Lacing It Up

Osiris gets a solid foothold in the shoe boom.

You’d think the skate world had fallen victim to a mass foot fetish. Shoes! Shoes! Everything is shoes these days! But there’s a reason for the hubbub: in the past three or four years, the skate shoe has undergone a transformation from basic utilitarian foot covering to a highly specialized piece of skate equipment. New companies have sprung up left and right to feed the shoe frenzy.

Osiris is a name that’s been lumped in there with the rest of the youngbloods, but the company’s arrival time can be very deceptive. Tony Magnusson is hardly new to the skate community, and he and his owner-partners at the Alias Distribution conglomerate (including skater/designer Brian Reid, VP of Sales Doug Weston, CEO Tony Chen, and his father, CFO and import/export guru Dr. C.S. Chen) were the wise guys to come up with their version of a brand-new skate-shoe company.

Inserting The Shoehorn

Recently, Tony and Doug stopped by TransWorld to explain why there’s room in the boom for Osiris. It turns out Evol had actually started a skate-shoe line back in ’95 – part of a long-term plan of Tony and Co. to make some key investments in the action-sports industry.

“We had skateboards,” recalls Doug. “We were gearing up to make an investment in our own snowboard factory, and we’d gotten Sound wakeboards going.”

“We thought we could do it all, like Airwalk!” laughs Tony. “They’d made a huge investment and put every new product under their name.”

By fall of ’96, the snowboard industry – and Evol Snowboards along with it – no longer appeared an area of unbridled growth. Meanwhile, Evol skate shoes were doing just fine. Plenty of the shops carrying the Evol shoes were pleased with the product as well as the sales. But the forward-looking folks at Evol could see a potential problem – conflicts of interest for Evol shoe riders with their “rival” board-company sponsors.

“What happened to the Evol shoe program was a little frustrating,” says Tony. “It was going well, but we could see the limitations. We had to make a hard business choice to stop and redo the program with its own identity.”

“Actually, Brian and I spent quite a bit of time discussing the direction change for the shoe program. We decided it was time to play to our strengths,” says Doug.

Ironically, years ago, Tony rode as one of Airwalk’s first sponsored riders, but as he sees it, the skate-shoe potential had hardly been maximized in the following years: “The skate-shoe industry lay dormant, as far as marketing and promotions and new companies go. It was unheard of to start a new shoe company – for so long it was just Airwalk and Vans.”

Part of the intimidation factor for anyone who had half a notion to start a shoe company was no doubt the complicated aspects of shoe production. Not only are large sums of money necessary for the initial investment, but lots of learning happens along the way in the form of a hands-on apprenticeship.

“But that year with Evol shoes made us feel like we knew how to do it,” says Doug.

So in December ’96, Osiris was born. “It was all about putting together a better mix,” Tony says, “logo, team, designs.”

In spite of initial start-up costs, Osiris had a good business plan that allowed them to project down the line, to when the investment would begin coming back. So far, the plan seems to be working, but the Osiris folks are hardly going to rest on current achievements.

“A lot of people have jumped into it skate shoes now,” notes Tony, “and because the shoe market is so big and successful, a lot of companies have been able to see initial success because they can sell their products. But it takes so much more to be able to continue.”

And even in the thick of competition for shoe dollars, the company has benefited from previous years of experience: contacts, manufacturing, buying, selling. “Still,” as Tony laughs, “we wish we’d started two years after Airwalk did!”

Speaking of Aialk, and Vans for that matter, plenty of industry players are quick to cut them down to size, saying the companies sold out to go mainstream, and how they’ll never be credible in the skate industry again.

“But I think they wanted to go that route mainstream anyway,” says Tony. “This has happened in our industry since day one in the 60s: you start out as a ‘core brand, you’re really into doing it. Then you get older, maybe get married, have kids – you don’t want to be in there fighting on the edge anymore, your name is now popular all over the world. They’re both great shoe companies.”

Doug adds, “How much would you really want to backtrack? An article in Time three weeks ago said Airwalk is the number-nine active-shoe company in the world – Nike was number one by far, but nine was Airwalk!”

But all this talk seems inconsequential, after all Osiris doesn’t want to be a competitor on the level of Airwalk and Vans – the company’s after a different segment. Oddly enough, Van’s behavior would indicate that Osiris does pose a threat: lately Osiris has received letters of a legal nature from Vans, and the shoe giant may even have influenced some distributors to put legal pressure on Osiris. Doug and Tony weren’t at liberty to discuss the matter, but although this unwanted interest from Vans and their distributors can be seen as a sort of off-handed compliment, the time and energy required to deal with it cuts into more productive pursuits.

