By Gunther Schmidt

The growing relationship between the shoe industry and art is conspicuous.

On the most basic level, board graphics have always played a huge part in skateboarding. The notion of art in skateboarding has spread like wildfire and gone way beyond graphics and softgoods alone.

And today, some of the biggest skate-shoe companies have assimilated art and its related ventures into their own marketing pursuits.

In the 1990s, some top pros started their own companies, becoming an extension of their personalized paint-penned boards. Ed Templeton’s tilted vision of the world filtered through his company Toy Machine. His ads, board graphics, stickers, and T-shirts all became his art. It’s similar with Mark Gonzales’ new company Krooked, and to a lesser degree, with Marc Johnson’s enjoi skateboards.

Perhaps with the growing emphasis on shoe contracts and even the notion of brand identity, shoe companies are doing their best to attract the kids who identify with their riders or their image—and that can be on a multitude of levels. Take for example, Savier’s new shoe named The Story. The notoriously quirky Habitat and Savier team rider Tim O’Connor wrote a short story about the creation of humans that is featured on the soles of the shoe. “This one guy had the idea of putting words on it,” explains O’Connor. “So the story is a special little thing on the shoe there, and if you step in dog shit you can read it in the mirror with dog shit.” The story begins on the right shoe and ends on the left shoe.

“I wrote the story and everything, but it’s not my pro model,” he says. “Hopefully after my next video part, I’ll get a pro shoe. That would be the ideal situation for me there.”

Mark McGarry is in charge of media relations and PR at Savier. “Steve MacDonald, our designer, always thought that the sole of a shoe would be a great palette for expression,” he says. “Steve felt Tim would be great for this idea since he has some amazing writing out there and he is a funny man.”

The finished product is exactly what Savier had in mind and is garnering buzz throughout the skateboard industry and beyond. “A lot of (art/style) magazines in New York have picked up on The Story. I could see people getting a hold of the shoe and not skating it, just keeping it as a collector’s item,” says McGarry.

It’s interesting how skate-shoe companies are starting to develop a relationship between their product, their riders, and art. Some companies have had that relationship for some time now but are increasingly nurturing it. A great example is with adidas footwear. The company sponsors Lance Mountain and Mark Gonzales, two established and recognizable artists from within skateboarding. Last year at the September ASR trade show, the company handed out adidas books of Mark Gonzales’ drawings.

Sally Murdoch is the public-relations manager for adidas. In September 2001, Murdoch sent Gonz 40 sheets of blank adidas letterhead paper and asked him to doodle on each page and send them back. Mark quickly did the job, and Murdoch shipped it off to the printer to make 500 books for the trade show. Gonz’s only demand was that the cover be plain except for the adidas logo in bright orange. “I’m not exactly sure why Mark wanted orange,” she laughs.

Murdoch manned the adidas ASR booth with other employees and selectively handed the books out to various industry people. After the trade show, Murdoch took the original sheets of artwork, had them framed, and gifted them to various industry heads. “I worked with the team manager,” Murdoch says. “We brainstormed about what to do for ASR (giveaways), because they had outlawed stickers. “We were trying to be as creative as possible.”

At the following ASR trade show in Long Beach earlier this year, adidas made a flipbook featuring Lance Mountain in his pajamas. They took some of those shots out, blew them up, had Lance sign them, and sent those to various industry people as well. It’s fascating—the notion that adidas is creating art for the trade show. Some could argue it’s a gimmick, but compared to getting a screened beer cozy or mouse pad, this is a huge step up. It represents a more fundamental support for the riders and what they have to offer the company, moreover the company’s supporters, beyond simply their skateboard talent.

Vans footwear is another company that backs the artistic side of their skaters. Even ones who were on the team over twenty years ago. The company reportedly handed ex-Vans pro Stacy Peralta over half a million dollars to finance the movie Dogtown And Z-Boys. In terms of profitability, it was clearly a big risk. Fortunately for them, the film has done overwhelmingly well, generating widespread interest and gathering rave reviews from both within skateboarding and beyond. It was bought by Sony Pictures and has definitely boosted the shoe company’s profile. A huge deal, considering that the project may have been regarded by Vans as merely an investment or hedged bet.

The fact is that the documentary was made by Peralta, an untested feature-film director, about a period in skating nobody openly cared about when it was first released. If that video didn’t sell, it would have been the most expensive skateboard video ever made with no hope of making its money back.

At the more grassroots level of art, shoes, and skateboarding, Sole Technology’s Emerica brand recently released 500 pairs of limited-edition Templeton pro model shoes spray-painted gold by Ed Templeton himself. “The idea was to take something that was all about Ed and give it to the skateboarders who are into what he’s been doing for the last ten to fifteen years,” explains Timothy Nickloff, Sole Tech’s public-relations representative. “Ed’s whole thing is: ‘this is my style, and I want to give it to you as much as possible and show you what I’m all about.’” Templeton has custom-designed insoles displaying his drawings in his signature shoes as well.

