With a brand that has grown from a humble sneaker store in Amsterdam to a worldwide phenomenon including a soundystem, a foundation, a club, or even a running team, Edson Sabajo and Guillaume Schmidt (aka Gee) are one of the most powerful duos when it comes to everything street and urban. The key to their success? In addition to their strong, cemented friendship and being pioneers in their field – they remember how people weren’t allowed into clubs because they were wearing sneakers –, their most powerful weapon is their endless curiosity. “We just want to try things”, confesses Gee. Their latest challenge? Being the guest curators of the Chapter 1NE, the first exhibition of the new cultural landmark in Amsterdam: the Het Hem.
Gee and Edson founded Patta in 2004. Fifteen years later, they’ve collaborated with every major streetwear label there is and have expanded their horizons beyond their initial dreams: an Asian tour, a new shop in Milan, or a collaboration with the renowned Dekmantel festival are just some of the things they’ve done in 2019 alone. “When we don’t have this excitement anymore, we’re gonna stop”, says Edson about their seemingly unstoppable rhythm. Among all this, why did they agree to become guest curators? “With Het Hem, what was really nice is that it was a conversation. Most of the things you see around here and how you experience them are the result of a dialogue”, they say.
Together with the team at the new cultural centre – mainly with Rieke and Kim, Het Hem’s curator and director respectively –, Edson and Gee have curated an exhibition whose starting point was hip hop. “We wanna try to show people that hip hop is not only about golden chains and the bling; it’s more intellectual”, they say enthusiastically. “And with Het Hem, we’ve done that. It’s beautiful!”, they conclude. By focusing on what’s important to them, to their community and way of life, the exhibition – or chapter, as Het Hem prefers to call it since it goes far beyond just a white box with paintings hanging – features artists from all backgrounds, ages and interests. But above all, a feeling of community instils every piece. A feeling that, as each day goes by in these dark times, seems more crucial than ever.
Gee, you tell the story of Patta’s foundation in 2004 as something very organic. You had been working in the music industry previously and got tired of it. Edson, if I get it right, you were also in a sort of ‘lost in translation’ moment. With no money, the father of a friend loaned you half of what you needed to open the space. In an interview with Office magazine, you say about going to New York and other cities to find products “was a lot of hustle and bustle”. And here you are now, fifteen years later, with a cult brand you’ve built on your own. Despite the challenges and adversities, it must have been a cool time. How do you remember those early days?
Gee: The struggle was also part of the fun I guess. We didn’t really know what we were doing, so it was very much an instinctive thing. We had to figure it out together. Actually, we didn’t know what kind of risk we were taking; if we had known, we would’ve been a bit more nervous and sweaty. So I’m conscious about that and am really happy that we’re still sitting here after all we’ve learned and keep learning. Because, in the end, what we keep doing a lot of times is look up where we’re not a hundred per cent comfortable. We just want to try things.
Yes, you’ve been doing a lot of different stuff throughout your long career.
Gee: We spend most of our time together because of this excitingness. Before Patta, we were already friends and saw each other a lot, but the first couple of years, we saw each other every day. And this is what it is. We are cemented. This [exhibition] reminds me how cemented our relationship is.
Edson: He’s totally right. And also, our passion, our hobby made this whole thing. When we opened the store, we loved sneakers; we loved fashion already, so it was a logical step for us to open a sneaker store. Then, all of a sudden, we made some t-shirts with our logo. After that, we said, ‘hey, listen, maybe we should do a whole line. Game in?’ And we did. Within the first five or six seasons it didn’t work out that much, but we had trust and we loved fashion so much, so we kept on going. Now, fifteen years later, we have Patta store, Patta Soundsystem – because we love music –, Patta Foundation, Patta Club, and Patta Running Team – because we love sports. We started with the two of us and now we have twenty-six people.
That’s an accomplishment to be proud of.
Edson: Yes, and we never learned this in school; it’s not ‘school stuff’. It’s more like, ‘ok, what do we need?’ And we work it out. So we’re still learning. This [exhibition], for us, is also a learning thing because we’ve had to talk with the team at Het Hem and feel each other. We felt good so we said, let’s do it! When we don’t have this excitement anymore, we’re gonna stop. If it’s gonna be the same riddle, you’re gonna die inside. I’m 47 but I still feel like I’m 21! That’s the whole thing.
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Now that you have a whole team, you can also do more stuff.
Edson: Our team is very strong. It’s not like we’re the boss and say, ‘you do this and you do that’. No. They come with ideas, which is what we want. Otherwise, we can’t live. And all this will sprinkle down to the younger generations. They’ll say, ‘look at these two black kids doing all this stuff. How do they do it?’ Because we have no investors, there is no one giving us the money. We work and we put our money back. That’s how we started Patta and that’s how we keep rolling. The only thing is that, of course, now we have more money. When we started, it was from zero to ten, ten to twenty, twenty to thirty, thirty to fifty. Now, we can easily talk about a hundred thousand or five hundred thousand. My man, you just bought a house! It’s crazy, that’s dope.
