Scott Johnston made the transition from pro skater to head shoe designer at Lakai as smoothly as he skated. Now years deep in the shoe design game, we wanted to find out the inner workings of the brand and Scott's thoughts on the future of skate shoes.
Words by Jeremy Lugo/ rippedlaces.com
Photo by Sam Muller
Within the last two or three years, tech has finally made its return to skate footwear, yet Lakai still hasn't chased that trend. Why not?
I mean, the key thing for Lakai is to be a skateboarding-shoe company. We always want to make sure our shoes are always skateable. Really, none of our riders are asking for "tech" skate shoes. They want something that has really good boardfeel, protects their feet, lasts, and ultimately looks good. That's what everyone here really wants. No one's asking for an airbag so they can jump down 15 stairs. Also, I don't think we were all that known for doing tech before, and we don't want to push ourselves into a direction where we don't naturally fit in. I think Lakai is focused on skating, and it fits everyone's style here.
So essentially your riders dictate what shoes come out. There's no board of directors that needs to butt in and say, "This is what we need!"
Yeah, exactly. If you come to Crailtap, our doors are wide open. Like, skaters who don't even skate for our brands come over and check out all the product we're working on, even when they probably shouldn't, but we've got nothing to hide [laughs]. It's an open forum here; it's just the way we design. Sam, our TM, will sometimes come around and say, "Hey, why don't we try this out?" and we're always willing to listen, so it turns into "Sure, let's check this out and see if it works," and we just kind of go from there.
But even though that's great, there are times in every company where you have to design a model based on the industry's sales, right? As a designer, how difficult is it to design something that's purely pushed by sales and not passion?
We're definitely aware of what's best for the company. At this point, with Lakai being a 16-year-old company, we've been good enough about pulling from more of an organic point of view. It all has to relate back to our models, past or present.
How has Lakai, in your eyes, continued to create its own aesthetic without ever compromising your brand's integrity over time? Especially when it's so much easier to just jump on board with the latest trends that are killing it.
I just know it. Every rider on the team, everyone here in the office, they're not really looking to be all that trendy with their own personal style. They're not in here the next day with the next hottest fashion shoe or whatever. Everyone's established their own style at this point, without adapting too much of what's going on elsewhere, and I think that shows. Everyone's pretty confident with who they are here, and that kinda transcends throughout.
Which model would you say has been the most welcomed by shops and consumers?
With the past releases, we've done two pro models a season, but being a young company, we want to have way more focus on what we're putting out. With that said, probably the GuyMar. He's a legend, and there's a couple of people already testing it out here. The feedback has been great so far.
How was Guy involved in the design process? Did any of his past models influence the new GuyMar in any way?
His new shoe is an entirely new concept. If you look at the shoe, there's a heel stabilizer in the outsole, and most vulcanized shoes don't have that. He wanted to add a radius around a vulcanized shoe, and that's basically never been done in the skate industry. The edges are very sharp and traditional, but it creates a vulc sole with a cupsole backing. It's put together so differently, but you still get that vulcanized feel with a cupsole benefit.
What do you guys say to those who've been so receptive toward the Echelon collection? You guy designed it for off-the-board wear, and sure enough, more and more people have a tendency to want to skate it. What do you guys think of that?
Well, at the end of the day, they're still Lakai shoes. By no means are they designed for skating, but you could totally skate them. But everything you're saying makes total sense to me. It just goes back to skating while looking fresh. They look great and it makes sense. I mean, when you're walking around the city, on or off the board, there're girls around [laughs].
By now everyone's seen a sneak peek of Riley's new shoe in the new Outliers video. How'd that come about?
Obviously, the way Riley's been skating, he deserves a shoe. I mean, we're pretty hyped that he's already skating the shoe and getting footage in it. Meanwhile, we're still fine-tuning it to avoid any flaws in the shoe. It's 100-percent Riley for sure.
Some people were even taking guesses that his pro shoe would be slightly influenced by his dad's pro model from back in the day…
No, that's funny, though. When we were designing with Riley, we thought he was gonna come in with a boot or something that he rides his motorcycle in, but in actuality, he came in with nothing. His line to us was, "I only wear Lakais. It's all I ever wear." We designed the shoe from the interior, and it ended up coming out as a culmination of all of his favorite Lakai models that he's skated.
Rad, thanks Scott.
View Lakai’s footwear line up here.