The hype on éS shoes returning started last September when a Japanese trade show suddenly unveiled a booth full of Accel’s. Since then, much talk of the brand returning to the game was rife so it was inevitable that at some point skater-owned company Sole Tech had to spill some beans.
CEO and co-founder Pierre-André Senizergues clearly had a lot to get off his chest and chose this interview as his biggest priority of the entire launch.
Let’s rewind a bit, to before you put éS on ice and stuck her beautiful memory in a deep freeze. How heart-wrenching was it to finally go, “yeah, we got to do it”, what was the main reason behind it, and why resurrect her now?
It was a very difficult decision to make of course as we love éS.
What we decided to do was something that no other brand in skateboarding has ever done and create a new concept of a creative retreat. We may have even been the first brand of our size to ever to say “let’s take a break…take a breath of fresh air, reassess where skateboarding is going, and decide where do we want to go.” It was the toughest decision of my life, as I love éS so much, as do millions of skaters around the world. But, it really was the right thing to do.
With being on a creative retreat for almost 2 years, we have been constantly bombarded with love from éS fans to bring it back. We are still in creative retreat where we have been designing and creating, so we thought, why not show some of what we’ve been up to.
So where is skateboarding going?
That’s the big question for everyone and I don’t think anyone has the one right answer! What we do know is that from the skateboarders’ perspective things are moving faster than ever. And sometimes it seems faster than what the skate industry can keep up with. The market is trying to keep things moving in sameness, but the playing field has changed dramatically. Crucial to all presumptions must be to rethink, embrace and face change head on by doing things differently.
So where do you want to go?
We’re all skateboarders driven at Sole Tech, it’s in our blood to do what’s best for skateboarding. We’re still looking at éS as being in creative retreat mode. We’re curious to see the response from coming out with a few new éS styles. By dropping some amazing new products, we feel that it still allows us to keep things tight and figure out what to do next. No big plans, just wanting to start a conversation with our fellow skateboarders that love skateboarding in our community.
We see there’s no team in place on this re-launch. When will that come?
It’s been interesting to see how many people are asking who is on the team – the team side of things is one of the most exciting areas as there are so many amazing skateboarders around the world today. But, figuring out a team is way ahead of where we are actually at right now. Right now, we’re focusing on designing product, staying low key in our creative retreat and support skateboarders that support skate stores and their communities. We’re already getting hit up by a lot of top riders but we want to take our time and figure out the best decision for skateboarding.
Clearly then there’s no rush to bust down the doors with this launch. Even though people like us are chomping at the bit to bring it back, surely there’s a risk involved in thawing that ice too quickly right? The internet may suggest it wants the brand back but actually crossing the skate shop door and parting with cash is another level.
You’re right. We have listened to what our skateboarders are saying, but we’ll really see how serious the support is when it goes into the skate shop. But, what’s refreshing regardless is that we’re small again and we’re not bound by the creative restrictions you have as a large brand. We deliberately don’t want to grow to fast as we want to do this right. I truly believe that skateboarders want to get back into éS shoes. Some of the comments on social media have been amazing and we’re reading every single one of them. We love seeing how much people love what we love about éS and they are there to cheer us on as we start moving toward them.
Talk us through the technology behind these three new models.
Sole Technology is a specialist in building the best skate shoes and we’ve been doing it for the last 28 years. Our designers all skate and get it. They test the shoes themselves as well as with our biomechanics lab and I’ve tested them myself as I always do. The shoes we’re coming out with are really, really good!
We have special features we developed to have the shoes fit like a glove for better board feel. We also developed a new material that integrates a urethane compound and heat to fuse on material like suede leather – it is extremely durable and grippy. Amazing cushioning system developed, approved and proven by our STI Lab.
They also look great and we have decided that this incredible value must come at a democratic price for skateboarding so our skateboarders can afford it – not like the crazy priced shoes like we’ve see over $100 (US) from sports brands!
Let’s discuss the landscape of the skateboard shoe industry since the last time we both spoke about Sole Tech back in 2006. We discussed Nike’s entry into the market and you said:
“I’m not sure exactly what they do. I understand why some people disagree because they’re coming into the market and trying to steal the scene that has been made by a lot of decent people. But it’s very difficult to do it, I think you really have to be in skateboarding for a long time to be able to do it.”
Things have changed somewhat 7 years later. What is your opinion now?
I believe there are a lot of decent people that love skateboarding and hate that the market has been bought by sports brands not coming from skateboarding!
It’s interesting to go back and read that article, thanks for reminding me of it. You did a great job covering a lot of my history in skateboarding, it was cool to read through it again. Looking specifically at this question, I have to say, the second part of my answer reminds me a lot of what we’ve just been going through the past 5 or so years in skateboarding. I think what I said back then, still rings true today, so I’ll just put it out there again:
“Yeah, we were born in skateboarding, and if there is a danger for us to survive, then we’re going to do whatever it takes to survive. I think it’s a bit like a country trying to conquer a country. But this time it’s not a country and they are trying to conquer something they know nothing about and the country will defend it with their last bit of blood because that’s what they are.“
So, I want to quickly divert from skateboarding and look at what happened in the surf industry, right around the time we did that interview. A large athletic corporation came in to the surf world. They over paid for everything, took over every event, bought all the top riders, bought up the media, bought up all retailers space and then after a few year announces that the “category” is unprofitable and cuts the ENTIRE category.
What they did with this was artificially inflated the price of everything so the new rate for all the endemic brands to compete increased dramatically. So much so that it tipped the whole surf industry upside down to the point of where legit, passionate brands have gone bankrupt or on the brink of being so. There’s now rumours that other categories are going to be cut. So, let’s see when skateboarding is going to be on the list because it’s not what they would consider a “profitable” enough for their large portfolio of business.
