in conversation with Daniel Navetta
Introducing one of the more inspiring characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting lately—filmmaker, executive producer, entrepreneur, creative, and life-long New Yorker—Daniel Navetta. He is known for innovative storytelling and guiding the success of his commercial and documentary production company Bryght Young Things, as well as the hit podcast on Hypebeast, “Business of Hype.” He’s also influenced an ever-growing audience of conscious footwear consumers through his instagram page @theairvegan, as well as @futurevvorld, which he dubs as a hub for Earth-friendlier projects. Because my job rules, I got the chance to chop it up with him for this week’s Possessed Weekly. We rapped about the running community’s waste problem, sustainability in hype culture, what shoes are really made of, what could be done better, addiction, running, punk rock, climate change, going vegan, PMA and not staying in your lane.
Please introduce yourself!
My name is Daniel Navetta. I am suddenly 40 years old. I live in Crown Heights Brooklyn, I was born in Woodhaven, Queens in New York. Most of my life I’ve lived in a ten mile radius. I’m a townie, but a New York townie.
How long have you been running for?
I’ve been running for probably a dozen years. I really got started in it because I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, working in film and commercial production, and I knew I was — no joke — just killing myself. I was super addicted to cigarettes. So after a trip to Maine in the middle of the summer I listened to the audiobook of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, who was one of my favorite authors at the time. Yeah, and it inspired me to fucking sort of take my life into my own hands and try running, ya know? And to look for peace in running. At the time I was living in Williamsburg, like a block from McCarren Park. So when I got back home I grabbed a pair of non-running running sneakers and went to the track where I tried to make it around four times. And that was the beginning of it all.
Did you find a link between quitting smoking or other drugs and running? Did that help you quit?
Oh my god yes, it’s really a such big part of my story. I look at the community and I feel like there’s a lot of people in recovery who run to help themselves. And it’s definitely helped save me in a certain regard and given me some additional layers of purpose in my life. I’m seven years drug- and alcohol-free. It’s hard to even talk about it and not get emotional. Running has been a big part of what I believe has saved my life and turned it in a completely different direction. But at the same time, I also think it’s worth saying, I did enjoy the time in which I was smoking weed before I ran, it would help me get to a place of flow. But at a certain point I had to stop doing drugs. And it’s just one of the casualties. But I also didn’t become a casualty so it kind of balances itself out.
Yeah, that’s huge, you’re still alive. What advice do you have for people who are still actively dealing with addiction and are looking to make the leap and try running as a way to get there?
I think we need things to replace addiction. It’s weird man, I never really talk that much about this stuff. But that’s just because I don’t have other friends who have been through it so when you start talking about it some people can't relate, their eyes glaze over and they get sad for you.
Are you cool to talk about it?
Yeah, I’m totally cool talking about it. It’s just rare that I get to. When I do it’s like, Oh my God. I think we need to replace the idle time with other things. For so many of us, I think addiction is rooted in disappointment with ourselves or hatred for ourselves or just general sadness. And I think that the small victories that come from running you can get addicted to, and that’s better for you. It opens up new doors. I know that I’m now addicted to running. I’m addicted to work, I’m addicted to being creative, having creative output and collaborating with people. I had to replace my negative addictions with positive addictions. And running is something you can do almost every single day because I mean I was getting high everyday, multiple times a day. It helps sort of fill those gaps.
At the time, I also didn’t have any community. I just worked but on set with people and then I would go home. I was coming home from set and I lived by myself so nobody would see. So as long as I showed up to work and I didn’t reek of alcohol or weed and my eyes weren’t bloodshot, then I could get away with it. But at home there were drugs all over the coffee table and empty beer bottles everywhere and shit.
What did you do on set?
I own a commercial production company. So thirteen years ago I started as a production assistant and then became a production manager and then a producer and then a director and then I started my own company and now I’m like executive producer and we represent other directors. That’s my career and Futurevvorld was this fun hobby that I thought I should do.
Yeah, tell me about Futurevvorld!
So Futurevvworld is the extension of and hybrid accumulation of all my interests. When I started doing the Air Vegan account, which is just an account to try to raise awareness or make a call to action to sneaker brands to do a better job of labeling products so that people who don’t wanna wear animal products on their feet can still feel like they can find cool shit. But it’s such a fucking mystery to even know what shit is animal free from the major brands. I just felt like I’ve been into sneakers for 35 years, I like expressing myself through sneakers, so I started The Air Vegan so people didn’t have to feel like they needed to wear the corniest fucking shit on their feet.
