By Billie Stone

When I was around 13, growing up in small town Adelaide, South Australia, the number one, must-have teen fashion essential was a ‘Troop’ hoodie. Troop was a somewhat obscure American ‘hip-hop’ street wear brand, which was also hugely popular in the underground UK Dance music scene, making it a really big hit down under.

Although Troop was known for it’s lavishly embellished high tops and out-there outer wear, these high-end items were extremely rare in Australia. The coveted hoodies in question were pretty basic in comparison, probably bootlegs, now I think about it. Made from cheap, thin jersey, printed with the distinct Troop Crown and logo –and featuring thick, cotton rope hood-ties, that hung down long in the front.[1]

There was only one store in town that carried Troop gear –dance music Mecca, Central Station Records in Gay’s Arcade. Just down from the Mall’s Balls. As a kid -a tomboy with blonde skater bangs no less- it was a pretty daunting place to visit. Climbing the stairs up to THE elite record store, I’d be checking my shoelaces in my sneaks were just so. Those hoodies would sell out so quickly, that I never managed to get one of my own, but the ghost has haunted me forever.

Recently, feeling a little nostalgic, I started to search for vintage Troop gear –with the faint hope that an original hoodie from ’88 is still floating around. What I actually found was a bizarre and complex story of this mysterious street wear brand, full of white supremacy rumors, conspiracy theories and juicy urban legend. Troop’s history is worthy of a ‘Made for TV’ movie.[2]

The brand was created way back in ’86, in the boogie down Bronx, by brothers Teddy and Harvey Held and their business partner William Kim. With either dumb luck, or genius marketing strategy, Troop was quick to establish itself with the burgeoning urban Hip-Hop scene. The brand’s distinct, flashy style -featuring ultra, ultra high tops embellished with big gold medallions, stonewash denim jackets with leather trim and luxurious velour tracksuits- all emblazoned with Troops signature, bold branding was embraced by the growing subculture.

Popular MC’s and Hip Hop acts endorsed the brand, most notably LL Cool J, who rocked custom Troop outfits, but artists like Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic and MC Hammer were all fans of the young company. It seemed (as Kurtis Blow would’ve said) the world was theirs.


A few years into Troop’s emergence into the street-wear streets an ugly rumor began to surface. It was said that the Ku Klux Klan owned the company and that ‘Troop’ was actually an acronym for ‘To Rule Over Oppressed People’. It was also said that if you cut open the lining of a jacket, a message read; “Thank you ni**er for making us rich”. Claims were made that coded messages were also integrated into the tread of their sneakers. For a young company whose main market was African American and Latino youth, these accusations were particularly devastating. It didn’t seem to matter that the company’s founders were not White themselves -the Held brothers are Jewish and Kim is Korean.

Once sparked, the rumors spread and mutated like a virus and before long, people were swearing they’d seen LL Cool J had throw off his Troop Jacket in protest on the Oprah Winfrey show. (This is unconfirmed) In an inverted form, it was also suggested that LL was in fact himself a supporter of the KKK. In a desperate ploy to prove the rumors false, Wesley Mallory (the company’s black marketing director) sliced open the linings of five jackets in a live store demonstration. There were no such messages inside.

Despite their efforts, the company never recovered from these blows, and almost five years after their launch, Troop was bankrupt. The owners have always downplayed the effect of the white supremacy rumors, instead stating that bad business decisions and the fad like nature of the street wear industry as the main factors for their untimely demise. Rumors of internal embezzlement are still around also, but have not been confirmed by the company.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is the theory that Troops disappearance from the market is really just a small piece of a much larger puzzle. On Internet forums and various blogs, there is whispered talk that a powerful conspiracy exits -one, which ensures that the ‘Un-named’ companies stay on top of the ladder and get the lion’s share of the massively lucrative street wear market.

It has been suggested that these rumors have been intentionally and maliciously started by rival companies to quell the success of small, young start-ups. Back in the day, at the height of an American ‘Blood’ and ‘Crip’ gang epidemic, British Knights (BK’s) was rumored to stand for ‘Blood Killer’, in turn inciting further gang incidents. Reebok was accused of supporting apartheid around the same time. To the sneaker conspiracy theorists, it all seems a little, um, ‘convenient’.

