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Awarded with the second signature shoe ever given to a Nike SB athlete, Stefan Janoski continues Nike’s skateboarding efforts with an endless pursuit of perfection. Over 15 months in the making, the Zoom Stefan Janoski model has ran through countless design stages, removing and implementing features, in the hope of creating a silhouette wearable during and after a bruising skate session. With the patient direction of Head Designer James Arizumi and Design Director Michael Leon, the shoes have finally come into fruition. Taking inspiration from countless subjects from Stefan’s personality, including music, hometown inspirations and old world elements, this latest addition to the already stellar Nike SB roster gives the brand a second identity. The shoe coupled smoothly alongside the technical aspects of their Paul Rodriguez signature range offers a diverse and complete range. We recently caught up with James Arizumi and Michael Leon, to learn a bit more about their latest footwear project, alongside one of the more distinguished and humble gentleman in the industry, Stefan Janoski.
Interviews: L. Ruano
Photography: Rickey Vinluan, L. Ruano
Interview with Stefan Janoski
Stefan! How did you get your start as a professional skateboarder?
I was at a demo once and this guy, Justin Williams, who worked at Venture at the time, asked “Hey man, you want some free trucks?”. That’s how it all began. He started sending me Think boards which eventually lead me on a Think Skateboards trip. Brandon Biebel and myself would just travel wherever we needed to go, we went down south all the time (San Francisco). We would scrounge up money together and just go for it, go where we needed to be, where everyone was at during the time. San Diego, Encinitas, and even SF (San Francisco) were the hottest places in the world, even Barcelona. I really wanted it badly, so we just went wherever we needed to go and hang out with who we needed, basically just try our hardest. We really worked for it and it kinda just fell into place.
Did you have any major influencers (skateboarding wise), in your early days?
Friends were definitely influential because you skate with people better then you, which is how you end up getting better. I definitely have to say Mike Carrol and Ryan Howard. Girl Skateboarding. Those were the guys I followed and looked up to.
How was the skate scene in Vacaville (California) growing up?
The Vacaville skate scene was pretty much me and just a couple of my friends, maybe even less. Most of them were from Fairfield (neighboring city) and they were all older then me. I was in 9th grade and everyone had already graduated. When I moved onto High School there was no skate scene at all, it was just me and one other kid. Skateboarding was the most uncool thing you could possibly do in high school.
Fashion has definitely taken off within Skateboarding in the past few years, was it ever something of relevance back in your High School days?
I was never a good dresser, I would basically just wear whatever. Shelltoes were a favorite when I was young because I thought they were good for skating, but at a certain point I had to get whatever was at Ross, such as Filas, because my mom would get sick of me coming home with holes in my shoes. I could never get into the whole cool guy shoe thing.
Did any of those early “skate shoes” you wore have an influence on the design of your signature Nike sneakers?
Before people started making shoes specifically for skating, everyone was wearing tennis shoes such as Nike Dunks, Shelltoes, Converse, Jordans, basically whatever people could get a hold of. Before there were sponsors, you would watch a video and everyone had a different shoe on. They were all really minimal and there was nothing really to em. At the time everyone had 38mm wheels, skating curbs and were just really technical with their boards.
I think all the padding came from all the stunts, kids just getting crazy, which I don’t think is really necessary in a modern skate shoe. I really just wanted a platform that I could skate and wear casually, essentially shoes I could wear everyday. I didn’t want a shoe that when I was done skating I would put away and have to change into my “chilling” pair. I wanted a shoe that when your done skating, you can hop out of the car and go eat dinner and not have to be like “Fuck!.”
I can’t even imagine how rigorous the process must have been. What was the initial concept you wanted to start with?
I wanted to strip everything down to the least amount of materials we could use in a shoe. Create kind of like a Converse All-Star, but for skating. A classic, timeless design.
Did you look for any specific technical features?
I actually looked for the less technical features because I think for skating what you really need is just get down to the minimal basics. Just because what you’re really doing is manipulating the skateboard with your feet and for me, at least, I need my feet as close to the board as possible.
I needed to be as close to barefoot as I could be. What I always looked for in shoes was for them to just give me that feeling of what my feet are doing instead of what my shoe is doing. I didn’t want to think to myself, “Alright this shoe is big, I have to do tricks differently and incorporate the shoe into them.”
Its been a longtime coming, this design for Nike. When did you feel like it was the right time to create your own signature shoe, if the opportunity presented itself?
It was a cool time because I had already rode for Nike for years, but was kind of past the point where I was like “I have to get a pro shoe.” If I was gonna have a shoe, I was gonna make it my way. Nike would bring me their ideas and I would be like “Nah, its my shoe”. I kind of complained a lot, bitched and moaned. A long while went by until I said “Yes, you got it!”. At this time, I was just going to be real honest and not let something come out with my name on it that I didn’t like. If I hadn’t had a signature shoe yet, I was not gonna have one now, unless I got it the way I really wanted it. I said “If I don’t like it, then fuck it, I’ll never have a shoe”.
Well its definitely an awesome shoe. How happy are you with the final outcome?