So I did it to see if I could inspire people who wanted to be able to fucking look cool and professional and also not have to wear leather on their feet. And hopefully inspire sneaker industries to move away from using genuine leather products, cuz it’s time. So after seeing the success of that, I was like this feels very limited and narrow in focus - which was ok in the beginning - but I felt like I should combine my creative ability that I have honed in advertising and try to make it cooler to care about the planet and all the shit that’s going around. And created a design language and a way to make it not so corny. It worked with The Air Vegan and now I want to just put it into practice and change the messaging to not always be this message of doom. How do we inspire people and tell positive stories about the efforts that people are making to do better in fashion, footwear and design. Long-winded answer but that’s what Futurevvorld is. It’s basically the extension of all the things I’m interested in, the vegan lifestyle — although everything on Futurevvworld isn’t vegan specific — doing better by the planet and combining that with creative storytelling.
So despite everything going on in the world you’re not a doomer somehow?
No, I sort of don’t think that inspires anyone. I take issue with it. It’s like when people used to say shit about smoking. It’s like, yeah, show me the ads of people's rotted out lungs and as soon as the commercial is over, I’m gonna be in such a state of panic that I’m going to go out and smoke a whole pack of cigarettes. But if you inspire me to see some lane of positivity and see that there’s a better way, then talk to me about it. I need to be enlightened. I feel like everyone is trafficking in doom, although shit is grim I don’t think we’re gonna inspire each other that way. Yeah I get it, we’re racing the clock. I’ve been dealing with this for twenty years. I always talk about the election of 2000 here in The States. I remember arguing with my family, You don’t understand, Al Gore has to win because he actually cares about what’s happening to this planet and none of the other shit really matters to me in the immediate. But he needs to win because climate change is real. And my family was basically *like, Just chill out!* And here we are.
Does the running community have a waste problem?
Mmmmm-hhhmmmm. One thousand percent. I think it’s pretty obvious. I’m burning out sneakers in 200 miles usually, max. It’s because 55% have some sort of running impediment, deficiency, or whatever you wanna call it. So it causes us to burn through our sneakers faster. Are the uppers on all those sneakers in perfect shape and could probably go through five more life cycles? There is no doubt in my mind. And I think sneaker brands who wanna talk about how they care about the environment, if we don’t start entertaining the concept of replacing parts of sneakers, then don’t talk to me. We have to start operating like this is a solution because we’re wasting half of a sneaker that's in perfectly good working condition. And that’s ridiculous. And when I asked from submissions from the community, I’m certainly not the only one — I see it in more than half of the sneakers that come to me. Actually, all of the sneakers that come to me, the upper is totally in great working condition.
Those posts with the submissions were really interesting.
Thanks. Yeah I don’t know if you saw the one of the dude who had a 1000 km on his fucking shoes, but totally nuts. We’re gonna post another set of this guy who’s replacing his own soles. He’s just buying rubber and DIYing putting rubber on his shoes. He’s just like fuck it. I’m doing it myself, don’t tell me it can’t be done.
I guess to answer why did I start Futurevvorld, it’s because I was seeing interesting traction around these conversations I was starting, these hopefully thought-provoking conversations I was having about way the sneaker community could improve. Things we could be doing better or ways to think about things differently. Not like, here’s a bunch of negative shit, I don’t have any answers. No, I don’t wanna talk about that stuff unless I’m providing solutions that people can pick apart. Like, let’s talk about, is there a legal liability for brands to offer donor soles. If they’re letting a third party replace them is there a legal liability? Or can brands do it in-house? I think it would be actually fucking cool if I was able to go into whatever sneaker brand you like, go to the in-house cobbler and come back in five days with a new sole on my sneaker — that’s sick! That strengthens my allegiance to a brand. I think brands need to consider that stuff. I just like sort of workshopping ideas in public and trying to get people to talk about em, cuz I think it’s helpful.
What are some other things the industry could be doing better?
I think that the sneaker industry at large has this obsession with drop culture, which is a huge problem across hype culture in general. I just think there’s a different way to do this stuff. I proposed a pre-order model for sneaker releases because I think fueling this reseller market which also makes people convert things that are not really actually important. I just think we can reprogram ourselves in a subtle way. If I could get the things I wanted and we could cap them or manage how they get produced with better communication as opposed to, like, the brand makes five million units and the sneaker is a clunker so they sell one million and then four million go into their recycling program, but we’ve now extracted all these resources from the environment to make these four million sneakers that no one's buying and we’ve wasted our entire lifecycle of the shoe. We could take the small business model that people use for preorders. I think there’s something interesting that can happen in the sneaker space around that. We’ve created a monster and I think there’s a way to make people feel better about their purchases and I think the brands that start writing a new narrative will be embraced. As opposed to continuing to be like, We don’t have any answers — enter this raffle, good luck! There’s a level of toxicity in hype culture. If we all could manage our wants and if I could get things and commit to purposes in advance and things like that.