Doug remains undaunted: “Hey, we’re young and energetic. They can keep contacting us and doing all this stuff, but we’re gonna make it.”

The Pro Connection

You could say Osiris started with a heavy focus on pro-model shoes, because the company did begin with four pro models. But the original idea was more to model themselves after successful skateboard companies: start with a core group of really good skateboarders who want to work with the company and are into design, and everyone has their name attached to something – that’s how products are introduced. Then products are added that don’t necessarily have the pros’ names on them. The latest Osiris line features five non-pro/team models, yet all the Osiris shoes are put together with input from the team.

The original Osiris crew was Tyrone Olson, Dave Mayhew, Gershon Mosley, and Adam McNatt. Gershon and Adam have since left, but in their place have come Chad Knight, Kanten Russell, and at the end of May, Matthias Ringström and Josh Kasper, giving them quite a variety of riders.

“There are just some people it’s gonna work out with,” says Doug, “and some people it isn’t. Luckily for us, we’re a little bit bigger than any one rider. The riders are the program, but we’ve replaced those who left with ones who really rounded it out. Chad’s unreal: he can ride street, mini ramps, and vert.”

“And the guys just took off yesterday May 31 on a six-week tour – a shoe tour,” says Tony. “Two vans, two trailers, six riders, two photographers, one video guy, and some drivers.”

Shoe pros offer the company their name and feedback. The question is, what do the riders get from a shoe sponsor? How much are shoe royalties – a percent or a buck or two a shoe? And how true are rumors of five-grand a month as a common base salary?

“A shoe deal is very lucrative,” admits Tony, “getting royalties off a shoe. The way we do it is sell shoes one month, add up the sales, and fifteen days later they riders get the royalties – every month. I believe it’s different from other shoe companies.”

That’s an understatement – so many industry folks think shoe royalties are paid once a year, certainly some brands out there must be doing it that way.

“A shoe company that just started was where one of our old riders went,” says Tony. “He was very disappointed to find out royalties were only paid there every six months.”

Tony and Doug can’t understand why the companies wouldn’t pay the riders every month. It seems the least you could do for the names driving a very solvent area of skate business.

“Shoe companies have gotten away with having some of the world’s best riders for dirt cheap,” Tony says, “and they’ve made more money than any other types of companies in skateboarding.”

The Nuts And Bolts Of Shoes

When told that many shops feel 100 dollars is the highest price they can tolerate for a pair of skate shoes, Tony and Doug agree the shoes just cost too much these days.

“There were a few things we saw that we could do better,” Doug says. “We have a great designer in Brian Reid; he used to manage the skate team for Evol and skates with the Osiris team all the time. We knew how to market and advertise. One of the things we wanted to concentrate on was cost: we brought all the original shoes in at 35 dollars wholesale cost. So in the shops they ran anywhere from 59 to 69 dollars.”

“They have to be realistically priced,” Tony concurs. “I see kids go through these shoes in two weeks!”

And making a shoe that never wears out is not in the works. “Strength and light weight are just two incompatible factors,” adds Doug.

Still, the folks behind Osiris do what they can in the design phase with overlapping and precise placement of the layers of material to ensure maximum wearability. Because the factory is in Korea, frequent trips must be made to maintain these exacting demands. “It’s the best place in the world to make shoes, you’ve just got to work with them,” says Tony. “You spend all day at the factory, for days and days on end. You go to all the subcontractors to find out how they do things and why.”

“Brian Reid and I were just there two weeks ago,” says Doug. “Brian presents a design, and Mr. Lee, the manager of the factory, thinks about it for a minute, and says, ‘Here’s how we’ll do it.’ It’s amazing that he knows just what material to use or can suggest alternatives to our ideas that work better.”

Features like rubber toecaps with recessed stitching increase the life of the shoes, and the Gorgon utilizes a PVC tab system to cover the laces where they tend to wear. Most Osiris shoes even feature a back-up lacing system for when you’ve worn the shoe out around the first set – the second set is recessed. “When I go skate, I just lace the shoes in the back-up system to begin with,” Tony says.

The brand started with four models, but now the number’s up to eight, with two more models coming out at the holidays. They’re even going to reissue two “classics” by modifying the original shoes – new outsole, impact-system insole, and some new colorways.

Recently the crew sat down to reassess the shoe program – Brian has come up with a lot of technical innovations and improvements. Come this summer, Osiris is introducing PU (polyurethane) outsoles, and the Spring ’99 line will bring lower-priced models featuring simpler designs in smaller sizes for the younger kids.

