Remember the 80s? Madonna? Floppy hairdos? Frontside boneless ones? Farenheit 1000s? How about 1990? Parking-lot vert-ramp contests? Tiny wheels? Airwalk Enigmas? Maybe you don’t, but soon your memory will be refreshed as Airwalk parent company Tare 7 unleashes a retro campaign aimed at reminding veteran retailers that Airwalk was skateboarding?s upstart shoe brand before skate shoes were a proper category of their own.
Retailers may remember Airwalk’s unfortunate period in the mid 90s, when the brand’s previous owners were chasing the mainstream buck and in the process alienating ?core skate retailers. As soon as the new wave of skate-shoe companies like Etnies, DC, and DuFFS had established itself by the mid 90s, shops were happy to drop Airwalk’s uninspired designs, lacking customer service, and outdated image for the fresh young companies and the new era of skate shoes. But through the 80s, Airwalk managed to attract the cream of skateboarding’s crop (Tony Hawk, Mike Vallely, and Jason Lee among them), and offered imaginative ads and modern–for the time–shoe designs that contrasted with Vans’ classic vulcanized models. Skaters entered the 90s with the street craze that left vert skating behind. Airwalk reflected skateboarding’s new technical style and had no real competition at the time–it was a good time for the brand.
The recession that hit the U.S. economy in 1990 coincided with a downturn in skateboarding’s popularity. As some industry veterans describe it, one day the phones literally stopped ringing. For a burgeoning company like Airwalk, which had great potential to expand its distribution when its ?core customer base disappeared, a shift in focus was understandable. What it didn’t need to do was alienate the remaining–and struggling–retailers that helped make the brand successful.
Inheriting a mixed legacy with Airwalk, Tare 7 is capitalizing on skateboarding’s retro movement and will release several classic Airwalk shoes to highlight the period when the brand made its mark and contributed to the growth of the sport through its support of athletes and programs like the NSA amateur-contest series. The retro campaign will also include many classic Airwalk logos and other artwork, and will attempt to rekindle the original fun and progressive personality of the brand. “From ’86 to about ’90 there was this incredible momentum, and it just kept growing,” says Airwalk veteran Rob Dotson, who left the company in the mid 90s before being hired by T7 a couple years ago to help launch Genetic and help with the new Airwalk skate program. “Every ad, the logos, and the personalities of the riders spoke to the customer. It wasn’t just a cookie-cutter look. And that’s really the vibe we’re going for–really going back to basics and looking at skateboarding for what it is. It’s about having fun.”
Though Airwalk remains a broadly distributed brand, Tare 7 will segment the line to include skate-specific models available to ‘core shops only. Dotson says the entire Airwalk promotional campaign will reflect the tastes and styles of its team, which currently includes names like Andy Macdonald, Jesse Paez, Danny Fuenzalida, Jon Comer, and Dave Hupp. “Skateboarding is important–it’s our roots, our lifeline,” Dotson says about the company. “In the past there were individuals in the company with their own agendas. They were into entertainment, or music, or something, and with all the growth in such a short period of time, they thought that was the right thing for the brand.”
Tare 7, he feels, is better suited to manage a ?core skate brand. “All the designers here either snowboard, BMX, or skate,” he says. “Salespeople–same thing. They (T7) embrace it and understand it more than the previous regime. The whole focus since I’ve been back is ‘We have to get this brand back to what it was–a skateboarding-footwear brand.’ That is our number-one priority with everything that we do. People here have a better understtanding of the heritage of the brand and where it truly needs to be.”
While in the recent past the skate team wasn’t generally consulted with for shoe, ad, and Web-site design, Dotson says their involvement has become integral. “They’re the rock band onstage,” he says about the team. “We’re (management) just behind the scenes making it all work.”
Although involved with both Airwalk and Genetic, Dotson says that the unique personalities of each team will keep the brands distinct. Genetic will continue to be spearheaded by Bucky Lasek and Pat Channita, plus a host of ams like Alysson Castro, and will maintain its technical aesthetic. Fold-over stitching, heel-and-forefoot cushioning, and molded inlay pieces that have characterized the young brand will continue while Airwalk delves into its history for a while. What will tie the two lines together is a focus on mid-priced shoes packed with features and quality materials. “Airwalk’s going to more suede and leather, and Genetic’s doing a lot of coated leather, high-abrasion meshes, and a lot of applications to the material to make them more durable,” says Dotson. “Airwalk’s still putting out a durable product, but we’re also saying, ‘Hey, price is a major factor, so we want to make sure the kids are getting an affordable, durable product.’ With all our products made in the same factories, on the Genetic side of it we can still put a lot on our shoes, but we don’t have to charge what you would typically have to. We definitely want to make sure that we’re putting out pricepoint-effective shoes.”
Some of the classic Airwalk models to be released include the Enigma, One, and the Reflex–based on the Prototype series. Plus updated versions of classic styles, like the Enigma Low and The Kirk, a modern version of the Jim Shoe. Airwalk will also continue its casual lines for men and women, plus launch a new series of casual shoes under the Etura name, although according to Dotson the company has retrained its focus on skate. “A shop can buy and sell any brand they want,” says Dotson. “There aren’t any brands they have to have. We know that.”
The ?core Airwalk line will be promoted internationally by its skate team, as well as members of its Chosen program–a group of skaters “sponsored” by Airwalk’s regional reps to help promote the brand locally. A heavy rotation of television ads will begin running on MTV2 in June, July, and August.