What about transparency and knowing the ingredients of the shoe?
To me that’s so simple and the easiest way to elevator pitch that is: I go to the grocery store and there’s nutrition facts on my food so I can tell if it’s vegan or not and I can make my purchase. The fact that we can’t understand what’s in our sneakers is totally absurd and it tells you a little bit about what we’re doing to the environment. If I looked at food and i’m like Oh cool, there was ninety seven ingredients in this bread so I don’t think I’m buying this bread. If I look at the sneakers and there's a thousand ingredients in this shit and I can’t understand any of them and they all sound toxic, I don’t want them. How are we not mandating that brands communicate clearly what’s in these sneakers? So we did a design exploration around that and tried to show that we could create some standards for brands and inspire them to do better because everyone can see it. Instead, people are just tricking people through marketing and then who knows what the real story is. How traceable are any of these elements?
How many materials is the average shoe made up of? It seems pretty complicated.
Super complicated to make. Super complicated to store. Super inefficient from a carbon footprint standpoint cuz shit's coming from all over the world. And then, on top of that, when you’re done with the sneaker — taking that shit apart and being able to recycle certain elements of it — they’re not designed to come apart. Which is a problem. And that goes back to my modular pieces [idea], we need to be able to have replaceable parts. Simplified construction is a huge thing too. It sort of goes back to if brands can be transparent or if they were being mandated by governments to be transparent, or if we as consumers were calling for brands to be transparent, I think they would feel the heat a little bit to make better products.
Are there materials that are more sustainable than others that you’d like to see used more?
Yeah, anything that is regenerative. If you look at the Stussy Air Force 1’s, not a perfect shoe by any stretch of the imagination, the heel material is this synthetic leather and sort of unnecessary but the majority of the shoe is hemp. So the cool thing about it is that it’s super durable, it extracts less water from the environment than cotton. If it’s an organic hemp, which brands could sort of lean into, it gets into the potential territory of regenerative so that we’re not just extracting from the environment and then depleting that soil and not being able to use it again. Hemp is a very durable, great construction, that should be considered more in products.
My friend asked me today, Do you care about these new Travis Scott’s or whatever? Are you talking to me? I don’t care about that shoe. I don’t think there’s anything cool about doing what the group is doing, ya know? I come from punk rock music and shit like that. I come from these subcultures. Hey, what patches are on your Jansport? What stickers are on your guitar case? And why is this guy making his own guitar strap? That shit is dope! Oh that dude is rewiring his head to get a totally different sound? This guy is making his own pedals. I gravitate to those people who have ideas, not people who go, Hey someone told me this is cool and so I’m wearing it now for the next month. That shit is corny as fuck to me.
What can consumers do at the ground level? I feel like a lot of people feel overwhelmed as individuals….
I was sitting here last night about 10pm and washing dishes after dinner and I’m reading this [IPCC Climate] report that came out that everyones talking about and turning into Instagram posts and shit. A) Yes but B) is any of this actually news? Now we’re surprised that we’re fucked? But I’m sitting here thinking, here comes the doom posts! But what can anyone actually do? What the fuck actually is an actionable item for people, right? So I’m sitting here thinking to myself, oh my god how do I come up with a creative way to inspire people to understand that we can do these small gestures? The truth of the matter, obviously, is the government needs to do the right thing by the environment. But we’re gonna be waiting a long time for that. It sure ain’t gonna happen tomorrow. I’m just like, you don’t need to buy the new blank, ya know? Fill the blank for yourself but go back to this idea that every time you think you need to buy something new, you probably don’t. And I get it, I make commercials for brands. I am in this world. So I’m kind of shooting myself in the foot. And you work at a brand that I love and I want those garments because I like the way they perform when I wear them. But do I need a new running shirt? I don’t. I have plenty of shirts. I probably don’t even need to wear a shirt when I run. I mean, I do so that no one calls the cops on me.
That’s the reason why I wear a shirt too.
[Laughs]. No one needs to see this hairy Italian 40-year-old guy running through Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I’m sure of it.
You never know, someone might need it.
