Zaza Pachulia Kicks Up Support for Georgian Fashion with Crosty Partnership

In 2017, Zaza Pachulia became the first player from the Republic of Georgia to win an NBA championship, when the Golden State Warriors topped the Cleveland Cavaliers in a five-game Finals series. Thanks to this historic victory, Zaza was able to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him back to his home country, where he also received an Order of Honor from then-president Giorgi Margvelashvili for his outstanding achievement as a citizen.

Upon his return to Tbilisi—his hometown and Georgia’s capital city—Zaza received numerous other gifts, but none that stood out like the pair of Crosty sneakers given to him by Georgian brothers George and Shota Mikaia.

“I was kind of surprised,” Zaza tells CloseUp360. “There was a note in Georgian obviously congratulating me and it kind of touched me a little bit because you can tell it was done from the heart. When I opened the shoes, when I felt it, you could tell it was a nice design, good, premium quality. They have an amazing story behind them as well.”

Since his first championship in 2017, Zaza has proudly worn the Crosty sneakers to almost every game. Like his nearly four million fellow Georgians, Zaza respects and carries his country's history with him. For the first seven years of his life, he too lived under Soviet rule. It wasn’t until 1991, with the Soviet Union collapsing and the Cold War nearing its end, that Georgia celebrated its post-Soviet independence. That freedom is something Georgians like Zaza and the Mikaia brothers value not just once a year on Independence Day (May 26), but every day.

“We're pretty similar,” Zaza says of himself and the Mikaia brothers. “We faced the same kind of difficulties. For them, it was probably worse because in the ‘90s, we lost the territory where they're from, Abkhazia. It's probably the most beautiful part of Georgia that we had and unfortunately we don't occupy it anymore.”

Zaza Pachulia George Mikaia Crosty

Zaza Pachulia catches up with Crosty co-founder George Mikaia (left) this week in the Republic of Georgia. (Courtesy of Zaza Pachulia)

In 1992, the brothers’ beloved Abkhazia was caught in the middle of a civil war that forced them and 20,000 other Georgians out of their homes. After returning to a scorched home in 1998, the Mikaia family decided to say goodbye to Abkhazia for good and move the family to Tbilisi in 2002. In the Georgian capital, the brothers developed an obsession with soccer as a way to cope with the suffering they knew as children. From their love of soccer came another obsession: sneakers.

As it happens, shoemaking is a centuries-old tradition in Georgia, steeped in the ancient history of the Caucasus region. In fact, the world’s oldest known leather shoe, dubbed Areni-1, was found in a remote cave in Armenia—Georgia’s neighbor to the south—in 2008, with an age dating back approximately 5,500 years.

The Mikaia brothers decided to take the traditional Georgian skill to the biggest stages in fashion, all while keeping the history of their country ingrained in the sneakers. Most pairs of Crosty sneakers bear the word “freedom” in Georgian across the side of the toe box like so: თავისუფლება. Some of the shoes’ packaging also features the country’s five-cross, red-and-white flag.

Georgia literally started from nothing,” Zaza says. “So those [Mikaia] guys [are] appreciating freedom and telling the story about how important it is to have freedom, and to walk toward the freedom in nice shoes.”

After realizing the connection they shared, Zaza and the Mikaia brothers announced that the two-time NBA champ would be partnering with Crosty. Though he’s been wearing the sneakers for years, Zaza made it official this past March, before convening with the whole Crosty team in Georgia this month.

“I've been wearing the Crosty's in a lot of pictures,” Zaza says. “You can see it on my Instagram page. I fell in love with the shoes—comfortable, the design, especially the white colors.”

“Our team is so excited to welcome Zaza to the Crosty family,” George, the company’s creative director, said in a press release. “This partnership symbolizes so much to us, but first and foremost, it symbolizes our mutual desire to spread the message of freedom and individuality to the world. We both come from a place of hardship and have fought the way to where we are today.

“Zaza and his success have been an inspiration for many young Georgians and for our brand as well, and now we walk this path together.”

Zaza’s favorite is the Elan sneaker in white, which pairs perfectly with the business casual looks he wears while walking into the arena on game days.

Before he considers creating his own signature Crosty sneaker, Zaza’s first order of business as brand ambassador is to make larger sizes for not only himself, but other athletes as well. At the moment, Crosty’s kicks top out at size 13, though the company plans to expand its offerings to fit feet like Zaza’s at size 16. The sneakers he currently wears are made custom for him.

“Basketball players, football players, we all have large-sized feet,” he says. “Those guys love to dress up, so we want to give them the opportunity to order their size.”

Though the larger sizes are still in the works, Zaza hasn’t been shy about sharing Crosty’s with his teammates—those who can fit in them, anyway.

Zaza in the NBA's Job Shadow Program

After the Pistons’ playoff exit, Zaza joined other NBA and G League players in the league’s Job Shadow Program. Through the program, participating organizations educate players on their respective industries, provide a platform for players to offer feedback on current business projects, and further conversations around career development with players after the job shadow experience.

Zaza, in particular, learned about real estate from New York City-based firm Douglas Elliman and spent time inside the NBA’s Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey.

"The NBA Job Shadow was amazing,” he tells CloseUp360. “I think more players should take advantage of that opportunity."

Zaza Pachulia Douglas Elliman

Zaza visits Douglas Elliman's headquarters. (Courtesy of the NBA)

Zaza Pachulia NBA Replay Center

Zaza checks out the NBA's Replay Center. (Courtesy of the NBA)

“Whoever is a size 13. Like, I got some for Reggie Jackson, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington and a couple of our rookies,” he says. “I got a lot of positive feedback. It’s always good to hear.”

The responses have been so positive that, after Reggie posted a photo of the new Crosty sneakers he got from Zaza, their teammate Andre Drummond took to the comment section to make sure Zaza knew he wasn’t happy about being excluded from the Crosty club. Zaza reassured Andre that a pair in his size (18) would be coming in the near future.

Though Crosty is the first designer sneaker brand to come out of Georgia, the Mikaias aren’t the first Georgians to stake a claim in the fashion world. Fashion designer Demna Gvasalia, who's also from Abkhazia, has designed for Louis Vuitton, and is currently the founder of Vetements and creative director of Balenciaga. Also, David Koma established his own eponymous line after serving as the creative director for Mugler from 2013 until 2017.

“These designers are introducing the Georgian fashion culture to the world. They did a really good job of creating and telling stories through clothes and shoes and accessories,” Zaza says. “Being in fashion, on all kinds of levels, there's so many talented Georgian designers that are on top of the world right now.”

While Zaza is excited to make an impact on the fashion world, his partnership comes down to the culture and history of his country. It’s an expression of the same freedom that all Georgians cherish after their 70 years spent under repressive Soviet rule.

As much as Zaza enjoys the fashion side of his partnership with Crosty, for him, it’s more about understanding the hardship that his country underwent and sharing it with the world.  

“To be able to explore things and go outside of the country and the border, and visit different places and to be citizens of the world, it means so much,” he says. “Now we're gonna walk toward freedom together as a team, and let the world know about Crosty's.”


Magdalena Munao is a Multimedia Producer for CloseUp360. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.