Posts Tagged ‘Sole Tech’

Pride Parade

February 27, 2015

TravisProblem

It’s 2015 and despite some generational turnover-style moulting, skateboarding has a lot to feel good about. Tony Hawk’s a millionaire several times over. Rodney Mullen is a snaggle-toothed guru of non-linear thought to Silicon Valley. We got Andy Roy gainfully employed and Fred Gall hitched. Even in the beleaguered independent board-and-shoe biz, growth prospects are good enough for capital formation to have graduated from loan sharks to the gaudily moneyed arena of private equity, placing the Flare and OG logo in good company with assorted interior design firms and taco retailers. The fat tail distribution of the skate-doc curve suggests that within several years’ time everyone who was pro in the 1980s will have had a movie made about them, prioritized somewhat by property-damage totals and conspiracy theorizing. There is a new Bronze vid.

Like a satisfied father, hoarse of voice after lustily screaming through the chain-link fence, watching his sponsorship-bound progeny trudge back up the park steps for another try at the kickflip frontside boardslide, skating seems to be feeling its oats and raring to tell the world — in press release form, as has become the industry’s customary form of communication besides Instagram. Graphical sock firm Stance and their shoe collaborators Vans seemed barely able to contain themselves recently, declaring themselves ‘honored’ to begin selling a group of socks colored to look like famous skateboards. “[A]s much as these legends have redefined skating, they have also reminded us to be true to ourselves,” Vans and Stance socks counseled shoppers.

Medieval theologian Pat Pasquale has been quoted warning that ‘inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin,’ but leave it to the skating biz to thumb nose and/or tail at even the highest of authorities, never mind those Mother Mary sleeves. With the Plan B video looming, Etnies last autumn proudly welcomed Chris Joslin, not long after those Sole Tech tourmates to be at Lakai proudly introduced Jon Sciano and the Fura shoe. Lakai also proudly launched the Spring 2014 Echelon collection, having earlier proudly announced Daniel Espinoza to the team and proudly introduced Vincent Alvarez’s shoe.

Just last month Paul Rodriguez’s Primitive skateboards proudly welcomed double Flip king Bastien Salabanzi, the same month Transworld was proud to grant a posthumous ‘legend’ award to Jay Adams, while Vox shoes proudly hired Victor Garibay and RVCA was proud to offer clothes designed by Elementeer Juian Davidson.

Things slowed down somewhat this month with Street League and SPOT contest supervisors proudly joining forces, and the water company Fred Water proud to sponsor Jamie Thomas and Tony Hawk, among others.

Who retains humility in these heady times? As ever it requires an injection of that fabled 1990s rawness, in this instance, taking the form of JNCO denim pants, those heavily stitched movables with the reliably ballooning seats. Emboldened by its own capital infusion, JNCO pants have reannounced themselves to the world while communicating its investors’ zest for selling unconstrained denim garments without using the word ‘proudly,’ setting an example of understated modesty and grace that other action sport concerns might well emulate.

“JNCO defined a way of life that pushed the limits, encouraged creativity and championed individuality creating the original lifestyle brand that became the foundation of the 90’s youth generation. Presently, the Journey of the Chosen Ones (JNCO) is guided by its main principle: “Challenge conventionalism. Explore the unfamiliar. Honor individuality.” Through this platform, JNCO aspires to bring together the chosen ones – a multitude of like-minded individuals with a shared passion for culture, sports and the arts, on a collective journey that will strengthen their position as the leaders of today’s society.”

Who Killed Es Footwear?

August 15, 2011


I’ll be missing u

It’s gotta not be the shoes: First thought I had upon official confirmation that the pioneering freestyler behind Sole Technologies was mothballing Es, not even ten years ago the mightiest shoe company out, was that the actual product probably had nothing to do with anything. The slippery slope greased up, in some ways, by the resurgence of the Accel itself (personally would ID the Nike Dunk as a co-conspirator) put footwear trends on a path toward the reigning minimalist silhouette atop a white vulcan sole to the point where shops might as well be doing their own Half-Cab and Chuck Taylor renditions. If anything I’d think the commodification of super-simple shoe designs bought Es a few more years than they might otherwise have had if the pendulum had swung violently back toward the basketball court, but then again a meteor could have struck the planet and we may all have wound up atomized.

Then some other people are quick to heap blame on big fishes Nike/Converse/Adidas/probably not Reebok for trolling through the shallow end with their fat wallets, fucking up the food chain for mellower sea creatures that never harbored deeper ambitions, sort of like the Jamaican lobster sang about in “Little Mermaid.” That lobster is convincing and seems wise. But if that were the case, how come Es can’t survive but companies with a fraction of the name recognition and history and established sales/shop networks can still make it? Thinking here of Vox, Dekline, the revived Axion and Duffs, NSS. Or what about little-loved competitors like Globe, Osiris, Circa? How come Circa still has two subdivisions? This may be one of those deals where the amorphous “international markets” comes in as the explainer, but I always thought that was why Es kept around those occasional space-age models in the garish colors.