I just think you don’t need that new "fill in the blank." I think we need to start training ourselves to be in the mindset that: repair, use the things that you have, stop thinking you need a new thing all the time — you don’t. There’s ways to fix things we have. We need to get more in touch with the things we already have in our lives. We need to stop caring what other people think of us and start understanding how our daily lives have an impact on the environment. And of course, I'm going to say, which doesn’t really win me a lot of fans, but as a society we need to stop eating animals and relying on using animals for unnecessary purposes. We can’t do that all at once and set animals free into the wild, I’m not saying that. But I do think we gotta get the world off this idea of eating animals five nights a week. I just don’t think it’s fair. And it’s not good for the environment, it’s not good for our bodies, it’s not good for the healthcare system, it’s not good for a lot of things. I obviously advocate for a plant-based diet.
Did you go vegan around the same time you quit drugs?
Oh my god dude, it all came around the same time. In the same year I did all of those things. I’m sure you know what life is like drinking and doing drugs until all hours of the night and doing anything you want, whenever the fuck you want. And then all of a sudden I could be hanging out at the senior citizen home for how tame my life became. But yeah I did it all in the same year. And the truth of the matter is, I became educated enough on the direct correlation between a diet that was heavy in meat and cancers and other medical issues. I would say 80% of the people in my family have had episodes with cancer, so I’m just trying not to have that be the way I go down. And, if I can, do anything to decrease the odds after a decade of smoking a pack a day and being a fucking alcoholic and drug addict. I just felt like I wanted to be alive and I felt like part of that flip for me was that I should stop eating animal products.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to make that transition. What do you think the key was for you not falling back into old habits?
As far as meat or all the stuff?
I guess all of it. I was kind of talking about drugs but all of it because I think quitting anything is pretty hard.
Yeah man, and again it hits on the most raw nerve in my whole entire being when I see other people fall back in. I totally understand. I feel like I’m always living on a bit on a razor's edge. Which I’m sure everyone who’s been through this can relate with. I could say all the cliché stuff but I don’t know if that’s worth anyone’s time. But I think that we owe it to ourselves as individuals. My sort of breakthrough came coming down off of being high and I had this total breakdown of admitting to myself that I was tired of being disappointed in myself. I had just lived that way for so long and I didn’t want it for myself anymore. I just fail myself all the time and I just don’t want that for myself anymore. I don’t have any magic solution, it’s very much a minute by minute thing. When I think about what it’s like to be disappointed in myself, I don’t want to trade, I’m not interested in it, ya know? And I know how slippery the slope is. It’s the slipperiest slope. Yeah, I’m around pot all the time cuz it’s so fucking socially acceptable now. Which is also amazing cuz for so long I felt like a second class citizen, and now it’s cool. I just think we owe it to ourselves. I’m not trying to not disappoint anybody else, I’m just trying to not disappoint myself anymore. I met that quota a long time ago and it was fucking exhausting and I was depressed and just sad.
That’s super relatable.
I’m very inspired by everyone else who has been through any part of the journey, so to hear that you know it... which I was sort of aware of... but yeah there’s a kinship obviously.
For sure there is. Did you realize the importance of sustainability around the same time or did that come later for you?
No, that came later, to be honest. I was always sort of like, climate change this, that and the other. But I wasn’t seeing it through the lens of my own personal consumption, I was just on this hamster wheel — it’s sounds gross and very yuppy — but I was trying to make a career out of nothing. I was a fucking janitor when I started and got my first opportunity as a production assistant in film. So I’ve been grinding my way to this place, and so I was just on this hamster wheel for a long time and just not really aware of what my impact on the environment was aside from when I changed my diet and how I ate. But the sustainability kinda came from my wife.
With everything going on, it’s hard to even turn on the news. How do you stay positive?
Woooo, I definitely tattooed PMA on me a few years ago. I have all these gentle reminders tattooed on my body now that help me when I’m getting in the shower in the morning. So I’ve put all these notes to myself on my body, which has honestly been helpful and keeps me light about it. And I just think that if I get negative, I’m not good to anyone when I’m in a negative state of mind. I definitely have some influence in my community professionally and I feel like I have some influence in the conversation around greater environmental responsibility in this culture of consumerism. I feel like I don’t have a choice, it’s just not an option. If I get pissed off ever then I go for a run to shed it. I fought so hard to be a positive person and I’ve been through so much to get where I'm at. And I know how awful being negative is and how that’s my inclination. I’m just trying to fight this good fight with myself on a daily basis.
