Living the Dream! Former inmate Darrell Alston launches luxury shoe and apparel brand Bungee Oblečení.
A decade ago, Darrell Alston was dreaming of the life he would lead once he was released from prison. It’s a common dream for many behind bars, but Alston was determined. After being in and out of prison for eleven years, Alston, the CEO and lead designer of luxury sneaker business Bungee Brand has transformed his life from inmate to entrepreneur.
His life’s journey is as captivating as his unique shoe designs. The Paoli, PA-native realized in high school he had a knack for writing and performing rap music. However, while touring in the mid-to-late 1990s he made several bad decisions that eventually led to prison.
During his incarceration, he reached back into his creative wells and molded himself into a self-taught sneaker designer. Once released from Graterford Prison, he acquired a barbershop to earn money. He also began doing motivational speaking to help younger Philadelphia-area children avoid the mistakes he made.
“Because most people have never got in trouble before, they don’t understand what it’s like to be in trouble,” Darrell Alston explained. “You know, even with me being successful, right now, I still get discriminated against. After you get out of jail, it’s hard to find a job or to find a place to live. Car Insurance is through the roof. You can’t get life insurance. So for me to be able to be in the position that I’m in right now, I’m really excited. Because I never knew that it was gonna get this far.”
Alston continued, “I taught myself how to draw while incarcerated. Once I figured out that the shoes look really good that I was sketching, my mom ended up sending me some business books. And I put a business plan together. And when I came home from prison, I just executed. Because I already knew that I didn’t have the same opportunities everyone else had. I already knew that if I didn’t come out and make this happen… Well, I don’t know what would have happened to me. That’s the reason why I just went ahead and just did it.”
His speaking led to TV appearances and a few news stories. Which led Alston to meet a number of his mentors. Including Steve Jamison, one of the world’s premier purveyors of luxury Italian and European footwear. After a couple of years of tweaking and rebranding, Alston launched Bungee Oblečeni recently during a retail popup for Shop Black Business Friday at Jamison’s Blue Sole Shoes at 1805 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.
“It means a lot that I could have someone come to me and respect my craft enough to ask me for my support in their endeavor,” said Jamison, reflecting on the successful gamble he took in 2007 to go after his own seemingly impossible dream.
Alston’s Bungee Oblečení will release four new shoes per year — one each season — while also developing an upscale clothing line. Shoes are priced at $250 to $500 per pair, and all shoes are produced in Italy and Portugal.
“This brand is about innovation, resilience, determination, faith, quality, and style,” said Alston. “Our methodology merges high design and luxury materials with these principles in everything we produce.”
Today, Bungee Oblečení features an elevated line of luxury shoes and clothing with inspiration taken from the Philadelphia skyline to the music world to California sunsets.
“The whole time I was cutting hair and going out to tell my story, I was also continuing to design sneakers,” said Alston. “People in prison told me the designs were cool, interesting, and unique. And while I heard the same on the outside, I didn’t know how I was going to finance the business. I worked hard, and I worked constantly. This launch is six years in the making, and I’m finally here doing what I love. You never know what split decisions can change your life. I’ve had them land me in prison. But they’ve also connected me to some tremendous people who have helped me launch my dream business. I now know that all things are possible. No matter where you come from. And right now I’m truly living the dream!”