You look at the Es team website and it’s interesting. On one end you’ve got journeymen pro-dudes like perennial teamriders Rick McCrank and Rodrigo TX, more recent addition John Rattray, you could even include Justin Eldridge here. And then you’ve got a slew of relative newbies like Jimmy McDonald, Kevin Terpening, Ben Raemers, Josh Matthews. We can carve out a middle tier for Bobby Worrest/Kellen James/Mike Anderson but if you’re one of those types who likes to dissect “fit” when it comes to roster moves it would be easy to formulate some messageboard post questioning the cohesion. Maybe there’s a cautionary tale about putting too much weight on up-and-comer internet favorites as opposed to picking some genre lane and staying in it, which seems like it’s working for a company like Emerica. Or maybe it’s a lesson about going the super-team route, and how you better have a good backup plan if and when your super-team scatters to the four shoe sponsorship winds.*

And maybe this episode is more a sign o’ the times than anything else, since it seems like a really big company hasn’t unwound in a while. Es is quite a bit diminished from its Menikmati heights nowadays, but it doesn’t sit right to see this end for an operation with so much history. First three Koston models, Muska’s airbag, Penny stepping in from the wilderness with a switch front-foot impossible of all tricks, the “Enjoy Skateboarding” series, a good run with Ronnie Creager, the Accel obviously, the overlooked “Especial” video, the first Arto shoes, the Contracts, etc etc.

As one of those people who skated in Accels or derivatives like the Square One more than any other single shoe over the past 10 or 12 years, I mourn Es, though partly it’s out of confusion as to how the company with the little tilde thing wound up on the chopping block as opposed to others shopping for some pro-backed identity in an overcrowded segment. I was and still am considering a separate post that may serve as a sappy love letter to the Koston 2, one of the hardest to love shoes ever made that gave back twice as much after they were broke in, and in some ways were ahead of their time in terms of a less-padded tongue and being something like an unapologetic mid-top.

*Another thought, might things have turned out different if Pierre-Andre had cut Koston in via an equity stake?

Walking Blues

August 12, 2009

cardboardshoes
Couldn’t walk a mile off in my air forces (via Fuse Gallery)

Confronted with shoe walls awash in vulcanized soles and increasingly minimalist silhouettes I can’t help but wonder if we’re seeing the skate shoe business, known to some as the last and final bastion of early-00’s profitability for the industry, on the verge of commoditizing itself like what happened with hard-goods. Despite noble efforts from PJ Ladd and TK to goose footwear pricepoints – a bold move in the shadow of a global recession monster – the market seems to dictate that kids basically want $50 Vans, or close approximations thereof, heel bruises and short life spans be damned.

Of course sooner or later tastes will change and tongues will puff up once more, but you have to wonder if technological innovations like the space-age materials currently being pushed by Gravis dude above, or Sole Tech’s shoe lab, or DC’s continued efforts to promote its Super Suede material, are doomed to become the shoe version of carbon fiber decks and air-core wheels. Concaves and dimensions come and go but the skateboard deck hasn’t changed much in the last 18 years, even though the hammer era saw kids of all weight classes snapping boards faster than ever. Who’s to say that the current generation, who don’t remember the armoured tanks we used to push around in, don’t see shoes the same way now?

Now this isn’t my usual sepia-toned spiel about how we all need to go back to the good old days and skate only painted curbs so I don’t feel so horribly insecure. Paying nearly twice as much for shoes that were harder to skate in and only marginally more comfy is a bargain only a fool or a well-paid masochist like TV’s Steve-O would entertain. But I kind of wonder if the shoe companies aren’t painting themselves into a corner here, profit-wise. Meanwhile you’ve got deck conglomerates pushing and shoving to get into the footwear business, and with companies like DC white-labeling the Lynx to shops or whoever, what’s it even mean to be a skate shoe company anymore? It’s like they’re tiptoeing toward blank deck territory, which recently obliterated professional skateboarding forevermore.

But even though there’s so many skate shoe companies now all basically pushing the same product relatively cheaply, nobody really wants anything else right? So how is this different than boards? Most kids don’t give a shit if they snap a board in two weeks versus a month, cuz that’s how boards are. Or, kids don’t care enough to light a sales fire under those Almost disc-decks. The Arto shoe purportedly lasts six weeks longer than a comparable shoe*, but are kids that now buy six pairs of shoes per year going to flock to Gravis so they only have to buy shoes four times per year? People used to a regular turnover maybe don’t want their shoes to last longer, like how you want a fresh board every so often and aren’t trying to ride the same deck for 12 months.

Shit, I don’t run a shoe company, maybe the simple-shoe revolution of the 00’s is all part of their master plan to move more shoes faster. It just seems like it could wind up biting them in the ass, the way all the deck manufacturers are hustling to diversify into clothes and whatnot. Consider: with next to nothing in the way of construction advancement (slicks aside) deck prices have stayed roughly the same for almost 20 years, or at least seriously lagged the inflation rate. (Ye olde inflation calculator puts a $55 board in 1992 at $75 in 2008 dollars.) Skateboard economy, heal thyself…

*however they calculated that one