Arthur Chmielewski and the HAVEN x norda 003 for Hypebeast's Sole Mates

The HAVEN co-founder reveals the HAVEN x norda 003 and discusses “pinnacle materials,” why he feels all good footwear design starts through a performance lens and more.

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It’s the week before Thanksgiving, and Arthur Chmielewski is a busy man. Many industries wind down towards the end of the year when the holidays are in view just over the horizon, but as the co-founder of HAVEN — a famed retail outlet with its own successful private clothing label to boot — he’s in full go mode. “We’ve got four more projects dropping before the end of the year,” he says with a harried-yet-happy look on his face as he joins a Sole Mates video call from his office in Vancouver. It’s one of those forthcoming projects that we’re discussing, namely one created with norda: the 003, an ultra-high-tech laceless sneaker that Chmielewski is quick to note is the most comfortable piece of footwear he’s ever owned — a bold statement from a man who’s been in the retail game for almost two decades and grew up loving sneakers through his associations with basketball, b-boying and skateboarding.

Chmielewski fondly recalls trips between Vancouver and Seattle to get AND1 shoes for his high school basketball seasons, breakdancing in the Air Hurache and scoring early pairs of the VISVIM FBT, all memories which played a role in he and his brother Daniel’s opening of HAVEN in 2006. Since then, HAVEN has become known globally for its discerning eye for high-end goods that aim to bridge the gap between the outdoors and the urban environment (there’s even a “HAVEN filter” the brothers use when selecting or working on products), its popular in-house label and its myriad of collaborations.

The store’s mission is to “enrich everyday life through functional design, craftsmanship, and innovation,” an ethos that’s on full display via the norda 003 — a collaboration born of an appreciation for “pinnacle materials” and timeless design as well as shared Canadian roots. The first laceless norda sneaker, the 003 is packed chock-full of elite tech, from Vibram outsoles and midsoles to a custom bio-based Dyneema upper with a brand-new Dyneema-based stretch fit system and a fully waterproof graphene membrane. (“Make sure to go up a full size!” he laughs).

“Footwear, for me, is the most crucial piece of daily equipment,” he continues. “As I age, practicality and timelessness become paramount, and what I wear on my feet needs to reflect that philosophy.”

What got you into sneakers?

My earliest sneaker memories come from playing basketball in elementary and junior high school. I was like “oh man, all my teammates have such cool shoes.” My parents couldn’t afford to get me the shoes my teammates were wearing, which made me lust over them even more. The first pair of memorable sneakers I had were the Converse Run ‘N Slam, Kevin Johnson’s signature shoe in black and purple, which I saved birthday money and money from my grandparents to get. I recall liking the Air Penny 2 a lot in middle school as well. After that, I had a cousin who lived in Seattle, so when we’d go visit our other family in Vancouver we’d also travel across the border to go see him. AND1 had just came out when I was in high school, and one one of those trips I got a pair of Stephon Marbury’s first signature shoe, the Marbury 1 — which was huge, because AND1 wasn’t available in Canada at the time. The roles were reversed, and I became the guy whose teammates lusted over his shoes [laughs]. I played in the Marbury 1s and 2s during high school, and they’re still some of my favorites.

As you went into high school, you shifted from basketball to b-boying. How did that affect your footwear taste?

In high school and university, I was wearing a lot more Nike. My affinity for skateboarding and B-boying led me into street culture and street culture lad me into sneaker culture. At the time, I was really into the Air Huarache, which was my preferred dancing shoe. I liked some of the early SB Dunks a lot as well. The Danny Supa SB Dunk Low was probably the best one I had. I eventually began exploring Japanese street fashion, and found out about BAPE and then VISVIM when it was still primarily a footwear brand. I’ve still got some of the first VISVIM FBTs that were ever made — I hunted them down on a trip to Asia in the early ’00s. Those affinities, especially the one for Japanese design and functionality, led [my brother Daniel and I] to open the first HAVEN in Edmonton, our hometown, and the store was significantly influenced by our appreciation for Japanese design and functionality.

Was there any friendly competition between you and your brother when it came to sneakers?

