public, and was designed and executed by Edison Chen in the alongside the Tom brothers. and Mike Chung, the latter being our last Sole Mates guest.
Chung spent much of his upbringing in Hong Kong, but he often traveled to Shanghai for family vacations, and it was on these trips that he noticed the city’s unique international temperament and the early stages of its development of street culture. So when the opportunity arose to leave his mark on the industry by opening a store that stocked all of his favorite streetwear brands and reflected his lifestyle interests, he took up the torch and ran away. After several years in the business, Chung and his team opted to shut down the retail side of the business and simply continue as a lifestyle imprint that thrived with various sneaker and apparel collaborations with the likes of
Thanks to the influence of his father and brother, Chung was introduced to sneakers at an early age and it was basketball-focused pairs like the Retro Jordans and the Nike Air Foamposite One that piqued his interest. . Over time, he began to lean towards more niche offerings like the Nike Air Woven, which is the model he chose to highlight for his Sole Mates Payment.
Hypebeast sat down with Chung to discuss the origins of building ACU from one-brand store, its ultra-rare bamboo-infused Air Woven colorway, and more.
HYPEBEAST: Who or what made you love sneakers?
MC: I’ve been in love with sneakers for as long as I can remember. My dad and brother loved sneakers too, and I’d be jealous to see them wearing shoes I couldn’t. Like most shoe fans, I’ve been heavily influenced by the Air Jordan lineage from the beginning, especially the Air Jordan 6 era.
Later I started to become obsessed with Air cushioned shoes and their growing popularity around 1995-1996. At that time, having a pair of shoes that visibly said “AIR” on them was a big deal for me.
Do you remember your first pair of sneakers?
I recently looked at photos from my childhood and discovered that I owned 1991-92 Air Jordan 6s and Charles Barkley basketball shoes. I clearly remember the shoe I saw on the internet that I immediately fell in love with was the Nike Air Foamposite One in Penny’s OG Blue colourway. After seeing them, I acquired a new passion for sneakers and loved them so much that I wiped off the dirt after wearing them before putting them back in my closet.
You have a huge range of sneakers in your collection, but why is the Nike Air Woven important to you?
In my opinion, the Nike Air Woven is a shoe that does not look like a sneaker at all. When these shoes were first released in 2000, they were immediately stolen by everyone and were also used by many artists, which made the speculation price at the time even exceed 10,000 yuan. And because there was no official sale in Hong Kong at that time, I could only see this pair of shoes through magazines.
The original Air Woven was released in three colors, my favorite of which is the blue pair, and more importantly, few appreciate this silhouette. So when I go on a scavenger hunt for more colorways, there aren’t as many people looking for them. It took me almost ten years to collect all three pairs of OG color matches that year, and I found them one by one in Europe, the United States, Japan and other parts of the world.
“Almost every pair of shoes in my collection has its own story and that’s why I love them so much, and I think as a sneakerhead that’s what matters.”
I heard you have a pair of Bamboo Wovens, can you tell us the story behind these?
I first saw them on eBay almost 10 years ago, but they were way out of my price range, so I just saved the picture for mementos. Then I ended up revisiting the photos this year as I was sorting through my hard drive, which brought back my memory of the shoes, so I reposted them on my social media. From there my friend contacted me saying he saw them on a website for sale so I contacted the seller right away and finally got them for a decent price. The concept of the design, the story behind them, and even the process of receiving the shoes are way better than their aftermarket price. Almost every pair of shoes in my collection has its own story and that’s why I love them so much, and I think as a sneakerhead that’s what matters.
ACU can be said to be the beginning of a sneaker boutique era in the mainland. What made you think about opening a store in Shanghai at that time?
So my brother and I always visited Shanghai with my dad when we were young. At that time, we felt that Shanghai had a different temperament from other cities in China. It’s the most international place on the continent, and it’s sure to become local street culture in the future.
“In the future, ACU will not just be a store, nor a brand, we hope it can represent a way of life and an attitude.”
The Nike Air Footscape Woven in the “Jamaica” color scheme was coveted by many shoe fans. What speaks to you the most in this color?
In order to open the store at that time, Nike allowed us to design two pairs of shoes as special products for the opening of ACU. Originally we wanted to make a pair of SB Dunks, but since we weren’t a skate shop, Nike recommended that we make a pair of Dunkesto (Dunk and Presto’s Hybrid shoes) which they sold at the era. The other pair we chose was the Air Footscape Woven because we loved Hiroshi Fujiwara so much, and he also produced a pair for the HTM project he was involved with that year. As for the design inspiration, we wanted to use linen for the upper, as this fabric was more hard-wearing, durable and not easily deformed. At the same time, we chose a national flag color more in line with this fabric to match. It also happened to be a country famous for using this fabric, and the color of this linen matched our special shoebox.
The ACU closed in 2009 and is now back in plain sight as a brand. Can you tell us about the future development direction of ACU and will we also see the return of this legendary store?
Whether the store returns or not, the ACU brand has always existed. We never left. We have just merged the brand and the store into a lifestyle brand. Since the store closed, we have also been working on projects and products that we believe are worth doing. In the future, ACU will not just be a store or a brand, we hope it can represent a way of life and an attitude.
You also opened KAFFIEND in 2015. Compared to ACU, what did you expect from this store?
At the time, I opened KAFFIEND because I had this opportunity to open another store. When I arrived in Shanghai, my brother BIGZ was still working at Nike, so he didn’t use the name “ACU” to open a store, but continued to use ACU as a bridge to run products and collaborations that he and I loved both. Thanks to the opening of KAFFIEND, I met many national design brands. The concept of opening this store at the time was to provide a place for our Chinese brands to showcase products and do interesting projects together.
In addition, I also wanted to make this store a center of activity for the street community. All the furniture in the store was on wheels, to make it easier to change the layout according to the brand’s activities. Since KAFFIEND opened, we have done a lot of business and covered a variety of different types of brands.
You seem to have this fascination with collecting blue objects. When it comes to sneakers, which blue colors do you prefer?
I have a lot of blue shoes in my collection, but when it comes to the most treasured pair, I immediately think of the Nike Air Woven “Powder Blue” pair from their freshman year. It took me over ten years to find this pair in my size, and what’s even more exciting is that I found them for retail. There is also a pair of blue shoes that I really like, the blue HTM Air Footscape Woven that I bought a few years ago. These were limited to just 204 pairs worldwide for the three colorways.
This issue of Sole Mates was originally published on HYPEBEAST CN and has been adapted accordingly.