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How a College Kid Got Crenshaw Skate Club its Very Own Nike SB Dunk

Anointed by the crowned jewel of collaboration, learn how a Stanford student secured and strategized the ultimate co-sign from footwear’s biggest brand.

Wearable art doesn’t get more magnified or polarizing than the Nike SB Dunk.

Designed to be destroyed yet selling at Sotheby’s for thousands in unworn rarities, the reborn basketball shoe subverted for skateboarding has held heat in circles of fashion, music, and extreme sports for over two decades. In collaborative form, it’s the ultimate flag for brazen expression and insurmountable hype.

From Diamond Supply Co. to Dinosaur Jr., SB Dunk collabs symbolize an “if you know, you know” nod able to amplify awareness to the world at large.

Over the weekend, Crenshaw Skate Club caught that same megaphone: an SB Dunk drop that places CSC at select stockists all over the world.

While the shoes sold out in minutes, they’re amply advertised all over Nike SB’s Instagram following of 6.9 million followers, seeing seven perfectly positioned posts ranging from on-foot galleries to in-action reels.

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All this energy makes for a major moment for Crenshaw Skate Club’s founder Tobey McIntosh, a Southern LA neighborhood native currently enrolled as a student at Stanford.

Birthing the brand when he was only 14, he’s leveraging lessons from the Swoosh co-sign.

However, he’s not letting the spotlight burn through his brand.

“I’m very patient with it,” McIntosh told Boardroom. “I want the brand to have a strong core and foundation.”

Getting handed the creative keys by a $168 billion behemoth, hear how Tobey’s collaboration with Nike came to be, the business lessons he learned from the Swoosh, and his unique approach to scaling as the world watches.

Crenshaw’s Cardinal

As aptly titled, Crenshaw Skate Club grew from the cracked concrete of Southern Los Angeles when its founder was barely a teenager.

Having already formed relationships on Fairfax at 13 and learned the laws of collaboration when most kids learn division, Tobey’s drive soon saw CSC stocked in Supreme. Before he graduated high school, he was already stamped by skate’s top tastemakers in LA.

For Tobey to take the brand to new heights, he had to take his talents to Palo Alto.

Crenshaw Skate Club
Image courtesy via Nike SB

In Fall 2021, Tobey enrolled at Stanford as an economics major. This premium education allowed him to multiply his cultural cachet with a network and knowledge nuanced on the technical side.

“Stanford has been a great place to meet people to help the business,” McIntosh said. “People who help with behind-the-scenes stuff that technically advances the brand. A lot of streetwear brands don’t have that opportunity.”

Using his academic acumen and private school peers as a competitive advantage in the crowded apparel landscape, Tobey’s been able to build his brand away from home, leveraging landscapes of skate parks and research university in unison.

“I’m in the creative world, but I’m in the tech world, too,” McIntosh said. “I am always looking for ways to merge those two.”

Sometimes that’s listening to a lecture in a computer science course, other times it’s getting a message from the handheld computer with which he runs his empire.

Phone Tag

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives.

During his second semester at Stanford, it was not a professor approaching Tobey that would change his company’s trajectory at that moment — but rather a text from a salesman at the Swoosh.

“David Fink at Nike SB sent a text,” McIntosh recalls. “‘If you were to make a shoe with Nike SB, what would it look like?'”

Having known Fink from Southern California, the region he’s represented for the majority of his 10-plus year tenure at the Swoosh, Tobey asked himself the same question.

“I looked up ‘blank Nike SB Dunk template,'” recalls McIntosh.

Crenshaw Skate Club
Image courtesy of Nike SB

Rather than going in blind, he racked his brain about what was important to him back home in Southern LA.

“I always think through things and try to find inspiration before I just start throwing colors around,” McIntosh said. “I wrote down five to ten monuments in my neighborhood that were important to me. When I got to the Crenshaw Square there was this old sign that was oxidizing.”

From there, he hit up his friends Mamadou Bah and Garrett LaBrie of C’EST BON to bounce ideas off of. Garrett brought his Photoshop wizardry to make the concept a reality while Mamadou has been integral in connecting the dots.

“Mamodou and Garrett helped me on these,” McIntosh said. “We work on everything together. We’ve got a group chat where we talk through ideas and those are my friends in real life as well.”

After fleshing out the first draft on the group chat chain, Tobey reconnected with Fink to present. He assumed the next step was a one-on-one call regarding the one-off text.

“I get on Zoom and it’s like 15 people!” McIntosh said. “As I’m presenting they say, ‘Out of all these ideas, which one do you want to do?’ I’m like, they’re asking me? You’re not gonna pick? I was looking for the camera, I thought I was getting pranked. But to me, the strongest idea was the Crenshaw Square idea.”

Overwhelmed by the reception but well aware of his own limitations in footwear design training, he worked in lockstep with the SB team to take his idea and Garrett’s mockup to its highest heights.

It’s a level of humility and curiosity that’s key to Tobey’s success.

“I was open and willing to see out suggestions they had,” said McIntosh. “As a designer, you can get really attached to ideas and if you don’t have that open-mindedness it can really hurt you. Other ideas and perspectives? That’s the beauty of collaboration. Because if you’re only doing it the way you want to do it? Then you’re not really doing a collaboration.”

Thankfully, the Beaverton brand kept that same energy.

