There was a period in the 1980s where pro skateboarders not only sought to have a custom board shape for function, but to also stand out on the racks. "Money Bumps," were born and birthed models that looked like Goldfish crackers, coffins, and prickly pineapples. The same can be said for a period in the late-'90s for skate shoes—an era that gave us puffy tongues with stash pockets, faux-air bubbles, and whatever the hell the Osiris D3 was.
In an orbit where those oversized, football-shaped shoes are coming back as "heritage" models, alongside the slimmed down vulcs and cup soles, skate shoe design is mirroring the glut of board shapes on the racks. This climate presents a design challenge that adidas Skateboarding senior footwear designer and former pro skateboarder Scott Johnston welcomes. As a footwear vet, Johnston has navigated several waves of skate shoe design, culling insight from what works in form and function.
As part of a collective design challenge, Johnston and his fellow designers at adidas set to challenge industry conventions with a new design ethos under the "3ST" project name. The squad tackled the brief through a new workshop process, that encourages collaboration between fellow designers, leveraging rider insight and input.
This first iteration yielded the 3ST.001 and 3ST.002, two new models that offer modern vulc construction and a TORSION® system, as well as features unique to the models, both launching on 3.29.2018.
Interview by Anthony Pappalardo
You've been designing footwear for years, but what actually got you interested in sneakers?
The entry point for me would be traveling. I mean obviously [I've] always [been] interested in gear and sneakers as long as I can remember, but global traveling—especially at a time when there was no internet—you would find things in other countries you’ve never seen before. It was an adventure finding these things. It became a friendly competition and a souvenir of where you've been, when you found something different in London or Japan.
As a skater, I got the opportunity through my sponsors to be involved. I got a Mac and started drawing sneakers. I was basically mentored by other designers and it was an ongoing, natural progression—almost like how I started skating. I didn’t start skating to make money and I just kind of did it because it was fun. And then kind of [got into] footwear out of interest and curiosity. Then it evolved into what I’m doing now.
What was the initial spark for the first 3ST silhouettes?
A lot of companies, they’re just making really futuristic looking [shoes] in almost a cliche sense, like a spaceship—space boots or something. I think the future could be like Mad Max for example, something totally raw and just kind of cobbled together and go with what you have. And then we refine from there. It's this raw approach that's filtered and cleaned up after we’ve figured out what the new design lines might be.
How'd that evolve into this new "workshop" idea?
Right when I came onboard at adidas, Nick Galloway (adidas creative director) challenged us to rebuild the archives and really think about what the future of skateboarding looks like. We had a workshop [session] for four days with fourteen adidas designers from different backgrounds, so it was a really eclectic group—not just skate. There was a fresh set of eyes on what the scale could be. We briefed everyone on the culture of skating and the style. [We presented] our muses. We pointed out Na-kel (Smith) and Blondey (McCoy) as current examples, and also what skating looked like in the '90s. So what does it look like if we flip that for the 2000s? What does that look like?
We started to find this new design language—new shapes. Less is more is the mentality. We kept having these light bulb moments, where they [the shoe] started to become an entirely new skate shoe, rather than a model repurposed for skating. Another challenge was that it didn't need to just be a simple, flat-bottomed vulcanized shoe. Those core ideas are what became the spine of the franchise.
And part of that Workshop process is the rider input, as well as considering their actual styles and aesthetics, right?
Yeah. Na-kel came in really quickly after we started building [the initial] shoes. In the design review, he gave tons of great feedback. That input [from riders] builds more confident product. I think that when people promote product and hand them off [without a rider’s input]—you don’t even see the connection, you know? We really want to make sure it has a connection, because it's important to the storytelling of the shoe. So, we had Na-kel, Miles (Silvas), and Tyshawn (Jones) ride these shoes and give their feedback, so that they had a real impact on the design. Even if it's not their model, they feel invested in the shoe—they feel like they affected something. That really translates in these shoes.
Any specific examples of feedback that advanced the 3ST models in ways you didn't expect?
The TORSION® system and the positioning of these new wave panels were building durability stories, in addition to structural and support. That was great because we were able to have him (Na-kel) test them then just had him draw right over. We could see that a part of the shoe was coming up too far here and needed to push it back or make it a little thinner or softer. Hard to get them, just to get them right with the textures, translucencies, thicknesses and overall shape. That gives us the opportunity to build something way more confident in my mind.
Obviously, the goal with introducing new models into the line is longevity. Do you think you achieved that potential?
What I think is going to be cool with the 3ST is that they’re progressive and going to be disruptive right now. It's what we need, especially when current design trends feel boring. It's just fun and fresh. I think people are going to be excited to really change their own look, like when skaters would change their setup. Whether it’s the board where you change the shape by an eighth of an inch or a different wheel. When you put your toe down in a different shoe, I think it’ll spark.
What feels the most special or unique to you about these first stories in the 3ST family?
It's the aesthetic. The less pieces you have to build with, the harder it is. It's tricky to accomplish that. That’s my favorite part of shoes. We were able to build something that’s iconic with very little parts that’s going to skate well and hold up. Sometimes when you have less components, they can kind of sag or just don’t shape well. We stuck to a philosophy going into this of this idea of "clean and crude" as well as a few other keywords that we kind of identified early on. The overlays, translucencies all these things that kind of give it texture and depth—it has a personality. Sometimes I think a lot of personality gets designed right out of the shoe, you know what I mean? Like they designed it so well it's just some flawless piece of product. We really built it [the 3ST] in a new way.
A lot of musicians won't read reviews of their albums. Do you look at comments and product reviews at all?
I definitely do. It's fun to. I try to learn from the negatives but try not to take it too seriously. You see people go and complain on Hypebeast and those are usually the ones that sell out in two minutes.
Sometimes things that are upsetting create the right type of tension—they need to be talked about.
Hit your local skateshop or adidasskateboarding.com to cop both styles.