But Troops’ story continues. Dormant since the early 90’s, it’s unexpected comeback was announced in 2007; a whole new collection of apparel and footwear–and even a new school LL; ol’ Band –Aid face, Nelly. First sporting a brand new Troop tracksuit at the 07’ BET awards, it was announced that he would be behind the brands re-launch. The company began a media frenzy, with many Hip-Hop and street wear blogs blowing up with anticipation. Images of the new releases were featured in advertisements and articles. It looked like Troop was about to be back in a big way.

In a ‘tell-all’ article in Sneaker Freaker magazine (’07, Issue 13) Randy Scurlock spoke enthusiastically about the re-launch of the brand. He gushed about the new high quality leather and materials used in the new models and some of the modern design elements. Admittedly, Troops original sneakers were not the best quality, but it was the bold, unique and OTT style of the shoe that made them a hit. It seems that these first releases were pretty tame in comparison with their iconic originals, as if the ‘new’ Troop just missed the point.

And here, the trail goes cold. I’m not sure if the actual release was a huge disaster or what, but after reading all the hype about it’s the brand’s phoenix like re-launch, things just seemed to fizzle out. Again. The official Troop website is dead, Google searches come up cold, and I can’t find any reliable stockists of the re-launch models. Apart from the on-line discussion of obsessive Sneaker Freaks, Troop appears to have vanished and once again, faded into legend.

A couple of days ago a found a lead that the SPX re-issue has finally been released…in Korea. There was no word as to its arrival or existence in the States. And, despite all my Nancy Drew like investigation, that elusive hoodie from my memories is nowhere to be found. Maybe I gotta go down to Chinatown. I’ll keep you posted.


[1] I can’t find an image of the actual hoodie I’m referring to, but it’s kind of like the dude’s in this video.  It’s the black one with all the crowns.

[2] In my ‘Made for TV’ version, Tracy Morgan plays LL Cool J.

Snopes. 2011. Urban Legend Reference Pages.

You can find Billie Stone killin' it on the internet here, here, and here.


  1. Pam Stone says:

    Loved the article - i remeber that shop in adelaide - and billie's obbession.........
    i'll keep my eye open - in small towns like the mount have unusual clothes - they are not from the mount - they are sent from capital cities - so you never know billie. look forward to more good stuff on this site - thanks.Cut & Run - like the name...

  2. Gibo says:

    Hi there,
    Great blog man, I have a little info on Troop for you.

    Nelly owns the rights to the Troop clothing side of things only, not the sneakers. The sneaker side of Troop is owned by about 10 different people, all in different regions. This is why the relaunch in 2003 and 2007 failed, There are too many chefs involved here.

    I personally know Berni Pai, (The owner of SPX, he purchased the rights after Troop and SPX previous owner, Trippe Three Leisure went bankrupt He does not own the rights too Troop) I do have contact details for one of the owners of Troop Footwear.

    SPX are launching in the west also very very soon.

    I am launching a old school hip hop clothing website very soon, we will be the only western distributor of SPX. will be stocking SPX, Troop, BK, Kangols, Dookie Cold chains,custom made graffiti t shirts and lots more. Hopefully the website will launch sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.


  3. Bob says:

    Here is info. on the company posted in a Chicago Newspaper from July 13, 1989

    Athletic-shoes Business Victim Of Urban Rumor
    July 13, 1989|By Cox News Service. Tribune reporter David C. Rudd contributed to this story from Chicago.

    ATLANTA — Three black men peered into the window of Troop Fashions, a downtown sporting goods store. The door was chained and padlocked, and pasteboard boxes were stacked to the ceiling inside.

    When a passerby asked why the store was going out of business, one of the men, John W. Starks, said: ``KKK . . . The word is out that the Ku Klux Klan owns Troop.``

    A storefront sign that read, ``Troop says no to KKK,`` failed to convince Starks that the Korean-owned athletic shoe manufacturer has no ties to the Klan. ``Somebody has to know something for them to be putting posters like that up,`` said the 25-year-old construction worker.