But that’s natural. I mean, you’re not gonna be in a student flat all your life.
Edson: Of course, of course. But at the end of the day, it can go both ways.
Gee: Exactly, it can go both ways. It’s a quick business, you know. Buying a house or things like that are new certainties that we can start giving ourselves, but we’ve seen both sides of the coin. We’ve seen the side where we can buy a house, but we’ve also seen the other side where you think you’re going to lose everything. It is what it is. But we have fun still, which I think is important.
Despite your successful brand and store, we’re here because of art. You’re the guest curators of the opening exhibition of the new cultural centre Het Hem, the Chapter 1NE. It must be an honour! Taking into account that you come from the music and fashion worlds, how did you face the challenge of being or working as curators?
Gee: It’s how we go into every challenge. First, we discuss it together. I get approached or somebody pitches and idea to me, and then I explain Edson what is it about and what do I think. Then, he takes some time to also think about it and reflect on it. And then we decide. With Het Hem, what was really nice is that it was a conversation. Most of the things you see around here and how you experience them are the result of a dialogue. What is important for me? What is important for Edson? What are things essential to our characters, to the way we live, to what we think is exciting, to what we think good art is? What people are close to us? What people do we aspire to have here? We had very wide conversations. From there, we started putting things together and added pieces and pieces to the puzzle. It’s been very close teamwork between the curator, Rieke, and the director, Kim.
The starting point of the exhibition is your interest in hip hop music and DIY culture. Because of this, this chapter “focuses on the artistic language of sampling and assemblage, as well as on the philosophy of learning by doing as the basis for the emergence of new cultural narratives”. What do you think is the best or biggest contribution hip hop culture has made to your lives? And why do you feel it’s important to spread it through this exhibition?
Gee: I can simply say that if I hadn’t come in contact with hip hop, I wouldn’t have been doing this. A hundred per cent sure. It opened so many doors to me! Hip hop to me is contact. I remember some rappers saying, ‘hip hop to me is like a place to be’. That’s the way I look at it. It’s so all around me that, sometimes, I don’t even want to talk with it anymore. I love it more than I can even express.
Edson: It’s deeply rooted. Also, the basic thing in hip hop is making something from nothing. That’s the basic principle. That’s what we’ve done here; that’s why it’s so wide and open. Hip hop is far wide open and influences the whole world. We wanna try to show people that hip hop is not only about golden chains and the bling; it’s more intellectual. Like Gee said, it’s around us all the time. The only thing is that we need to explain it to the world. And with Het Hem, we’ve done that. It’s beautiful!
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The new generations, who’ve been born with the Internet and free access to all, will live very different lives compared to those of their parents. But this DIY spirit is still there: if you don’t know something, you google it. If you don’t know how to make something, you find a tutorial on YouTube. Since you’re professionals at the DIY thing, what would your advice for younger people be?
Gee: Knowledge is power. Read, investigate, find your own voice. In this day and age, with all the information that there is and with so many things that can influence you, I think one of the most important things is to find your voice. And you do that by asking questions, looking around, being curious. By being open to other cultures, by travelling and by investigating, you get to find who you are.
Edson: Yeah, it’s one of the most important things for me too.
Discrimination is still a big issue in many companies – because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. In big, important museums and galleries, it’s still rather hard to find a balanced list of artists in their collection between white and non-white or male and female. Nevertheless, things seem to be changing. The artists you’ve chosen for Chapter 1NE challenge all this. Tell me more about the criteria and parameters you’ve used to choose them.
Gee: For a lot of that world, that might be something outstanding. But to us, it’s not more than what we deal with every day.
Edson: Yeah, that’s normal (laughs).
Gee: We are it.
Edson: We grew up with that. We grew up with a lot of gay friends, black friends, but also Hispanic friends, white friends; we grew up together! So for us it’s normal. We’ve been hanging around with women not because we wanna fuck with them, no; just talk, have discussions, etc. because we are curious. We go to different countries and we wanna learn more. We’re like a sponge. Like Gee said, this is us, it’s normal. And it should be normal for everybody.
Gee: I think it’s a goal. Of course, all the things you stated you should change and we understand that this is special because it’s done differently. But our goal is to normalize all these things. 
Edson: If everything is normalized, we can go to the essence. Who’s the best in this or that? People won’t ask, ‘oh, why is this gay guy exhibited here? Or this woman? Maybe they…’ No, we don’t think like that. We go with it because we think that they’re the best at what they do. If it’s a girl, ok, it’s a girl; if it’s a gay guy, ok, it’s a gay guy. Who gives a flying fuck? Be the best! We don’t even look at colour. But that’s their minds; our mind is different. If you just take a little bit of our mind, then you will probably grow. Everybody will grow. And at the end of the day, we will all learn.
“The artworks presented in this exhibition unfold an associative story about the role of communities in the development of culture; the importance of role models of colour within our society”, reads the press release. This relationship between community and culture is another of the main pillars of the exhibition. Do you feel you’re more aware of this issue because of your family and personal backgrounds? It speaks about the importance of role models of colour, and I assume there were very few in your childhood/teenage years.