Sole Technology’s relationship with art isn’t limited to Ed Templeton and Emerica. Over the past year Etnies has pursued a number of artistic ventures. Earlier this year they had the This Is Me traveling art show featuring skateboard-related artists. For that art show, the company provided artists with the opportunity to custom design a pair of Etnies Scam shoes.

Also this year, Etnies opened a showroom in New York City. “The goal (with the NYC showroom) was to have a place for people to check out the newest gear and get an idea of what we’re all about,” says Nickloff. And with the This Is Me show, he says, “It was an opportunity to get artists involved with us. A lot of the artwork was really how they saw the brand as well.”

DC Shoe Co. caused a lot of eyebrows to raise when it revealed its artist-inspired shoe series, Artist Projects, in the fall of 2001. According to the company’s Web site: “DC’s Artist Projects capture the imagination embodied in the work of artists who have risen out of skate culture.”

The series first debuted with a Shepard Fairey Andre the Giant-inspired shoe called the Swift and also a DJ Goldie shoe. This year’s Artist Projects shoes are inspired by painter, photographer, and filmmaker Thomas Campbell, and graffiti artist Kaws. Campbell’s shoe is the third in the series and is known as the TMOSS, while Kaws’ shoe is known simply as the Kaws shoe. Like Fairey’s shoe did last year, according to DC’s Web site, Campbell’s shoe comes with a “special limited-edition shoe box,” designed by the artist himself.

According to the site, Campbell “designed and labeled a new version of DC’s Swift shoe and also created all shoe-box art. The result is a unique shoe and packaging with Campbell’s organic and raw style.” On the contrary to Campbell having emerged as an artist from the world of skateboarding, DC recognizes that Kaws didn’t. It does however, attempt to draw a relationship between Kaws’ art and skateboarding. According to their site: “Like skateboarding, Kaws’ art embodies an unhesitatingly subversive bent.”

What the growing relationship between art and shoes represents is significant: Ten years ago skateboarders would never have fathomed that Etnies would have international traveling art shows, or that Shepard Fairey or Thomas Campbell, moreover DJ Goldie or graffiti-artist Kaws, would ever have a shoe on DC. Although art has always had a huge role in skateboarding, that role was typically limited to board graphics and softgoods. Furthermore, the presence of “artists” in skateboarding was generally perceived as being peripheral, regardless of how intimately the artists applied their art and creativity to skateboarding.

It’s an incredibly positive move for companies to be supporting skateboarding’s artists and the art and creativity they spawn. In a sense, it tones down the magnitude of skateboarding in its present massive state. It gives personality to companies, riders, and an industry that often feels hopelessly saturated.

Yes, it’s an incredibly positive move for skateboarding’s companies to support independent artists and the creative cause—to support and nourish the creative sides of their riders beyond simply skateboarding. The shift of companies in the direction of supporting the artists and creative minds that in turn support them is positive. It represents a step toward sophistication, particularly in the skate-shoe industry, where much of its support comes from a crossover and lifestyle customer base. The affiliation with skateboarding still presents an alternative image—from the mainstream perspective, supporting a skate-shoe brand is still generally regarded as supporting the underdog.

At any rate, it’s definitely indirectly supporting the cultural sophistication of skateboarding. And to that effect, Tim O’Connor jokes about his story being used for the Savier shoe: “I think they’re sending me a couple of diamonds, and then we’re calling it even. I think that’s the deal.” to their site: “Like skateboarding, Kaws’ art embodies an unhesitatingly subversive bent.”

What the growing relationship between art and shoes represents is significant: Ten years ago skateboarders would never have fathomed that Etnies would have international traveling art shows, or that Shepard Fairey or Thomas Campbell, moreover DJ Goldie or graffiti-artist Kaws, would ever have a shoe on DC. Although art has always had a huge role in skateboarding, that role was typically limited to board graphics and softgoods. Furthermore, the presence of “artists” in skateboarding was generally perceived as being peripheral, regardless of how intimately the artists applied their art and creativity to skateboarding.

It’s an incredibly positive move for companies to be supporting skateboarding’s artists and the art and creativity they spawn. In a sense, it tones down the magnitude of skateboarding in its present massive state. It gives personality to companies, riders, and an industry that often feels hopelessly saturated.

Yes, it’s an incredibly positive move for skateboarding’s companies to support independent artists and the creative cause—to support and nourish the creative sides of their riders beyond simply skateboarding. The shift of companies in the direction of supporting the artists and creative minds that in turn support them is positive. It represents a step toward sophistication, particularly in the skate-shoe industry, where much of its support comes from a crossover and lifestyle customer base. The affiliation with skateboarding still presents an alternative image—from the mainstream perspective, supporting a skate-shoe brand is still generally regarded as supporting the underdog.

At any rate, it’s definitely indirectly supporting the cultural sophistication of skateboarding. And to that effect, Tim O’Connor jokes about his story being used for the Savier shoe: “I think they’re sending me a couple of diamonds, and then we’re calling it even. I think that’s the deal.”