    Troop Fashions, formerly of 54 Broad St., is the latest casualty in a bizarre rash of rumors linking Troop Sport, a New York-based sporting goods company, to the Ku Klux Klan.

    In May, Troop Sport closed its Atlanta store and is shutting down all 17 of its other retail stores across the country. The rumor, it seems, hit hardest in Chicago and Detroit, cities with large populations of blacks, who constitute a sizable chunk of the $3.77 billion athletic footwear market.

    In Chicago, a Troop Sport store at 350 N. Orleans St. closed due to bankruptcy in the last several weeks. Company officials said the closing was not a direct result of the Ku Klux Klan rumors, but salesmen at other Troop retail outlets said the talk did hurt sales.

    Steve Guarneri, general counsel for Down Troop Sport, parent of Troop Sport, said sales were affected but none of the closings was caused by the rumors alone.

    Concerning the Chicago store, Guarneri said: ``A secured creditor, a finance company, exercised its interest in the inventory to get money owed them. Those rumors were proven to be false.``

    The rumors did hurt sales of the once-popular shoes, said one retailer.

    ``The rumor had something to do with it,`` said Frank McCorkle, a manager trainee at Hardy`s shoe store in the Evergreen Plaza mall in suburban Evergreen Park. He said young customers asked about the rumors and older shoppers turned away from the shoes, though they are ``good, comfortable``

    shoes, McCorkle said.

    He added that around the 1987 Christmas shopping season, when the shoes were most popular, the store sold 100 to 200 pairs of Troop athletic shoes each week. The store now sells one or two pairs each week, and the price of the shoes has been slashed from about $89 to $40, McCorkle added.

    Troop shoes, a funky, urban line that company officials concede is of no real performance value, cost from $30 to $100 with the $75 ``Cobra`` the biggest seller.

    In the first five months of the year, Troop took in $5 million in sales, half of the $10 million it made in the first five months of 1988. And recently, parent Down Troop Sport filed for bankruptcy.

    In retrospect, franchising may have been a bad move, say company officials who are shifting to a wholesale market. Still, they concede that the rumors had a substantial impact on sales.

    ``Sales were dropping,`` said Wesley Malloy, director of marketing for Troop Sport. ``The stores were really hurting.``

    Though the source of the hearsay is still a mystery, Troop officials believe the Klan rumor surfaced more than a year ago in Oakland and swept across the country, becoming an urban legend.

    The Atlanta version of the rumor has the words ``Thank you nigger for making us rich`` emblazoned in the tread of Troop`s tennis shoes. An examination of a shoe revealed nothing.

    A Chicago variation has rap singer LL Cool J ripping off a Troop jacket on the ``Oprah Winfrey Show`` and accusing the firm of hating blacks. The singer has never appeared on the talk show, said Christine Tardio, a spokeswoman for the show.

    And in Memphis, Troop is thought to stand for: To Rule Over Our Oppressed People, according to Troop officials.

    No evidence has surfaced linking the company to the Klan. Conspiracy theories that blame competitors as potential sources of the rumor have not been proven.

    Malloy, who is black, said he has no doubts about his employer`s affiliations. ``I`ve been to Korea and seen the whole operation for myself,`` he said, adding that he has gone to great lengths to disprove the alleged Klan connection. ``I went to Montgomery, Ala., to a store and cut open five pairs to prove that it wasn`t like that,`` he said.

    Klan leaders emphatically disavow ties to the company. ``What would the Ku Klux Klan have to do with a bunch of gooks?`` said J.W. Farrands, Imperial Wizard of the Connecticut-based Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

    If the rumors are baseless, the hostility moving them is real. The California attorney general ordered an investigation after an Oakland store that carried Troop products received bomb threats. Several Detroit stores stopped carrying Troop shoes after their windows were smashed by vandals, said attorney Guarneri.

    The persistence of the rumors, some psychologists believe, can be linked to a general sense of frustration among young, urban blacks and growing animosities toward Asians.

  4. Bob says:

    Could this be where the KKK rumor started? On community radio stations?

    "Soon it was reported on community radio stations that the TROOP trademark was owned by a company controlled by the Ku Klux Klan." - From the book:
    The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties: Authorship, Appropriation, and the Law - by: Rosemary J. Coombe


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