His Shoes Went Viral. Now, the Coast Guard Member Is Back with New Designs

Petty Officer Second Class Kenneth Jones presents his own custom-created sneaker from an online competition in Norfolk, Virginia.
Petty Officer Second Class Kenneth Jones presents his own custom-created sneaker from an online competition in Norfolk, Virginia, Nov. 29, 2023. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan L. Noel/U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Coast Guard member and Hampton Roads, Virginia, native Kenneth Jones is gearing up to enter the fashion industry full-time with his 757-inspired designs.

Jones has donned a solid blue uniform in service to the Coast Guard for nearly a decade as a yeoman, the branch's equivalent to human resources. But since his Virginia Beach-themed sneaker design went viral in 2021, Jones has poured himself into building a clothing and sneaker brand in preparation for life after his military service.

"It's like Superman going into the phone booth. I go in in uniform and come out with street clothes on that I designed," Jones said with a laugh.

Jones, who is currently assigned to the Atlantic Area Communications Command Center in Chesapeake, has one more year left with the Coast Guard before his contract expires. He and his family, Jones said, are seriously considering him separating from the service to invest all his time into Kindm, which features his custom-designed sneakers, street wear and hats that pay homage to Hampton Roads. His designs often include trident symbols or "757" and the brand logo -- a shield surrounded by seven stars on each side and five stars across the top.

"I never thought any of this was possible, but now I see a way of making it possible," Jones said.

Having grown up in Hampton Roads since 1998, Jones, now 31, said fashion always called his name. But he didn't think it was a sustainable way to support his wife and son, now 6, until three years ago.

Jones entered a pair of his personally designed Nike SB Dunks into a national design contest in 2021. The sneakers were shades of blues to represent the Navy, as well as the Coast Guard, with a trident emerging from the waves along the base of the shoe and a tan sole to represent Virginia Beach's Oceanfront.

"I came across the contest on Instagram like a day behind, so I rushed to submit it. I used my son's crayons and colored pencils to sketch it," Jones said.

His Virginia Beach-inspired design won the contest, amassing thousands of "likes" on social media. As a reward, Reverse Land, a footwear design company, created 50 pairs of the sneakers and made them available for purchase for $900.

"They sold out in like 15 minutes, which was crazy. But most people aren't going to be able to afford that, and so many people from the area had shown me love," Jones said. "If they told me I had to pay $900 for my own shoe, even I wouldn't have bought them. So, I knew I had to make a version that is affordable."

In 2023, Jones made his own version of his custom design, named VB Waves, selling around 350 pairs on his own website for $200.

"That was really more than what I wanted to sell them for, but I had to because of the cost to make them," Jones said.

He will restock the Virginia Beach sneaker on March 16 to be available for purchase through his Instagram account, @kenjo757.

Stitched with shades of blues and greens, a mermaid silhouette stretches across the side of the sneaker, coasting atop white-capped waves where the fabric meets the rubber sole. Inside the shoe are custom insoles that feature Virginia Beach's King Neptune statue. Printed on the tongue is "By VA 4 VA Thank You" and on the back of the shoe is "ForeVA Reppin" with a gold trident.

"People went out of their way to message me and tell me how great the sneaker was and I am such a great designer -- you just blow my head up," Jones said with a laugh. "The voting was from these people, so like I felt like I had to give back to them."

Today, Jones designs and sells his merchandise as often as time allows. His designs draw inspiration from local music legends, including Pharrell Williams, Pusha T, Timbaland and Missy Elliott. Williams' impact on him as a child in the early 2000s, Jones said, still influences his style today.

"Pharrell said it was cool to rap and to like skateboarding and to design fashion, so my style has that culture mix -- that combination of being a Black kid in Virginia Beach," Jones said.

That same culture is represented in his overall brand, Kindm, which Jones said is centered around community and togetherness.

"It is a play off of kingdom and kinfolk. Especially in the Black culture, 'kin' is family and friends, so it is like my kin run the kingdom," Jones said. "And my customers become family."

Jones is working to collaborate on future design projects for Something in the Water as well as with the Norfolk Tides and Admirals sports teams. When he attended the 2023 Something in the Water festival, Jones said he saw several people wearing his designs.

"People were repping Virginia Beach pretty good with my designs. It was insane to see that because I know I made that happen in every possible way -- designing them, talking to the manufacturer, shipping them out," Jones said. "And then to know that people enjoyed them enough to wear them in public around thousands and thousands of people."

But not all Jones' designs are influenced by Hampton Roads. He credits his time with the Coast Guard with opening his eyes to new cultures, styles and art.

"You are going to be influenced a little bit everywhere you do," Jones said. "That was probably my favorite part about the Coast Guard was being able to go live in these new places and experience them."

Throughout the decade he has served, Jones has been to Cape May, New Jersey; Detroit, Michigan; and Topeka, Kansas; before turning to Hampton Roads for the final leg of his service.

"The Coast Guard saved me in a way. It allowed me to provide for my family and do something honorable," Jones said. "But having a successful clothing and sneaker brand and making that my full-time thing has always been my dream."

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