Rubber, Canvas, And A Little Spit

“Less is more” is what I keep hearing. And it seems truer than ever in the world of skateboard footwear lately. I mean, how often do you hear complaints from kids about a skate shoe looking too tech, too b-ball, too dope, or whatever? And if they don’t say it, you can see it in their faces or in the fact that the whole size run is still in inventory while all the simpler, less expensive shoes are flying out the door. What about when the reps come into shops or the retailers show up at trade shows? Nowadays, more often than not, people are wincing at the ├╝bertech, and companies and riders are embracing simplicity, history, and respect for consumers’ wallets.

Skate-shoe companies are reverting to classic skate-shoe styles with basic cup soles and medium pricepoints all the rage and popping up en masse in everyone’s new catalogs. Airbags and arched, hourglass-shaped soles are less dominant, and in no attempt to be subtle, just about every skate-shoe company has some knock-off in their lines of the classic Nike Dunk, precursor to the 80s-era Air Jordan–the definitive skate shoe of its time–which by the end of the decade was being hand-cut into lowtops. Additionally, the return of some old favorites, like Vision’s shell-toe, Airwalk’s Enigma, and Etnies’ Sal 23 and Natas are forcing everyone to look at skate footwear in a whole new light–or a new old light. Osiris is releasing the Jay Adams shoe, and Vans has an all-leather Alva shoe that is oh-so retro and available in both low- and mid-top models. Why? Is it more fashion trends and identity crises, or is it necessity and performance? Is it a much-needed history lesson or just a bunch of old fogies seizing a chance to get ultra stoked on nostalgic skateboard stuff? Or maybe it’s a money issue? Actually, the answer is D, all of the above.

Fashion Versus Performance

Current fashion trends are clearly a huge factor in the recent simplification of skate shoes. Let’s face it, hesh and punk are thriving, and skating may very well be on its way to a more “roots-based” state. We all acknowledge that everything goes in circles and can’t avoid the ever-swinging fashion pendulum. “I think people are tired of the over-tech, overdone features,” says Sole Technology PR Manager Piney Kahn. “A lot of the features put into skate shoes weren’t always necessary, but put there for visual appeal. People are getting back to basics and what skating is all about. The hesher trend definitely helps that.”

In the old days, skate shoes were designed for utility, but Kahn believes those days are gone: “Unfortunately skating is far more affected by fashion now than it ever has been. The majority is always influenced by trends–tragically. There are a handful of people just into it for the skating, they are purely into function, like the minimalism (of classic designs), and will continue to wear those styles.”

DuFFS Director Of Athletic Marketing R.P. Bess also acknowledges that simple is in. “If you look at fashion right now, that’s what people are doing,” he says. “But don’t get me wrong, the hesh thing has a lot to do with it in skate. It’s hard to wear big shoes with tighter pants. It doesn’t look right.”

But many also feel that shoes are heading in this direction for performance purposes in addition to fashion. Although no one expects the ultra-tech skate shoes to disappear, perhaps this is a return from the super-tech to a sensible middle. Even if it takes concealing some of the tech features for a more minimalist look, which is another step most companies seem to be taking. “Fewer pieces on the shoe helps prevent stuff from pinching your feet or layers peeling back,” says Airwalk Footwear Category Manager Rob Dotson. “Different TPR treatments or direct injects start to make the shoe too bulky, wear funny, and peel back. Fashion definitely has contributed to it, but it opened people’s eyes to realize that a simpler style in a shoe actually performs better than your typical technical ske shoe.”

Dotson says that many breakthrough features of traditionally tech shoes should continue to be included in otherwise basic shoes: “You’re even seeing basic uppers on a more tech bottom for cushioning purposes with airbags, PU midsoles, EVAs, tackier gum rubbers for traction, grip, and better flex in the outsole/midsole combination.”

Dylan Raash is a footwear designer at Vista, California-based DC Shoe Co. Raash says that at DC they feel they have to push research and development with skate shoes. “By doing that, you’re always going to have a tech shoe,” he explains. “Whether you make a shoe more durable, have better shock absorption, or just more comfortable, it takes a lot of research and development, which by definition makes it high-tech. But that doesn’t mean the shoe will look like a spaceship with a Honda flare kit on it.”

