A new challenger has entered the sneaker arena and with the endorsement of several high-profile athletes and one rapper, Protege hopes to provide an affordable alternative to the big-name shoe brands.
On Saturday at the Kmart on Wabash Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, about 500 people were on hand to meet New York Knicks forward Al Harrington and his guest, rapper Fat Joe, at the Protege Basketball Block Party.
Harrington, who helped develop the shoe line, is one of the first athletes to sign with Protege. The brand is sold exclusively at Kmart and Sears, with most pairs retailing at $34.99. The brand is also worn by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Jackson and several WNBA players.
"It's all about giving back," said founder and chairman Rodney Henry. "They have great hearts. It's not about the money. It's a chance to give back to the kids - inspire and uplift them."
Said Harrington: "It's a give-back brand. We did it for our community. Made it affordable so people can look good and feel good wearing it. ... Kids see me and Stephen wearing them every night so they know they're battle-tested."
Fat Joe, who has his own line of Protege footwear, said the sneakers were introduced as a low-cost, high-quality option compared with other shoe brands.
"A lot of kids think they need to wear $150 sneakers," he said. "Right now, the parents ain't got it like that."
Parents like Donte Eatman, 28, were impressed by the selection and price of the brand's sneakers.
"Not bad at all, with the prices of shoes these days," he said. "They've got good style."
Rashawn Blakney, 9, said he already wears Protege shoes while playing for his AAU basketball team.
"They look nice and are more comfortable than other brands," he said.
Attendees played various basketball contests for prizes while waiting for the afternoon's guests to arrive. They were allowed to take pictures with Harrington and Fat Joe in a faux locker room upon their arrival. Both stuck around to sign autographs inside Kmart.
"I wear them all the time," Fat Joe told the crowd. "Al plays ball in them. I just chill in them."