I think people take their lead from me and I’ve realized that I have direct influence on the people I work with, the clients that look to me for creative leadership and even tomorrow morning when I’m at the track at 7am for a track workout. When the coach tells us what we’re doing, do we laugh and do we make it fun and something we can all rally together around? Or do we start pouting? As much as I played music and did all that in my life, playing sports is at the core of my being. I started playing sports at five years old and I still play in leagues now. And I’ve very often been the captain on many of those teams, so it’s like I know that I need to rally other people. For better or for worse, I’ve been given that character trait so I think I need to use it for good, if nothing else in this life.
I’m gonna switch gears a little bit here. How does your approach differ when you’re choosing shoes for performance and running vs fashion?
For performance and running I choose my sneakers based on: I need assistance, I need a physical boost. I’ve had three knee surgeries on the same knee, I’m forty, I’m not tall and lean. I’m not a gifted runner, I’m just a lover of running. The carbon fiber plate has become pretty essential to any of my shoes. I like a light shoe. I’ve become hyper-specific and almost superstitious as far as I need these things in my running sneakers or else. So yeah, I pick from a performance and technical component standpoint for that stuff.
With my regular footwear, I realized that now I have a platform to have this micro-influence on people that I connect with so I try and wear my Space Hippies all the time. I’m trying to wear them out so I can have them mended and repaired so that people can see that it’s cool to wear the same sneakers for a year, and not have twenty five pairs in rotation. I just try to promote that I have extended the lifecycle of a lot of my sneakers. I would say more than half of my sneakers are dead stock or I’ve owned them for at least eight years. I keep shit in rotation forever. I still clean my sneakers. As a forty year old who doesn’t need to do that from a cost saving standpoint but I do it cuz I want my shit to last as long as possible. So I try to wear old dead stock stuff or stuff I bought gently used, because I feel like it opens these other conversations for people.
What’s a book everyone should read?
Honestly, this is so corny but The Power of Now [by Eckhart Tolle] changed my whole fucking mindset at a time when I needed to change my mindset. If nothing else, it goes back to being able to be positive when things are bleak. It helped me a lot with sobriety and it helped me a lot with relationships and not being explosive. It’s just helped me in so many aspects of my life, even professionally. And Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
What a record everyone should listen to?
Girls' album Father, Song, Holy Ghost. That album is one of those albums, I wish I was in that band, I wish I created that thing, I wish that was my legacy, they perform it so perfectly, it’s a masterpiece to me.
What advice would you dish out to a teenage you if you could?
Don’t think that you have to be like other people. My whole life, every time I’ve been inspired to do something, people have been like, you can’t really do that cuz you’re doin this other thing. I’m at this place in my life at forty years old where I feel very fulfilled because I still play sports, I still mess around on the guitar sometimes, I willed my way into the creative industry. I have done all these things where people have been like, well if you’re a producer for commercials, you probably shouldn’t be seen as a director also. Or you should probably just stay in your lane. DO NOT stay in your lane. Don’t let people trick you into thinking that this life is one chapter because I’m on chapter fucking eight and all of those chapters have been so important to who I am now.
Yeah that information would have been super fucking valuable in, say, high school. Ya know what I mean? No one told me shit about life.
Yeah, same dude. Youngest child, my parents divorced, nobody’s paying attention. It was just like don’t get arrested and don’t die. I grew up with two older brothers, I wish I had a better relationship with women as a young man. I think that’s something that’s important to young men, to work harder. I didn’t understand women in a way that I aim to now. Especially in the music world and shit. I just think we as human beings can learn a lot by trying to be more sensitive to people and understanding. I think this new generation is doing a good job of that. I wish I would have learned better behaviors growing up but I wasn’t really parented.
What does your ideal future world look like?
I see what you did there. Yeah man, I think that my ideal future world is a world where we stop thinking that the world owes us shit. The world does not owe us shit, ya know? I live in Brooklyn, I watch a lot of other people like, show up to the fucking party here and think that like, you know, that parking spot is theirs cuz they parked there for the last two months. I just see micro-aggressions in my life where I want to be removed from the equation — and we need to start seeing each other clearer. And sometimes I see glimpses of that, but I think if this world is going to succeed at fighting back all of the fucking things that we've done wrong then it needs to start with these simple interactions and in our sort of micro-communities and how we treat each other. And then think about your planet, the Earth as one of those beings. We need to be there and be responsible and caring and sensitive, ya know? I think that if we can do that on the small-scale, then we'll have a lot better chance of being able to do it on a big scale.
Interview by Travis Keller