Behind the Big Ballers: SLAM PH’s exclusive interview with the Santa Ana’s Billy Dill on Big Baller Brand

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Lonzo Ball rocked the ZO2 Prime Remix in his first preseason game with the Lakers. The Prime Remix is an improvement on the original ZO2 Prime which was unveiled last May, featuring an updated and advanced design as well as the latest in basketball sneaker performance technology.

There’s a reason why the ZO2 Prime Remix was able to improve on the original in just a couple of months. That’s because Big Baller Brand (BBB) partnered up with the Santa Ana Design Lab. The founders of Santa Ana are David Raysse and Billy Dill, the brains behind Brandblack.

The two brought their innovation and expertise to the table. They then completely redesigned the signature sneaker of one of the most hyped rookies in the league.

SLAM PH talks to Billy Dill about the partnership between Santa Ana Design Lab and Big Baller Brand.

SLAM PH: Is it accurate to call this a collaboration between BBB and Brandblack? Or is Santa Ana operating as a completely separate entity? How did Santa Ana come about?

Billy Dill: This is definitely not a collab between BBB. The opportunity came very organically and David and I met with their crew and while our brands are not the same stylistically we do have some common ground. We both related to being the “underdog” and competing in a very large market controlled by a few brands with huge marketing dollars, paid athletes and armies of followers.

Santa Ana was started by David and I to give us an opportunity to explore innovation. Which is obviously expensive because you’re literally pioneering concepts and it takes a lot of trial and error to get it right and these price points will be higher. In effect it is a design lab, but also becoming a segment of products from Brandblack for some of our higher priced retailers as well as special projects with those retailers, brands and elite athletes.

SLAM PH: Can you fill us in on how the partnership/connection started? Who reached out to who?

BD: They reached out to me. It was interesting and i shouldn’t tell it, but I was in Paris during fashion week and they contacted me. At the time I was aware of all the back and forth on BBB and Nike and Adidas. I felt like what they wanted to do was out of our comfort zone as a brand, but that we could have a conversation when David and I were in the same time zone, which turned out to be pretty difficult during that time of year.

After a lot of back and forth they sent a “terse” email asking if it was safe to say we didn’t want to do business together. I got that message when I woke up and fired back with an equally terse response. My phone rang three minutes later and it was BBB and they said something to the effect “I like the way you do business!” We had a meeting and what was discussed made a lot of sense. They are about disrupting the status quo and so are we. We just happened to be very good at building high quality performance products which you wont find outside of “other guys.”

SLAM PH: Did you have any hand in the ZO2s? Or is Santa Ana’s involvement limited to the Melo Ball 1s and ZO2 Primes?

BD: No we had nothing to do with the first one. And I’d like to say on record, while it’s not really designed to function at a high level of basketball, to have been able to have built anything at all was somewhat impressive and shows the determination those guys have to succeed. I ain’t mad at that at all!

SLAM PH: How was it established that the original ZO2s were going to get a remix?

BD: You cannot make a performance basketball shoe from scratch in three months. Impossible. So in order for them to deliver the highest quality, functioning shoe to their consumer they would have to change the design or deliver a basketball shoe that you can’t play in? We suggested using one of our existing outsole molds as the foundation and we flew to China to implement an “all hands on deck” type of attack with a very elite factory to get an incredible product made in record time. Mission accomplished!

SLAM PH: Both the ZO2 Prime and the Melo Ball 1 resemble the Brandblack Rare Metal a lot. What sets the three shoes apart specifically?

BD: Basically we introduced a new foam compound we were going to release in a new Spring/Summer 2018 product. So that’s different. The upper is definitely different. We also added carbon fiber to the heel and tested multiple carbon shanks for hyper responsive rebound. But truth be told Lonzo didn’t like the full length carbon fiber – and if you watch his game, I don’t think he really needs that anyway.

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SLAM PH: What will be the relationship of Brandblack and BBB moving forward?

BD: We have every intention of turning the basketball shoe world upside down. We will build the highest level products using innovations that were cost prohibitive before. I can guarantee with full confidence the shoes, David, myself, the elite BBB design team and the BBB team are going to build for basketball are going to change the way the basketball market is structured. Wow that is a lot of Bs. Might have to call the project the Hive.

SLAM PH: As far as manufacturing and tech, is it safe now to say that BBB is of the same quality as Brandblack?

BD: If you’re talking specifically shoes then yes. And in a lot of ways it will become superior on the level of basketball because their prices will be much higher and allow us to push it as far as it can go.

SLAM PH: Are there other brands outside of BBB that Santa Ana is working with currently?

BD: We have some collaborations and special projects slated for Autumn/Winter 2018 and beyond. Definitely some tech apparel.

SLAM PH: Where do you see BBB in the landscape of the NBA market?

BD: At that price point, where do you feel their ceiling is with the sneaker-buying consumers? Lets see where this goes and then revisit that question in 6 months.

SLAM PH: What’s the level of involvement of Lavar, Lonzo and Melo with the design and creation of the products?

BD: They are definitely involved but, in the future, we will be taking deep dives into each players’ strengths and weaknesses to create the absolute best product for each one of these elite athletes. Stay tuned.

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SLAM PH: What does Santa Ana have in store for us, now that the BBB partnership is in the books? How do you differentiate the approach with Santa Ana vs Brandblack?

BD: It will be an elite design lab that will release very informed, elite products in footwear and apparel in some very unexpected channels. Brandblack will always be first and foremost in our world and will only get better as we continue to challenge ourselves and the market – on the daily!

Preseason game photo from Sporting News

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