When you are driven solely by profit, there’s no soul in what you are producing and that means no regard for the community in which you trying to be a part of. I like to say that substance wins out over time and I think we’re seeing the results of their “substance.”
Interesting point and only time will tell if your prediction comes to fruition. But humans will always take money from anywhere in times of need, whatever industry they work in. In this case we have skateboarders working for sports brands who should really be giving back to the core scene that gave them the opportunity to make a living in the first place, the publishers who are fueling demand and merging globally to advertise to millions of “sports fans”, and of course the sponsored skateboarders themselves on sports contracts at the front end. Money from sports brands has clearly turned some heads from this capitalist generation, so how does éS (and other Sole Tech shoe brands) compete in 2014 whilst this still exists in skateboarding?
It’s funny you say this, as skateboarding seems to be split into different categories and it doesn’t all add up to equal values. There’s the mainstream sports scene that’s all about big time TV and then there is the fuck contests, video hammer skaters, and then there is a happy group of terrain destroyers out there that thrive off of the scene in their communities.
The interesting thing is the guys in the mainstream money-making zone aren’t necessarily the ones that sell product, there’s also a lot of top skaters in the middle tier that don’t even have sponsors, and then there’s skaters in the local regions that are just as good as the some of the top pros and they are still buying shoes from their local store. We believe today what’s most important is what the brand stands for along with having great product and consumer intimacy.
I feel our skateboarding community needs to be recognized much more. There is an injustice in the fact that this over-inflated market because of sports brands that are only giving to those at the top has left the rest of the skate scene unsupported. But the rest of us have been, are and will continue to be a big part of building skateboarding and our culture.
Talking of support, it’s common knowledge that some skate shop owners hate having to deal with mainstream sports brands, the deals they cut and their expectations to get the next batch of shoes in. Especially once they realise that exclusivity is wearing thin and mainstream outlets are suddenly popping up selling those ‘exclusive’ skate shoes now to any bod in the high street….
I’d say majority of retailers hate dealing with the mainstream brands, but know they have to. That’s why most of these retailers are looking at éS as being something positive to give skaters an alternative brand that is a true skater owned brand.
We really have a lot of respect for retailers that have never bought these mainstream brands in, or in many cases today where retailers are giving them the finger and drop them. It’s a tough decision and we don’t fault those who engaged with them either as they all had to find a way to survive these challenging times. But, it’s amazing when you see people who are able to be independent from the mainstream brand hold. For example, we love Active Ride Shop in California for “Just Not Doing It” and replacing the business with authentic skate brands and say to them “enough is enough.”
I just read an article about what two of the biggest sports brands have done with cutting small running retailers. These are some of their most specialized running stores that have been carrying them for over 30 years and have helped build them up. Then the brand decides to cut and puts them out of business for the reason that they are not big enough and then do not need them anymore.
Our skateboard industry is made of many small size stores where our culture is nurtured and developed, where our people working in the shop are doing it by passion and do whatever it takes to represent our culture the best it can be. I would hate to see this same thing happen, be turned down and go out of business just because somebody that does not skate at the top of these huge sports corporations decide this.
A UK skater owned shop owner who stocks sports brands, told me just this week that:
“From the shop point of view, we’ve needed the bigger brands because that’s what skateboarders are choosing to buy at the moment and they bring in other groups of customers. If we could survive selling only the most core skate brands then I would happily do that, but right now they don’t sell enough. There is a paradox there in that success means small brands becoming big brands and eventually corporate brands, DC for instance… so where do you draw the line?”
The overarching conversation about small brands vs big brands must be looked at closer with big size brand from action culture vs. from sports culture.
For us, we are not a sports brand, we are skateboarders. We are not monitored by points like sport competitions and score cards – competition does not define us. It is not by who will win a contest or by winning over somebody else. We are defined by pushing our own limit, sharing a great time skateboarding, having fun with our friends and living it day and night.
For Sole Tech and Sole Tech brands, we have always made the consistent decision to be the right size and to remain true to inspire youth through a passionate commitment to authentic skateboarding.
Since day one, starting with etnies, we work on bringing skateboarding to people. We opened footwear categories in the skate shops to draw in people from outside skateboarding to bring them to skate shops and inspire with our culture.
Along the way, the market became very basic in terms of style and product. Now sports brands are opening the skateboard footwear category everywhere with no balance. How is this is going help our skateboard shops going forward? We believe we need to change and bring to our market desirable and different product that cannot be found everywhere. We love the idea of bringing different styles, with authentic brands that have great stories specifically to skate shops to help drive their demand.
This must be done with our people in the community – skate shops and authentic Sole Tech has always supported this and is accelerating now with innovation to bring the right balance back for our skateboard store.
It is clear we can’t do it alone and we need everybody’s support.
How can éS play a part in driving new skateboarders into skate shops to learn about the importance of keeping the skateboard industry run by skater owned companies?
It would be the most amazing thing to see if éS can reinvigorate the business with skate shops. We’re all one big family and we need to support each other. But, no ones wins if the skate brands create inferior products. That’s why based on the demand for éS we can come back and help gain momentum for skater owned brands. Let’s get skateboarding back in the hands of skateboarders.
We want the community to speak. We are trying to figure how can we keep the true spirit of skateboarding out there, and not have skateboarding in the hands of people that do not skate, but by skaters and have them lead the way to stay authentic. We don’t want it becoming a sport that has nothing to do with skateboarding. Skateboarding is more than just performing a trick – it is how we live and all the experiences we learn along the way in our lives with our fellow skateboarders. It’s not a score card!