We were recently invited to a Wear Test at the House Of Vans in Waterloo. It was for Gilbert Crockett’s Pro shoe Before we took our shoes out for a spin we were given a brief presentation about the thought behind them. Juss Apivala had flown in to help host this event and take us through the technology which went in to making the first ever vulcanised cupsole. We thought we would get a further slightly more in depth look at this design process for you in the way of this little interview so you can be as well informed as we are…
Can you introduce yourself and tell us what your role is at Vans…
My name is Juss. I work in the European headquarters and I am a product manager for Vans Action Sports footwear. Most of my attention is focussed on Pro Skate – which is our main skate line – and then Syndicate. Syndicate is the higher tier of Pro Skate, where we do projects linked more to the cultural side of skateboarding and where the products have a more limited distribution. I also deal with snowboard boots and three other footwear categories: Surf, LXVI and OTW. Basically my job revolves around a bunch of cool shoes.
What is your preferred role there, what do you enjoy the most?
As I grew up snowboarding and skating, being able to work with skaters and snowboarders and that product is what I enjoy the most. It’s kind of like you never grow up, you can postpone your adulthood. That’s what i really enjoy. I’m not designing product or developing it, it’s more of a strategic position. My role is to see where there are opportunities to grow the business and manage the footwear ranges accordingly. If there is a need, my job is to see how we can cater for it, or if something is working really well how we can ensure it’s in all the right places. It’s more the business side of things, but it’s cool because it also involves briefing new product. My job is to brief from an EMEA perspective, covering the requirements of Europe, Middle East and Africa. Basically we travel around and speak to the stores and learn from their feedback as to what product is working, and what might not be. We’re also are looking at what’s happening on the streets and listen to skaters. Based on that and some other information we brief the Global office about what product we need in terms of colourways and materials or if we need to make a new product to cater to certain skaters. We then go to the global office in the US for line reviews where all regions get together and work on the new lines. My job is to make sure that when we go there we get the product that Europe needs. It’s pretty cool that i have the chance to be involved with all the local markets here in Europe but then also have a very close connection with all the US guys at the global office.
This is the first one of these wear tests, is this the beginning of a more hands on way of finding out what accounts need?
Yeah, this is the first one we do in Europe and this is part of that. Being close to all the skate shops is important for us, and so is the support of these guys. I had a few people hitting me up today and telling how stoked they are about this weartest. We have so many great stores here today and everybody feels that they are part of something much bigger. And it’s not only about having a better relationship, it’s also helping them to have better product in their stores. In order to do that we need to know what they are doing well with, how they are selling it and they need to know how the product actually skates. Because with the Pro Skate line the primary focus is to make performance skateboard products. It’s like the shoe says inside “World’s #1 Skateboard Shoe”. Basically our job is to make sure this remains true. That’s why we reach out to our accounts like we are here today. We have created a feedback loop so we get to hear peoples thoughts. Today we’re testing Gilbert Crockett’s pro shoe and obviously the majority of the input came from him while developing a signature shoe, but still it’s important to get feedback from other people too. This helps us to develop the main line as some of the technology is or can be used in other Pro Skate shoes. Today we really want to focus on Wafflecup and the Duracap reinforcements on the upper.
Can you explain the thought behind the Wafflecup?
There are two main constructions used in skateboarding. There is the vulcanized sole which everybody loves for the flex and the boardfeel, and obviously the Vans Original Waffle grip. The majority of today’s skaters skate vulcanized shoes. On the other side you have the cupsole construction which is more durable and stable. It also provides more support, when you skate bigger things. The downside is that you loose a bit of the boardfeel and flex, so people have always looked for what is the best of both worlds. And that is exactly what Wafflecup is. The back end of the shoe works like a cupsole; it is a little bit thinner than a typical cupsole would be because we still wanted to maintain that flex you expect from a vulcanised shoe. The toe area works exactly like a vulcanized shoe. So you have the durability and stability of a cupsole shoe and the boardfeel, control and flexibility of a vulcanized shoe. We took the advantages of both construction types and combined them. We’re definitely stoked on the result.