Gee: The people we aspired to be were a little bit further – Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, fucking Frank Rijkaard. And then, maybe there were other people like a newsreader, but also very far away (and very few, only one or two). But this is everywhere. With teachers also. Or you go to the city council and think, ‘where are your people?’ Now, times are changing, so it’s important for people to have role models that are aspiring and touchable.
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We all need to feel part of a community, of a group that socially accepts us. But we’re not just one thing: we can be from the LGBT+ community as well as of the black community, for example. What community do you feel has been the most important in your lives?
Gee: Team Patta, man, that’s our community! (Laughs) That’s what it is bro. No, listen. I like all these communities, so with that, I try to build my own. What I do is pick the people I find nice or that we can really connect with, and we form a team. And that’s a community that we form. For me to say, ‘I’m only of the hip hop community’ would be limiting, and I don’t like to limit myself.
Edson: And you put yourself in a box. But basically, we’re all just human. That’s the culture. Team Patta is our own culture, we have our own lane; if you wanna get on board, ok, then we need to talk. If you wanna be on board for the wrong reasons, we’re gonna let you go off. Bring something to the table. If you bring something to the table, we can roll together and we can build this whole community for the kids. A lot of people ask, ‘why don’t you make the strip logo, make a million of those and just get the money?’ Or get an investor. And I can’t name them, but we have many investors interested because they think that what we do is cool. But we can’t do it because then it would die. What we’re building is gonna die if we do that. Sometimes we struggle but we know what we’re doing it for.
Streetwear culture has trickled down almost every layer of society. High-end brands have been releasing luxury sneakers for a while now and very sporty looks, and several other urban, streetwear brands have flourished in a short span of time. Since you two are almost pioneers and opened a streetwear shop before it was trendy, how do you feel about society’s inclusion of athleisure, tracksuits, or sneakers at work?
Gee: It’s accepted now, it’s part of popular culture in that sense.
But do you feel it ruined it? Or do you feel it’s cool that everyone embraces it?
Gee: To me, personally, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just do what I do anyway. It’s nice that people do it, but I don’t have anything to do about it. To me, whether you wear sneakers or sandals or high heels doesn’t really change what I do. The product is the product, but we do so much more than that. This type of things that we do (like this exhibition) are what gives the product life. A brand is also what’s behind it, what’s its backbone – music, culture, interests, etc. Maybe when we started Patta in 2004 our motives weren’t exactly the same as they are now, but we’ve learned and keep learning along the way. We travel, we meet people, we live new experiences and have new ways of looking at things.
Edson: It’s a cycle. Two years ago, you couldn’t go with sneakers inside a club. Now, you have to have the best ones! And to me, this is funny. And it can keep changing in the next ten years. Right now, what we ask for is to have fun.
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Since you’re already a cult brand/shop, what do you feel still differentiates you from the rest?
Gee: I can very much say that, for one, we are pretty accessible. You’ll see us all engaging among the people of our community or the people that we work with. We just go there, organize stuff, we’ll be chilling. That’s not something special; it’s how we’ve always been. But that’s also because it comes from within. Edson is a DJ, so he plays still. And I’ve always been organizing parties or bringing people together, so that’s what I still do. You can’t say that about many companies – the owners being at the party and then going up and play some records; they hire other people to do that.
In addition to being the guest curators of Het Hem, you’ve recently collaborated with Air Jordan on a new model of sneakers and opened a new store in Milan. What else is on the pipelines right now? Any other projects we can know of?
Gee: We’ve existed for fifteen years, so we’re gonna definitely have a couple of more surprises this year. People are gonna be shocked, which is fine because we like that. For us, it’s just a matter of keep doing what we’re doing now. We need to keep it together and just keep going.
Edson: The production is already done; we’re no busy for 2021. We wanna do more stuff with the foundation and the soundsystem. We’re just back from Nigeria, and Gee and I were talking about doing a tour in Africa maybe. We just did the Patta Asian tour, where we brought everything we have to Asia – the soundsystem as well as the running team, etc. We’re constantly seeking how to do more. As said in the beginning: no more excitement, we die. And we don’t want that.
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Dana Lixenberg, Christopher Wallace (Biggie), 1996, 2018.
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Sanlé Sory, various artworks, 1969-1984.
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Farida Sedoc, The People’s Voice, 2019.
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Sanford Biggers, BAM (for Jordan), 2017.
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Sanford Biggers, BAM (for Jordan), 2017.
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Erik van Lieshout, Beer, 2019.
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Terence Nance, Swimming in Your Skin Again, 2015.
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Roxette Capriles, Treasure Junk Museum, 2019.
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Dana Lixenberg, Tupac Shakur, 1993, 2018.
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Linda van Deursen & Dana Lixenberg, Tupac Biggie, 2018.
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Gabriel Lester, Neck of the Woods, 2019 (Boxing Clinic).
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Ebony G. Patterson, Of 72, 2018.