“Everyone’s going nuts with technical features,” says Tony. “DC hit the nail on the head with that one. I’m sure they do what we do – go look at Nike shoes and modify cool features for their own shoes. But I feel like they and a few other companies – even us a little bit – are almost designing themselves out of the skateboard market. If there’s too much stuff – too bulky – you can’t skate in it anymore. I skate in our most basic designs.”

“We want to give people options,” says Doug. “I’m a parent now, and I’m seeing my son’s fourth pair of shoes in three months! At some point, it’s skate-shoe price got to reach its apex.”

The Accelerated Program

So Osiris, the new shoe brand that’s really not so green, is in a more “mature” phase of development than most other shoe companies in their second year. The product delivery is smooth and reliable, the Osiris team is out on tour, and the Osiris video will come out shortly thereafter. The line has already expanded and diversified … what’s next?

“You know what I’d really like to do?” Tony asks. “An event, a special event that’s unmes driving a very solvent area of skate business.

“Shoe companies have gotten away with having some of the world’s best riders for dirt cheap,” Tony says, “and they’ve made more money than any other types of companies in skateboarding.”

The Nuts And Bolts Of Shoes

When told that many shops feel 100 dollars is the highest price they can tolerate for a pair of skate shoes, Tony and Doug agree the shoes just cost too much these days.

“There were a few things we saw that we could do better,” Doug says. “We have a great designer in Brian Reid; he used to manage the skate team for Evol and skates with the Osiris team all the time. We knew how to market and advertise. One of the things we wanted to concentrate on was cost: we brought all the original shoes in at 35 dollars wholesale cost. So in the shops they ran anywhere from 59 to 69 dollars.”

“They have to be realistically priced,” Tony concurs. “I see kids go through these shoes in two weeks!”

And making a shoe that never wears out is not in the works. “Strength and light weight are just two incompatible factors,” adds Doug.

Still, the folks behind Osiris do what they can in the design phase with overlapping and precise placement of the layers of material to ensure maximum wearability. Because the factory is in Korea, frequent trips must be made to maintain these exacting demands. “It’s the best place in the world to make shoes, you’ve just got to work with them,” says Tony. “You spend all day at the factory, for days and days on end. You go to all the subcontractors to find out how they do things and why.”

“Brian Reid and I were just there two weeks ago,” says Doug. “Brian presents a design, and Mr. Lee, the manager of the factory, thinks about it for a minute, and says, ‘Here’s how we’ll do it.’ It’s amazing that he knows just what material to use or can suggest alternatives to our ideas that work better.”

Features like rubber toecaps with recessed stitching increase the life of the shoes, and the Gorgon utilizes a PVC tab system to cover the laces where they tend to wear. Most Osiris shoes even feature a back-up lacing system for when you’ve worn the shoe out around the first set – the second set is recessed. “When I go skate, I just lace the shoes in the back-up system to begin with,” Tony says.

The brand started with four models, but now the number’s up to eight, with two more models coming out at the holidays. They’re even going to reissue two “classics” by modifying the original shoes – new outsole, impact-system insole, and some new colorways.

Recently the crew sat down to reassess the shoe program – Brian has come up with a lot of technical innovations and improvements. Come this summer, Osiris is introducing PU (polyurethane) outsoles, and the Spring ’99 line will bring lower-priced models featuring simpler designs in smaller sizes for the younger kids.

“Everyone’s going nuts with technical features,” says Tony. “DC hit the nail on the head with that one. I’m sure they do what we do – go look at Nike shoes and modify cool features for their own shoes. But I feel like they and a few other companies – even us a little bit – are almost designing themselves out of the skateboard market. If there’s too much stuff – too bulky – you can’t skate in it anymore. I skate in our most basic designs.”

“We want to give people options,” says Doug. “I’m a parent now, and I’m seeing my son’s fourth pair of shoes in three months! At some point, it’s skate-shoe price got to reach its apex.”

The Accelerated Program

So Osiris, the new shoe brand that’s really not so green, is in a more “mature” phase of development than most other shoe companies in their second year. The product delivery is smooth and reliable, the Osiris team is out on tour, and the Osiris video will come out shortly thereafter. The line has already expanded and diversified … what’s next?

“You know what I’d really like to do?” Tony asks. “An event, a special event that’s unlike anything the skate world’s ever seen.”

And if the way Osiris has been going is any indication, you can count on it.s unlike anything the skate world’s ever seen.”

And if the way Osiris has been going is any indication, you can count on it.

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