There was a shoe called Stage 4 if you remember? It took us quite some time to develop it with our team skaters and Stage 4 was the first Wafflecup project. We kept working on it and made some updates to the sole in order to make it even better and meanwhile Gilbert turned pro. As he was part of development process since the beginning, he obviously wanted his first shoe to have Wafflecup as he loves how the shoes skates. And here you go, here’s the Gilbert Crockett Pro.
Are there any exciting further developments with the Pro Skate range in the coming seasons?
Yes there are. We have done quite a lot in the last few seasons too, such as introducing skateable canvas. Basically when you skate a canvas shoe it blows out really fast so we added this thin piece of breathable rubber laminate underneath it to make it more durable. There are different applications of the Duracap. For example Anthony’s (Van Engelen) shoe – the AV Classic – has a different application of Duracap compared to Gilbert’s shoe, but the function stays the same – it makes a shoe more durable. What we do at Vans is we still keep the shoe fairly classic looking. Look at the Gilbert shoe, it is a very simple, clean Vans shoe although it probably is the most bomb proof shoe we ever did in the skate line. That’s our way to apply technology, to keep it tucked away inside the shoe. We also take our footbeds seriously. We have different types of footbeds, they are all named Ultracush but there are different materials. Either you want a more responsive footbed with a lighter weight or you want something like our Ultracush HD – like in the Gilbert shoe – with a gel pad under it, so if you skate bigger stairs it gives you the support you need. There is a lot more in the shoes but it is mostly hidden. With Vans, a big part of the reason people like the shoes is because of how they look. We respect that. We push technology but the look remains key as well.
So we can expect more advancements along these lines in the future?
Of course, evolution and improvement is a constant process, just look at Pro Classics. People started skating in Vans’ classic shoes, and as skating progressed with people going bigger and skating harder, the shoes had to evolve with it. The original Vans were built in the 60’s and 70’s for skaters of the time, and skaters today simply have different needs. During the course of this journey we’ve added performance footbeds, increased durability with additions such as the Duracap toe bumper inside the shoe, making the foxing part more durable, and also combined it with a Duracap underlay on the upper, amongst others. There are a lot of things we do, like I said before, every Pro Skate shoe we do has some sort of technology in there and we keep progressing it. That’s why we have these wear tests too, perhaps the shoe is too durable. Sometimes you can make a bomb proof upper but the feel isn’t right or the sole wears out too fast and it doesn’t make sense. It needs to be balanced, these are the things we find out through wear tests. You can overbuild a shoe and it becomes too heavy or doesn’t flex. We keep on testing, improving and involving our team. We really listen to our skaters, the global team, the team here in Europe and the guys out there on the streets and in the parks. It’s a constant work in progress. We never stop.
How has the response been to the Gilbert Crockett shoe?
It has been great. I’ve been talking to a bunch of guys today who like skating cupsole shoes and they are impressed by how flexible the shoe is, but it still has the support they are used to. While the guys who usually skate vulc product are stoked on the boardfeel. A lot of people are talking about how the out of the box feeling is amazing. You don’t need to wear them in. This shoe definitely skates well and that’s so good to hear. Especially from different skaters. We had guys here killing the bowl while others destroyed the street part of House of Vans, so it seems to fit to everyone. Durability is another key point about this shoe. Think of a kid who wants to buy a shoe that lasts for a long time, then this is the perfect shoe for that. It really lasts and we have heard that a lot from many, many skaters. When we were working on the Wafflecup, we knew we were on to something great. So now it feels even better to hear this from a much bigger group. It adds confidence. And let’s face it, the shoe looks great too. People have pointed that out a lot today.
We would like to thank Juss for taking the time to talk to us and for giving us a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes . You can shop for VANS HERE, we have stock of the Gilbert Crockett shoe and many more new arrivals.