DC pushed the technical envelope in the mid 90s when skate shoes were predominantly cup-soled and uncushioned. “I think with every kid in the country watching the X-Games and being influenced by skateboarding, sales of the stereotypical ‘super-tech’ skate shoe went off the charts,” says Raash. “Now with the market saturated with the tech style, it opens the door for the simple styles to come back. The ‘core market needs to separate themselves from the mall kids–as a result, the hesh/classic trend begins.”

What about the pro shoes that are usually feature heavy and driven by bells and whistles? Surely they want to make money, which means following the trends to some degree. Are they toning down their signature shoes? Airwalk offers its pros the option to do both high-tech and simpler shoes for their pro models. This way the consumer has the choice to buy either the tech, feature-filled Pat Channita model, or the low-key, skate-by-day, chill-at-night model.

Many other companies’ pros are simply requesting the scaling down of their signature models and are designing shoes that are more classic looking, feeling, and performing–all the while keeping under the 80-dollar retail pricepoint. Matt Hensley was hounding DuFFS to do a simple shoe for a while, and with The Gambler his wish was granted. Considering the success of that shoe, you can be sure the upcoming Jason Adams model will follow a similar logic.

Jerry Hsu’s pro model on Osiris is probably that company’s most simplistic pro shoe to date. The new Rick McCrank 2 from ├ęS and Emerica’s Reynolds 2 are a small sampling of Sole Technology’s toned-down pro shoes. Podium’s Steve Berra 2, Kerry Getz, and Marc Johnson models offer further evidence of the new movement in pro-shoe design, as does the buzz about the decidedly low-tech I Path brand. “We see our pro models becoming simpler and more classic,” says I Path Co-Owner and Designer Matt Field. “There will always be a few more features to a pro model, making it special, but for the most part we are keeping it simple and classic.”

Money

Price is a bigger deal now than it was a year or two ago. With more kids skating, at the shop level there are more parents complaining about replacing shoes so often at such high prices. And there are more kids who can’t afford new shoes on their own if they keep shopping for the high-end, high-tech pro models. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” says Osiris Vice President Of Design Brian Reid. “I’m really stoked for the kids, they can now get two shoes for what used to be the price of one.”

DuFFS has given the market a break from the prices as well. “I think the parents like it, and I think the kids are into to it as well,” says DuFFS’ RP Bess. “Our shoes are less expensive, but they’ve always been very competitively priced.”

“Shops are happy to see a change because everything has been on this bling-bling mania for a while,” says Sole Tech’s Kahn. “The cost goes down with less tech features, so the parents are happy, too.”

Airwalk’s Dotson offers further insight: “With pricepoint being such a factor these days, kids going through a lot of product, and shops just trying to find partners to be profitable with, the day of the 50- to 58-dollar wholesale purchase is slowly but surely starting to fade. And a lot of accounts are really even hesitating on the 45-dollar (wholesale) range. They’re really looking for ‘what can I get in the 30-dollar to 37.50-dollar range wholesale so I can go out and keystone this shoe, make good money on it, and the kid is going to get a durable performance-driven skate shoe?’”

Past, Present, and Future

What about all these revival shoes and concepts that are coming out of the archives–is there a market for them? Is it another trend as well or a much-needed history lesson? Vans has released the Tony Alva shoe. Osiris, known for being steeped in the present, is releasing the Jay Adams pro model–which they won’t describe, only saying that it’s about the well-deserved respect that Adams didn’t get back in the day. Sole Technology knows a lot of the younger kids don’t necessarily know their history, so rereleasing the Sal 23 and original Natas is educating them that the company isn’t the new dog on the block. Vision can celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary by bringing back its mid-80s shell-toe hightops, but also recognizes a market for such nostalgic items. “There’re those hesher punk kids asking for it on our Web site all the time: ‘When are you gonna bring out the classics? I want to see that stuff–my dad used to ride them,’” says Vision’s Mike Acosta. “We want to show consumers where we were back in the 80s, where we are now, and how we cater to both markets.”

