Darrell Alston spent much of the 2000s in prison serving sentences for selling cocaine, crack and marijuana. After his third conviction, he pledged to change his life. Now a successful entrepreneur, Alston is the creative force behind Bungee, a brand of sneakers and athletic wear.
MLT: How did you start Bungee?
DA: I created the company while I was incarcerated. I made a business plan after reading books my mom sent me. Other people in jail were doing business plans, and they taught me. I taught myself how to draw and sketched the sneakers. But I got my barber’s license in case the sneakers didn’t become reality. I had no more jail time to give. I worked two jobs and saved money until I had enough to get a sample sneaker made. That took two years. I had the first sample in 2014.
MLT: Did your involvement with drugs begin as a student at Conestoga High School?
DA: No, it was after graduation. I come from a great family in Paoli. We were on the urban side of Paoli, in a middle-class area. But I had everything I needed, including both parents. After graduation, I could’ve gone to college. I chose to be a rap artist, but music wasn’t paying the bills. So I looked for products to sell to make money. In North Philly, drugs were selling for $3 that I could sell in Paoli for $20. People from Paoli don’t go to North Philly.
MLT: What led to your third conviction?
DA: After you get convicted, your life is statistically done. Once you can’t pass a criminal background check, you can’t get a good job or a good apartment. Once you make that first mistake, there’s no good way back. You can work for $7 an hour, but that’s about it. My plan was to sell drugs to finance my music career.
MLT: What was your first big break with Bungee?
DA: It was 2018, the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl. That night, I designed Eagles sneakers and had them manufactured. Before the first game of the next season, I packed up my car with sneakers and went to an official pep rally outside the stadium. I sold out, which was great. But I didn’t have official licensing for the Eagles. I didn’t know what that was. My dumb ass was right at the Eagles stadium selling merchandise without licensing. But I used that money to build my brand. I also got investors to help me finance the company.
MLT: How has Bungee grown?
DA: We have close to 10 different kinds of sneakers and a full apparel line for men and women. We had some delays because of COVID. But in the spring of 2020, I locked myself into my office, got an embroidery machine and cranked out hoodies and T-shirts. After I designed the samples, manufacturers created the garments. I put tags on the pieces—even stitching logos. We got the shoes in January. Since then, we’ve been selling very well. It’s great to do something positive that makes my parents proud.