“I just want to tell stories that are seldom told,” Emory explained. “Because of so many things—my talent, the way I dress, people I’ve worked with, but mainly luck—I have a certain reach with youth culture. And I choose to use that, sometimes, to talk about stories that kids won’t come across in school or through [social media] algorithms.” The day we spoke, for instance, he had sent a pair of shoes to the artist 24kGoldn along with works of Black Seminole history, which he then posted to Instagram. “He reposted it and said, ‘Our history.’ This is a young kid, a rapper, with a million followers, posting books about a part of history that isn’t talked about.”
And therein lies the power of Emory’s fusion of personal history and commercial enterprise: by telling a story unique to himself, he can strike a universal chord. It’s part of his ongoing mission to create products that appeal to consumers but are grounded in stories about Black culture.
As part of the collaboration, Ugg is making a $50,000 donation to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, as well as to the Guardians Institute, which focuses on youth advocacy in the arts as they are connected to both Black and Indigenous cultures. “Let’s want for the many what we want for the few,” Emory said. “What we want for these monoliths of Black culture—Kanye, LeBron, Maya Angelou, Cornell West—we want the same opportunity for a little girl in Jamaica, Queens. We want parity, not just to celebrate a couple of Black people who slipped through the cracks of systemic racism and capitalism.”
But what really stuck with Emory on that museum visit, and what he hopes people will take away from this collaboration, was not just his own history, but that of the people of New Orleans. “New Orleans is one of the most dignified places I’ve ever been,” he said. “It’s not about any stereotypical tropes of systematic racism or suffering. They celebrate their local heroes unwaveringly. They celebrate Black women, Black men, Black children. They celebrate First Nation culture, another culture that stands next to them. They celebrate it through music, not just popular music. They’re not the richest, and they’re not the most well-known, but they are dignified.”