I’m so happy that it’s overwhelming!
Interview with Michael Leon
Michael, what was your role in the design of the Zoom Stefan Janoski?
I was the Design Director for the project. I worked with Stefan to create a distinct overview for the project. The general vibe and the individual elements like the curiosity cabinet. Then James worked with him on the shoe and we tied it all together. The goal was to translate Stefan’s vision into something even bigger than what he was imagining. We went back and forth with him a great deal.
It definitely seemed like a team effort
Exactly, that’s the great thing about Nike SB, the entire team works together on the product and marketing, so its all done at the same time. It was nice to start something with Stefan and finish it together as well. Even down to the event tonight, we all had the same vision and it came together well.
How long have you been a part of the team at Nike/Nike SB?
Ive been at Nike for four years, primarily working on a line entitled Tech-Pack, which eventually turned into NSW (Nike Sportswear). A little over a year ago I joined the SB team to work on “Nothing But the Truth”. Mainly the titles and packaging for the video. NSW and Tech-Pack took quite awhile to launch and there is a great design team there that eventually got it super dialed , so I decided to switch modes and go work with the skate division for awhile, to try and get something new going and to work with some of my longtime friends. Plus skateboarding is kinda “home” for me so it feels good.
Did you bring that technical mentality from NSW into the creation of this new sneaker for Stefan?
The technical outerwear aspect of a collection like NSW is something that doesn’t always translate for skaters. In a way they don’t value that kind of innovation the way that runners would, but when you give it to them the right way they do appreciate it. Their needs are more around durability, movement, lightweight, etc. so we try to bring innovation from a different angle. A skater is going to destroy their gear, you know, so it’s a different game. In the end it’s all Nike and it’s nice to have these different collections that service different people all in name of innovation.
What other projects do you have lined up for 2009?
As soon as I get back to Portland, we’ll begin working on an upcoming signature collection. I can’t say much, but it’ll be a long process much like the road we took with Stefan. That project took 15 months, so it’s definitely a long process. I started with Stefan in February 2008, so many stages it’s crazy!
Everyone seems to be excited to complete the Janoski line. How well do you feel the shoes turned out?
This one was really fun because of Stefan, his vibe and everything else. Also, the casual look of the shoes fit in with our whole crew pretty well. These are the ones I’ll be wearing. It’s a different vibe than our previous technical projects. Everyone is pretty siked.
Interview with James Arizumi
James, how long did the design process take for the Zoom Stefan Janoski?
The design process took two seasons, which is obviously longer that we planned, but we wanted to do the shoe justice and make sure that we were meeting Stefan’s needs of what is required for him to skate, to the best of his ability. We went through about three different versions of his shoe until we landed on the silhouette that you see today. No, we are talking not just samples but fully ready for market, tooling opened, finished styles that we had to do complete do overs on because it was not quite right for Stefan. In the end it was a good call because we are happy how the shoe turned out and Stefan is stoked.
What sort of technical elements did you incorporated into the design?
The shoe is a combination of addressing the specific needs that Stefan required for a performance piece of footwear as well as the embodiment of who Stefan is and his personality and style shown through design. Believe it or not, both looks and performance are technical requirements for skaters to perform their best. On the product design side of things, the technical elements include a performance custom molded sockliner with a Zoom bag for maximum cushioning, which will be included on all the styles. We did some interesting things with the heights and proportions of the outsole so that you sit lower in the shoe for better stability. Because the style is so low for maximum foot and ankle movement, it was key to build the stability into the tooling and its relationship to the upper. On the quarter panel you notice that it dives into the outsole which when laced up, allows for superior lock down into the shoe. As the quarter panel dives down it also sweeps behind the heel to provide heel lock around the entire rear of the shoe as well. A lot of “technology” or just construction techniques went into the structure of the shoe as well. When you build a shoe as thin as Stefans you usually just take out material and the shoe becomes floppy and baggy, we took a lot of time to
craft the interior and build a shoe that was thin, but also supportive, lightweight, and durable to stand up to the rigors of skateboarding. You will also notice in the heel liner construction we took a little time and added a suede inner heel for great heel lockdown. It’s one of the details of the shoe that I am most proud of.
Wow, quite a labor intensive process. Will we see more vulcanized offerings from Nike SB in the future?
As a brand we are not ruling out the option of any more vulcanized styles but we have always tried to build a robust offering of styles for every type of skater. In this case for Stefan and his needs for skating, it just so happened that a vulcanized outsole worked. We are working on implementing Cold Wrap technologies into our line which will take the harsh and environmentally damaging processes of vulcanization out of the equation.
The shoes came out great. With such a successful new design now in place, will Nike SB look to rely less on its iconic offerings in favor of new models, such as Janoski’s
We will always have our heritage styles, because that is where we come from as a brand, but we will expand of off that heritage and most definitely offer new styles that flip the script and offer something new that people would never expect from Nike, like Stefan’s shoe. Who in short, none of this would have happened without his vision and support.
Lastly I would like to give a big ups to the footwear crew, Shawn Baravetto and Brian Linkfield our unsung hero/developer. Thanks!