Banned From The NBA: Inside The Rise Of Sneaker Brand APL

The greatest revolutions often start very quietly. For Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) it was in a USC dorm room. That was the nondescript place where a pair of height-challenged, walk-on-college-basketball-playing twin brothers, launched their sneaker empire. Adam and Ryan Goldston were simply looking for a leg up on their Division One competition when the came up with their patented Load ‘N Launch technology, which enabled them to jump higher when wearing their APL sneakers. From there the brothers developed their bootstrapped concept into a full-fledged brand. When the NBA got wind of the Goldston Brothers’ Concept 1 basketball shoes, then Commissioner-David Stern banned them from for providing an “undue competitive advantage.” Cue the Jordan Crying Meme right? Nope, try the Dikembe Mutombo finger wave instead. Then their David and Goliath story went viral, putting their start-up company on the global map as the opportunistic entrepreneurs sold out nine months of inventory in three days.

You can’t make this shit up.

Six years after being banned by the NBA, the Goldston’s are now cover boys for the Forbes 30 Under 30 List. Combining fashion with function, the APL brand is worn by A-list celebs like Michael B. Jordan, appears in Fashion Week runway shows, and on professional basketball courts all over Asia and Europe. The LA-born-and-bred Goldstons, whose father was behind the Reebok Pumps and the LA Gear Lights, are destined to leave their footprints in sneakerhead history, making them not only men of style, but revolutionaries redefining the sneaker industry as well. We had a chance to chat with the Goldstons over email to get the inside scoop on how they turned a life-changing experience from a negative into a positive and the state of the sneaker in today's culture.

How does growing up in the shoe industry influence or inspire your own business?
Our Dad worked at the L.A. Gear in the 1990s, and we were 5 years old when he brought home the first samples of famous L.A. Lights for kids with the flashing light details. We ran into the bathroom and closed the door so it would be pitch-black, and then we started stomping all around. But we couldn’t see our own lights, because they were on the back of the shoe. Obviously, as kids we crushed because we couldn’t see the lights and told him he should put them on the side of the shoe. So, the next day he called the factory and they moved the lights to the side. We always like to joke that this is how we got started in the industry.

What was it like getting banned by the NBA in 2010? How did it fuel your drive to succeed?
Obviously it was a crazy experience and not ideal at the time, but ultimately it was a blessing in disguise. Thanks to the press and headlines, APL took off after being banned by the NBA and it changed the course of our business and gave us the platform we needed to promote and build our brand.

What's the state of the sneaker in terms of culture and style?
Sneakers have never been more relevant than they are in today’s culture. People are dressing for comfort yet still want to look stylish. We feel that we have provided a shoe that can take someone throughout their day in all aspects of their life but also embodies that hit of style that people crave. These days, the lines are more blurred than ever and fortunately for us, athletic wear and sneakers have moved out of the gyms, off the courts and into, not only the every day, but the most stylish scenarios as well.

How is APL is redefining the footwear industry?
We bootstrapped APL in our college dorm room with the mission of creating a brand that approached footwear in a different, unique and innovative way. Certainly our technology speaks for itself, but we also wanted to join it with style and performance as well. These three ideas, technology, performance, and style really are the foundation for everything we do.

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs and technology?
Our inspiration generally starts from gaps we see in the market or feedback we hear from customers. For instance, we wanted to design a sneaker that you could throw on quickly without socks when running out of the house. So we designed the Phantom running shoe with a built-in antibacterial sockliner. We’re constantly looking to our customers for feedback and this drives our innovation and design process. Obviously we’re always trying to push the limits of performance and design so we’re always looking to try new things and disrupt the status quo.

You guys recently made The Forbes 30 Under 30 List. How did you celebrate?
We went to get coke icees from 7-Eleven. It’s sort of a long-standing tradition from our childhood and it’s always how we celebrate a big milestone.