Airwalk is starting its retro campaign with the rerelease of the Enigma. From there, it’ll introduce a lowtop Enigma, new versions of the Jim Shoe and One from the early 90s, as well as the Protoype-series Bruiser model that Mike Vallely originally helped popularize. “A lot of people are getting back to the heritage of what a skate shoe is and putting their little twist on it,” says Airwalk’s Dotson. “I don’t think it’s really a trend–it’s looking at what skating was and realizing your roots, that’s where it all came from and that’s where it’ll always build from. You can get as crazy as you want with skate shoes, you can make the lightest skate shoe or make the most technically advanced skate shoe, but when it really comes down to it, the simplistic style is always going to be there.”

Dotson says Airwalk management looked at the brand’s fifteen-year history and identified which shoes made an impact over the years: “These shoes made sense, and they still do. The older generation remembers, but the new generation needs to be educated on the past and understand where everything came from and how it all evolved. It’s a way to have people remember and go, ‘Damn, I remember rocking those Airwalks. That’s so sick that they’re bringing them back!’”

Maybe that sums up the whole skate-footwear industry right now?bring back the old simple styles, the old constructions and materials that perform so well, the old shoes that remind us of our youth and past, and the old prices that we all love. Just don’t let that fashion pendulum smack you in the back of the head in a few years when it comes a-swingin’.a lot of product, and shops just trying to find partners to be profitable with, the day of the 50- to 58-dollar wholesale purchase is slowly but surely starting to fade. And a lot of accounts are really even hesitating on the 45-dollar (wholesale) range. They’re really looking for ‘what can I get in the 30-dollar to 37.50-dollar range wholesale so I can go out and keystone this shoe, make good money on it, and the kid is going to get a durable performance-driven skate shoe?’”

Past, Present, and Future

What about all these revival shoes and concepts that are coming out of the archives–is there a market for them? Is it another trend as well or a much-needed history lesson? Vans has released the Tony Alva shoe. Osiris, known for being steeped in the present, is releasing the Jay Adams pro model–which they won’t describe, only saying that it’s about the well-deserved respect that Adams didn’t get back in the day. Sole Technology knows a lot of the younger kids don’t necessarily know their history, so rereleasing the Sal 23 and original Natas is educating them that the company isn’t the new dog on the block. Vision can celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary by bringing back its mid-80s shell-toe hightops, but also recognizes a market for such nostalgic items. “There’re those hesher punk kids asking for it on our Web site all the time: ‘When are you gonna bring out the classics? I want to see that stuff–my dad used to ride them,’” says Vision’s Mike Acosta. “We want to show consumers where we were back in the 80s, where we are now, and how we cater to both markets.”

Airwalk is starting its retro campaign with the rerelease of the Enigma. From there, it’ll introduce a lowtop Enigma, new versions of the Jim Shoe and One from the early 90s, as well as the Protoype-series Bruiser model that Mike Vallely originally helped popularize. “A lot of people are getting back to the heritage of what a skate shoe is and putting their little twist on it,” says Airwalk’s Dotson. “I don’t think it’s really a trend–it’s looking at what skating was and realizing your roots, that’s where it all came from and that’s where it’ll always build from. You can get as crazy as you want with skate shoes, you can make the lightest skate shoe or make the most technically advanced skate shoe, but when it really comes down to it, the simplistic style is always going to be there.”

Dotson says Airwalk management looked at the brand’s fifteen-year history and identified which shoes made an impact over the years: “These shoes made sense, and they still do. The older generation remembers, but the new generation needs to be educated on the past and understand where everything came from and how it all evolved. It’s a way to have people remember and go, ‘Damn, I remember rocking those Airwalks. That’s so sick that they’re bringing them back!’”

Maybe that sums up the whole skate-footwear industry right now?bring back the old simple styles, the old constructions and materials that perform so well, the old shoes that remind us of our youth and past, and the old prices that we all love. Just don’t let that fashion pendulum smack you in the back of the head in a few years when it comes a-swingin’.

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