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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Resurrecting The Tech

Should we expect a resurgence of more technical, pricier skateboard shoes in the near future?
By Rob BrinkTransWorld Business December 2004 Interesting factoid alert! Nike sent me an email super pissed for not including them in this article. If I wasn’t cool with the guy who wrote it, I would print it here. So funny. The last article I asked them to be in before this one, my
Limited Edition Shoes piece, they refused to be interviewed for, so why would I bother? The rejection is just too much for me to take these days! Oh well, what can ya do? All has since been forgiven and forgotten. I even own a few pairs of Nike SBs. Enjoi the article.
Long gone (well, at least a few years gone) are the days of the uber tech, basketball-inspired skateboard shoes and shelling out close to $100 or more to get them on your feet. But remember that skateboarding has always been cyclical in nature, which means that, much to the chagrin of many in the core industry, the “tech-looking” skateboard shoe may very well see the light of day again. But is “tech” a fashion-related look or is it a design and function issue and how do the two coexist in modern skateboarding footwear?

Most shoe designers unanimously agree that a “tech” shoe is a combination of fashion and construction and that the popularity of tech shoes has waned due to trends within the skateboarding and fashion worlds—in addition to post 9-11 economic reasons.
The look and design of traditionally “tech” shoe included a bigger shape, more padding, multiple panels, embossments, embroidered or heat transferred logo applications, and TPR parts (molded plastic). Lots of “athletic” details like big air bags, multiple lace-up options, removable parts, cushioning systems, straps and so on, give a shoe a tech aesthetic.
“The definition of the ‘tech’ shoe seems much more fashion-based,” says Tom Cooke, Core Skate Category Director at Vans. “When I think of that type of product, I think of a shoe from the late 90’s that is multi-paneled, heavily padded, and has a lot of rubber or plastic molding on it. Those products didn’t necessarily offer a huge upgrade in performance for a skateboarder, but they did have a very distinctive look. But with all that’s going on in the world and economy right now, the last thing I think people need is a $100 skate shoe that doesn’t perform any better than a $75 or $80 shoe.”
With more and more R&D going into skate shoes in the past few years, the shoes have undoubtedly evolved. Pros seemingly have more input and influence in the industry and the need and desire for a bulky, teched out upper on a skate shoe has paled in comparison to the pros demands for a basic-looking, suede shoe. Most shoe companies have discovered ways and developed technologies to include function and performance in a neater, more toned-down and basic-looking shoe that doesn’t rely on gimmicks, bells, and whistles.
“Even when super tech was really trendy, the core crowd wasn’t wearing it—it was a more the mainstream lifestyle crowd,” says Jason Smith, etnies Footwear Product Manager. “Across all brands, our riders are asking for a more basic, streamlined shoe without sacrificing board feel for a bulky airbag. So the gel we tested and came up with in the STI lab allows us to put it in a thinner shoe, but lets the riders wear what they want to wear and skate how they want to skate—all while protecting their feet.”
Despite all the “streamlining” going on with shoe design, the resurgence of the tech-looking shoe is somewhat inevitable. Many companies never stopped manufacturing teched out shoes and some are starting to release and design more of them for upcoming seasons.
“I don’t think the tech shoe ever died—it just took a seat in the back of the sales sheets,” says Osiris owner Brian Reid. “Every shoe company will have their ‘tech’ shoe, a price point shoe, etc. The bigger shoe brands need to be more dynamic in there nature. There isn’t that ‘one kid’ anymore, skateboarding has become so diverse and a shoe line should represent all genres of the sport.”
DC is known for being at the forefront, both fashion and design-wise, of the tech shoe. It was their influence that somewhat catapulted skateboard shoes into the realm of “tech” in the first place. Models like the Williams, Exacta, Solution, and Aerotech epitomized “tech” in every sense of the word.
“Tech will eventually find it’s way back, but it certainly will not be in the form of a D3,” say DC pro Rob Dyrdek, who has helped pioneer shoe design for years.
