Entrepreneur and Sneakerhead Darryl Blanding, aka Clue, is a major player on the Detroit fashion scene. Between his streetwear brand, collaborations with Nike and more, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about style — and sneakers
By Rachel Schostak
Photography by Allison Farrand
As the co-founder of Detroit streetwear and lifestyle brand FOiR, Darryl Blanding (better known by his nickname, Clue) knows a thing or two about fashion — especially when it comes to sneakers. His career kicked off 10 years ago, when he started posting sneaker reviews on YouTube; since then, he’s consulted for local sneaker brands, helped open Detroit’s sneakerhead mecca NoJo Kicks and partnered with Nike to release two pairs of limited-edition shoes.
The 34-year-old, who lives on Detroit’s east side, is also the brains behind Clean Sneaker Care (think of the business as a car wash for shoes). He talks to SEEN about his top 2020 fashion trends, why cleaning sneakers brings him “peace and meditation” and his favorite pair of kicks.
You started FOiR in 2017 with your friends Donald Dudley and James Johnson. Can you explain more about the brand? We create apparel, offer creative direction services, curate events and collaborate with brands. Our goal is to bring the things we wanted to see in the culture to life. We do that by putting together [initiatives like] Black ID, an art exhibition featuring black artists in the community, and Art and Soul, which features sneaker-themed art. FOiR is a play on the French words le fond and noir. Together they mean “black bottom,” which references the African-American community that was torn down to build I-375.
Where did the nickname “Clue” come from? In high school I had a close group of friends and you couldn’t tell us we weren’t Roc-A-Fella records. I’ve always favored the background guys and the one I related to the most was “DJ Clue.” Because of that, my friends started calling me “Clue.” My family called me DJ so it made sense. I tried to shake it as I got older, but when I met Dan Mullen, the former vice president of business development at Bedrock. I introduced myself as “Darryl,” and he said, “No, don’t they call you something else? Isn’t it Clue?” From that moment I thought, “This isn’t going anywhere, so I’ll just embrace it.”
What are some cool collaborations you’ve worked on? We assisted with brainstorming a recycling initiative for Nike’s Collegiate sports program — recycling old shoes that teams are constantly disposing of, because there was so much waste.
My favorite collaboration is the two sneakers we released with Nike: We created a Nike Air Force 1 high and an Air Max 1. We launched them at NoJo Kicks, and we created a huge poster that read “Detroit Is,” with space for attendees to write what “Detroit Is” to them. We poured our souls into every aspect of that drop.
What inspired you to start Clean Sneaker Care? Caring for my sneakers has been one of my favorite things to do since I was a kid. My siblings used to pay me to clean their sneakers for school. As I got older and had a family of my own, it became a time of peace and meditation. In 2018 I got to thinking, “What can I do with my hands to provide for my family?” I reached out to Don [Dudley] and we came up with Clean. We’re looking to expand this year with different drop-off locations, followed by our own flagship location in 2021.
How else are you involved in the Detroit fashion community? I consider myself a contributor. I’ve designed and released product through FOiR, along with a Nike collaboration, and I support the community. I don’t just sell products; I give advice, speak on panels, purchase and wear the brands, and assist with events that allow these brands to be seen and supported.
Through Clean Sneaker Care, we service people in the community to extend the life of not just their sneakers, but their entire shoe collection. Providing this service also creates sustainability, which is currently one of my number one goals in the fashion community.
A company you would like to partner or work with in the future? It would be a dream come true to work with Nudie. Their focus on sustainability is something I believe every brand should adopt. I have a close friend who works at their corporate office in NYC, so I’ve learned a lot about the brand. It’s something about wearing organic cotton, or a pair of their re-used denim, that make me feel like I’m making a difference. Outside of sustainability, the quality is incredible and they don’t compromise on style. I get excited just thinking about the possibility!
Who inspires you in the overall fashion industry? Jerry Lorenzo and John Elliott. They are both icons who I feel like I’ve grown with. They create the clothing they want to see, and push to make familiar pieces better. A lot of the clothing is also made in the US, and John Elliott is using recycled cotton. Their attention to detail is what I’m most inspired by. They literally think of everything, and when they release their collections you can see their heart and soul in every piece. Following them keeps me on my toes, and inspires me to keep working on my craft.
How would you describe your style? Intentional, subtle and authentic.
Where do you enjoy shopping locally or online? I love shopping online, but nothing replaces the feeling of going in a store and touching the product. I like to talk to the associates and soak in the vibes of my favorite spots. You have places like Burn Rubber in Royal oak who provide such an amazing experience, and their store is designed with hidden gems all around. You walk in and feel a part of the culture — it’s dope!
Nojo Kicks is another great spot. They’ve created an amazing collection of sneakers and streetwear. The store design tells a story and definitely enhances the experience. Nothing can replace a cool space and an employee that’s passionate about the product they sell.
Any local brands you are currently into or excited about? I love Detroit Is The New Black. Simplicity is everything, and they do an amazing job with it. Distinct Life continues to release crazy sneakers and accompanying apparel. Rick and Yolanda Williams are legends. I’m also into Detroit-based AYV, and I can’t get enough of Carhartt. There’s something about traditional Carhartt pieces that give me a sense of pride every time I put them on.
What trend are you most excited about in 2020? Sustainability is huge this year. We’re seeing brands speak about using organic cotton, waterless processes and more in an effort to save the Earth, and I’m here for it all. Also work wear is something I’m really excited about. I’ve seen a lot of work-wear-inspired looks on the runway, and it’s my favorite because it’s so Detroit: We’ve turned brands like Dickies and Carhartt into more than functional clothing, and now the world is doing the same.
Are you trend-focused? No, I don’t attempt to keep up. I will add something different here and there, but I try to stay away from things I know I’m not going to like a year from now. Something I learned from my wife is focusing on timeless pieces not trendy ones. I’m enjoying building a more sustainable wardrobe, so less is more. Better quality stuff, not more stuff.
What’s one item you can never leave home without? I know I’m technically supposed to wear my wedding band, but it’s my favorite accessory. It’s rose gold. I love the way it looks against my skin.
Finish this sentence. You’re never fully dressed without… My favorite pair of sneakers, of course! Currently it’s my black and red Jordan 4’s. They go with anything. I still get butterflies when I open the box.
What do you love / appreciate most about Detroit? I was born and raised on the west side of Detroit, and at age 34, I’ve seen the city at its worst, all the way through to this beautiful transition. What I love most is the people, especially those of us who stayed and continue to help make it better. We are resilient, hardworking innovators and the toughest people you will find. I came from a rough patch of the city, but I was good to Detroit, and now Detroit is being good to me!
What’s your favorite local go-to meal? My absolute favorite spot to eat in Detroit is Ottava Via in Corktown. My wife and I went in 2017 the day after our wedding and was blown away. We always get the “melted pecorino cheese plate,” the penne pasta and a pepperoni pizza.
To take it back to my roots, I love a good coney dog and chili-cheese fries, and the best ones come from the inner city. For the record, you won’t find someone who’s born and raised in Detroit debating about Lafayette or American. Your favorite coney and the best coney was and will always be the one in your neighborhood.
What’s your favorite quote or your own personal words to live by? The only thing certain in life is death. We only get one shot, so make it your best one.