Crenshaw Skate Club
Image courtesy of Nike SB

“When you have a crazy idea, a lot of brands will shut it down,” said McIntosh. “With Nike SB, they figure out how to do it.”

Over the course of the next 18 months, Tobey continued to knock out classes and collaborate with Jordan Brand, keeping his Nike SB project a secret from the other students sitting in the same auditoriums.

Soon the world would find out — but not how he planned.

23 & Me

Earlier this year, Tobey and Nike were putting the finishing touches on the marketing plan and packaging for CSC’s first SB Dunk collab. At the same time, salivating sneaker accounts were busting open boxes in factories to find out what was in-store.

Because of this, the Crenshaw Skate Club x Nike SB Dunk Low leaked ahead of schedule. Tobey learned fast lessons in marketing — and ancestry.

“I found out I have so many cousins that I didn’t know about before,” laughs McIntosh.

In the midst of his sophomore spring at Stanford, an account on Instagram uploaded a sample shot of the Swoosh collaboration he’d been working on for months far ahead of its August rollout.

“It leaked a while ago,” McIntosh said. “I’m glad to have my own narrative and tell my own story purposely. When those leaks happened, I just ignored them. I was going to wait to tell my own story and do it myself.”

Despite finding out he had cousins he’d never heard of, he found he had a family at Nike SB.

From social storytelling to on-site activations, the Swoosh’s skateboarding division empowered Tobey to launch his Dunk drop in true Crenshaw Skate Club fashion.

Rather than seed shoes to influencers or pop champagne with celebs, Tobey took the proposed marketing budget and put it all toward a co-sponsored Skate Jam in Southern LA.

“You can take that money, and instead of giving select people a good time? I wanted to give that to the community,” McIntosh said. “We had prizes, shoes to give away, free food, and Nike SB pro skaters pulled up.”

At the event, kids got the chance to skate for free prizes and meet legends like Eric Koston, Theotis Beasley, and other ascending talents on the Swoosh SB roster. It all went down at Charmette Bonpau Skate Plaza, his hometown skate park.

Looking out for locals, he held a community raffle for attendees where each entrant had to show a South LA address on their ID and sign up for the size of the shoes they had on their feet. Hundreds of skaters from all over the area poured in all afternoon.

“I wanted it to be a one-stop shop in a way,” McIntosh said. “A kid can pull up, get free food and skate with their favorite skaters. They may not all get a pair of shoes, but we had enough stuff in general so everyone could get something. I don’t want to feel like this part of the celebration is exclusive.”

To those indoctrinated in the world of hype, it seems like unorthodox behavior for an energy launch attached to a big brand. To those that know Tobey and the inclusive nature of the skate culture, it’s how it’s always supposed to be.

“What matters is making the people in the community feel special,” McIntosh said. “Because they’re actually going to be living with the product.”

Which all begs the question: how will McIntosh’s life — and brand -0 change with the dawn of this drop?

Life After Dunk

Over the weekend, fans from far and wide tried to cop the Crenshaw Skate Club x Nike SB Dunk Low.

Kids in Crenshaw got the first crack at owning the collab. However, his classmates from college were out there on their own.

“At Stanford, we have a lot of international students,” said McIntosh. “I’ve got friends in Japan back for the summer trying to get the shoe.”

Per usual, some pairs of the $130 Dunk drop will be used for kickflips while others will flip the kicks for hundreds of dollars in resale profit. Regardless, either action builds buzz around the brand that has grown worldwide in reach since starting in 2017.

Like numerous streetwear and skateboarding purveyors before him, the Dunk demand will mean more knocks from big-box retailers looking to scale Crenshaw Skate Club to the masses at malls or online. It’s an interesting place of leverage as McIntosh starts back at Stanford this fall.

Despite his junior-year status, he still sees the company with the wisdom of a senior executive.

“I didn’t make Crenshaw Skate Club to turn it into this crazy big business,” McIntosh said. “My big thing is scaling with purpose. Some brands scale prematurely and end up in trouble. I scale as I need it and very gradually.”

If you need numbers to make sense of the philosophy, the economics major has you covered.

“I’m not gonna go from printing 500 t-shirts to 5,000 just because I assume that this Nike collab is gonna do well,” McIntosh begins. “I’m not gonna hire a bunch of people to become a brand I’m not ready to operate overnight. By gradually scaling, I can build the business organically and be in a place that I’m happy with.”

For Tobey, success at Crenshaw Skate Club as a college student is more about activations that solidify his core consumer. With the buzz and boost from the Nike SB collab comes not a rush to expand, but new tools to fine-tune the process.

While many brands rely on collaborations for hype in hopes of boosting their in-line sales and demand, Tobey’s taking the scholarly approach of using the Beaverton brand as yet another means of higher education.

“It’s been a great learning experience as someone who operates a business,” McIntosh said. “Seeing how they work, market out their projects, strategize, and organize. I’ve learned a lot from them for CSC. I’ll ask them questions about marketing or social media and how they look at it.”

In the meantime, Tobey’s once again transitioning from life in Crenshaw to life on campus. He hopes to see students wearing his Nike SB collab around classes while walking the walk of the lessons he’s scored from the Swoosh.

“I’m getting all these new eyes on the brand,” McIntosh closes. “But what I’m learning from all the people I worked with is the big takeaway.”

SB hype is once again subverted by the youth.

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.