“As time goes on, more technology is implemented into DC’s shoes—maybe it just isn’t as visible as it used to be,” says Joseph Ntomp, Senior Footwear Designer for DC Shoes. “The result is a more technical shoe with a cleaner, more streamlined look. The upper of a shoe doesn’t have to look tech or detailed to function properly for skateboarding.”
“There are shoes out there that are way more ‘tech’ than the D3,” Reid continues, “however they just aren’t so exaggerated and are designed a lot cleaner than in the past.”
According to Design Director Kelly Kikuta the tech shoe really hasn’t gone away at DVS—just slowed down. “For the most part we’ve continued to design and produce new tech models,” Kikuta says. “That’s just a reaction to the demand on our brand. The same goes for basic shoes. We’ve always had them in our lines simply because we’ve always had the demand. It seems to shift back and forth from tech to basic/retro, and yes, I think tech is on its way back.”
For the most part the simple, clean shoes will dominate DVS and Lakai’s lines. Thinner, basic designs will be very prominent in the upcoming seasons. When asked if a more tech look will be in the future Lakai lines, Aaron Hoover, Lakai’s Design Director responds “Nah, not in the near future…we make skate shoes that our team likes to skate in. Look at the ads…“The Shoes We Skate.’”
“When the D3 came out, there was nothing like it and that’s what made it stand out,” continues Hoover. “You can design a shoe that stands out but isn’t over-the-top tech. Look at the Howard 4 from Lakai, for example, that shoe stands out on the shelf without being tech at all.”
“Realistically,” says Cooke, “I think that there are a handful of really important skateboarders in our industry who define what is cool. Right now, I don’t see any of those people wearing ‘tech’ shoes that are based around that old fashion definition; however, I do still see a consumer for a more padded, athletic inspired skate product. But in the past, they looked like space boots, where as today I think they are much simpler designs. For Vans, even the shoe with more technical features has had a look that is based on our heritage. That’s when we’re best. We don’t pretend to be someone we’re not.”
DVS is about to launch their new “Bruise Control” heel-cushioning technology that incorporates a combination of foam and gel hidden in the heel of the shoe, while Osiris has an upcoming shoe called the Program, designed by Dave Persue Ross, that is more on the tech side but is classic enough in its design to maybe find as low key as say, John Rattray riding in it. “As far as technology,” says Reid, “We are developing more shock-absorbing materials for the heel and more on the internal side of things. We are also currently genetically engineering farm animals to produce longer lasting materials.”
Jason Smith says etnies will still cater to the tech market as well. “We have a few bigger tech models with airbags that sell pretty well, like the Switch and the Mike Vallely. For spring, the Tribune encompasses all the technologies. Flo tongue, airbag with gel, etc. We will definitely keep hitting that higher end of the market but the focus is definitely more function on more basic shoes. I think Sole Technology’s brands have specifically gotten niched into the “basic” shoe category, even though he k5 and k7 are more tech for sure, whereas DC is more known for a puffier, techy look.”
DC will be unveiling a grip of new shoe technologies in the near future, including Super Suede, DGT Plus and DGT Clear, Drop In Cushioning, and Toe Impact Gel. The S1, Evolve, and Hurricane models are sure-fire examples that DC is continuing with a tech look in addition to tech design.
“No matter how basic things get or what trends there are in skateboarding, there are always going to be kids that want a more “tech” looking shoe” says Ntomp. “But more importantly, kids want a shoe that lasts and performs well. This is what DC focuses on—making the best in performance skateboarding shoes.”
So expect to see (or not see, but know its there) more hidden technology built into future shoe models to further protect the feet of skateboarders. Expect to see a bit of a tech comeback, but it may not ever take over as it did in the late ‘90s into early ‘00s—rather, expect a happy medium between tech and basic rather than a full-fledged ambush of one or the other dominating the shelves of skateboard shops worldwide. And expect happy customers when, thanks to advances in the research, developing and manufacturing of skateboard footwear, that the shoes aren’t as pricey as they used to be, but perform better than ever.

source : Rob Brink


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