From prison dream to passion made real: Former inmate launches luxury sneaker brand

Darrell Alston has been turning his life around after being incarcerated for over six years at Graterford Prison in Pennsylvania.

The former rapper laid the groundwork for a business he believes in while he was behind bars.

He told FOX Business: “I went to prison multiple times: one year the first time, three years the second time, and six-and-a-half years the third time all for possession with intent to deliver.”

Prison forced him to evolve as a man.

“Jail time forced me to be a man on several levels. I had to learn how to survive without friends and family, the only person that I could depend on and trust was myself, and I had to take my life way more seriously in order to bounce back into society. Which is the reason I focused more on creating business plans and goals in order to create a job for myself. I already knew that it would be very difficult to find a good job with a criminal background.”

Former rapper Darrell Alston, far left, laid the groundwork for a business he believes in while he was behind bars. (Courtesy Darrell Alston)

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He realized his skill as a designer and he began conceptualizing the idea to launch a luxury sneaker brand.

But it all began through serendipity.

“In the beginning, I didn’t plan to get in the shoe business. I tried to draw a sneaker because I was bored and just made an attempt at trying to sketch a sneaker that I used to wear when I was home. That sketch came out so nicely that I decided to sketch one and make up a logo to put on it. After I saw the results of the sketch, that’s when I knew that a sneaker designer would be the perfect job for me.”

Alston sketched more than 250 unique sneaker designs from his jail cell, and developed a business plan from prison.

“To me, there’s no reason to start a brand unless you’re solving a problem. There are many brands out there, but our brand was created as an example to the youth and disenfranchised that could use our brand as an example that second chances aren’t just a cliché.”

Shoes from luxury sneaker business Bungee Oblečení are priced at $250 to $500 per pair and made in Italy and Portugal. (Courtesy Darrell Alston)

Now his dream is his passion made manifest: launching his own luxury sneaker business Bungee Oblečení in December 2020.

“Bungee or bungee jumping was the perfect metaphor to describe my life. I had so many ups and downs throughout my life that I felt that was the perfect way to express myself. I was also aware that everyone else faces ups and downs as well so it would represent us all perfectly,” Alston told FOX Business. “Oblečení is Czech for apparel. I chose that word because I wanted to stand out amongst a crowded field of sneaker and apparel brands worldwide.”

Shoes are priced at $250 to $500 per pair and made in Italy and Portugal.

He added: “Italy and Portugal have a long history of footwear expertise. So I have tapped into that as many brands have. I have studied the sourcing discipline deeply and am also looking to eventually utilize domestic manufacturing as well.”

The company will release about a dozen new shoe designs per year — several each season for his elevated line of luxury shoes — while also developing an upscale clothing line.

Former rapper Darrell Alston sketched more than 250 unique sneaker designs from his jail cell, and developed a business plan from prison. (Courtesy Darrell Alston)

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“We sell mainly online, but we have three brick and mortar stores in Philadelphia and growing,” he said. “Our target market is what most would consider style-conscious Gen Z and millennials. Our brand ethos is building a culture of those that love fashion, comfort and versatility.”

Alston is all in with his new business, and is excited for its future growth.

“Oblečení is still in its youth. We are targeting being in the black by EOY fiscal 2022. As of now we are encouraged by the growth we are enjoying. It’s inspiring and is the same drive that reflects why the company name is Bungee.”