Graffiti covers the walls, the streets are littered with signs of violence, but the soil is rich in history as skateboarders race down rails and alleyways of sanctuary. It may be a little rundown, but Paterson, N.J. is home to German Nieves, the creator of Paterson League.
Drawing inspiration from New Jersey skateboarding culture and a vintage 1990s Andre Agassi, Nieves is working hard to break into the tennis world.
German Nieves skateboarding in Paterson, N.J.
“When you dress up for something, you are presenting yourself and tennis and skateboarding is a performance," Nieves told Baseline. "I’m just here to help out the performance and to build confidence, I want people to feel confident.”
Since the age of 10, Nieves has kick pushed his way through the streets of New Jersey. His effortless finesse and flow on the board propelled him to the professional level. When there wasn't enough profit up for grabs in the skating scene, he abandoned his pro career for the retail world.
As a skateboarder, Nieves was used to getting bumps and bruises, taking leaps and enduring falls. In his 20s, it took getting fired from J. Crew and pulling out of design school to finally land the perfect forward flip. He teamed up with close friend Chase Whitaker to create the clothing brand Paterson.
"I said I don’t need this stuff, I’m going to go all in with this brand," Nieves said.
The inspiration for Paterson comes from Neives' rural hometown and the color waves that surround skateboarding culture, but tennis plays a big role, too.
"Maybe 10 years ago, I moved to Brooklyn from Jersey City and there were some skaters I hung out with, and I called one of my friends, and was like, 'Do you want to go skate?'" Nieves said. "He said, 'Nah, I think we’re going to play tennis.' I was like tennis? I don’t want to play tennis."
As a child, he recalls escaping hot summer temperatures by going indoors and tuning into the US Open. Fascinated by colorful players, such as a vintage Agassi rocking neon and a blonde mullet, Nieves has always been intrigued by tennis. But picking up a racquet never crossed his mind until that day in Brooklyn.
"I was always into what it looked like but I never had the chance to play," Nieves said. "I got so into it. I became obsessed and I started playing a lot more than them.”
Tennis became an obsession he wanted to inject Paterson's veins with. Though the brand reflects skateboarding and tennis, the clothing is for everyone, from the streets to the country club.
"The vision I have for it is it to become a main stream brand," Nieves said. "One of these brands you see at Urban Outfitters and nice boutiques. I want people to feel special when they buy something. I don't want to make it look like a skate/tennis brand."
Paterson is beginning to seep into the tennis world.
“It’s not as watered down like an Adidas or NikeCourt," Nieves said. "It's definitely more punchy than Nike or Adidas and a lot of brands that are out now."
Nieves' mind is always running wild with experiences, places and color patterns influencing his designs. Sometimes he actually goes overboard, and has to dial it back.
"Some stuff we have made was really cool, but outrageous," Nieves said. "It comes back from the factory and you’re like this turquoise tracksuit is insane, who’s going to wear this? The concept was cool when you designed it, but it comes back and it’s a little too harsh."
The Paterson Spring/Summer collection has hints of Nieves' wilder concepts with its cotton-candy pinks and sun-faded blues.
Outrageous is working for him, as Paterson continues to break away from tradition and push itself into new spaces. Just last year, the lifestyle brand opened up their first pop-up shop on Canal Street in New York City. Set up as an art gallery, customers got to pick Nieves' brain as they viewed pieces in a vivid and lively environment.
"Very art gallery style, couple of racks on the side, plants, and a pickle ball court in the back," Nieves said. "The last day, we held a tournament It was so fun. There were 60 people in that space. It was nuts.”
Nieves is already plotting his next step for his growing brand, which could mean a potential storefront in New York or Los Angeles. The Paterson founder is still waiting for the perfect time to pounce on the opportunity.
"Sporty, aspirational and victory," are the three words Neives uses to best describe Paterson.
He may have taken a bumpy road to get here, but his champion-like mentality to win is what has ultimately propelled Paterson to where it is today.
"Everything that I’ve done with the brand so far is like, I told you I can do this, I told you," Nieves said about choosing "victory".
As Paterson continues to grow and pop up in more and more places, Nieves isn't finished telling you what he can do.