No competition really, it was more so that we’d share back then. I worked in retail through high school and university, which enabled me to save up to buy what I wanted. I was very into fashion and culture, but my brother was the one who introduced me to b-boying — we had a crew we called the Footsoldiers — so we were always sharing. We’d even share clothes in the early days, so I’d borrow his Dunks and he’d borrow my BAPE t-shirts. Everybody used to think we were twins.

How did your perspective on footwear change after you opened HAVEN?

My experience before HAVEN was that of someone who just really enjoyed wearing his shoes. I don’t call myself a “collector” because I never displayed my shoes or tried to keep them pristine, I’d just wear them and enjoy them. When we started the business, I began to see sneakers from a much wider perspective. We’d see trend cycles come and go, like the menswear era when everyone wanted Red Wings, then the recent sneaker buying frenzy, which, I think is dying off a little bit as that audience is maturing and making more conscious decisions about what they actually like and value. Now, we’ve been seeing outdoor, function-first brands like norda, Salomon, HOKA and Merrell elevating and taking market share away from the bigger guys, who seem to have lost their way a little bit when performance became an afterthought for them.

When did you first find out about norda and what drew you to it?

I moved back to Vancouver a few years ago after living in Toronto for a while, and with the move dove back into running and hiking for exercise. Shortly after that, I stumbled across norda on Instagram. I was immediately like “Oh, this is interesting.” They stuck out to me right away because their story is very similar to ours — we’re both focused on functional design, craftsmanship and innovation.

Both HAVEN and norda seem to share an appreciation for hardy materials as well.

Right. Everything they did was through a pinnacle lens, from the Vibram outsoles and midsoles to the custom bio-based Dyneema they use on the uppers and the waterproof graphene membrane on the 003. They champion sustainability through a similar lens as us, by making a better product that lasts longer. Everything about them just aligned with our values as a company. I reached out to the brand and right away we were like “there’s an opportunity to do something cool here.” HAVEN comes from a core lifestyle perspective while norda comes from a core trail running perspective, and I think this is a really great opportunity for them to slowly tap into the lifestyle market but do it authentically with a partner like us who speaks the same language that they do.

After all, we’re both from Canada and both have a need for functional products on a day-to-day basis. Then, of course, the shoes just look really nice. Their shape and minimalist nature was really welcome after seeing a really maximalist design language, like stacked midsoles or a lot of superfluous design details, permeate the industry over the last five years.

So what was the process of creating the 003 like? Did you guys know what you wanted to do right away, or was there some back-and-forth required to get that perfect balance of lifestyle and performance?

Nick and Willa [Martire, norda co-founders] were in Vancouver, and they came to our studio to chop it up because we’d already decided we wanted to work together. We didn’t know what was in the pipeline for them at the time — the 001 was out, but they hadn’t announced the 002 yet — so we were going into it with a totally open mind, and they asked us if we wanted to work on the 003, which was in the concept phase at the time, with them. It had already been decided that the 003 would be a laceless shoe, so we worked with Louis [Martin-Tremblay, norda's head of design] to craft a narrative around the enduring nature of the British Columbian mountain formations and the brutalist architecture that’s referenced on the final design.

You mentioned crafting a narrative around the 003 — can you tell us more about that? Do you think a different approach needs to be taken to tell a story on a model that’s performance-first as opposed to one that’s lifestyle-first?

Well here, the Canadian Rockies and the brutalist architecture of the region was referenced because both have been around forever and last forever, in the same way that norda’s footwear is really well-built and long-lasting. The overall story is very much from an outdoor perspective, because HAVEN always wants to bridge the gap between outdoor culture and an urban lifestyle. And in this case, all the pinnacle materials used on this shoe are the underlayer that makes the collaboration special by backing up its story and inspirations with high-end performance.

Why do you think there’s such an interest in trail shoes for casual wear these days? Is it an extension of the gorpcore aesthetic, an increased desire for functional goods, something else entirely?

I think it just boils down to trail shoes being comfortable and versatile. They work for any type of environment. Take New York City, for example. It’s pretty rainy in the fall and snowy and icy in the winter, but trail shoes will get you through all of that and make sure you look good doing it too. I think any shoe that’s become a “classic” starts from a performance standpoint and eventually gets appropriated into lifestyle, whether that’s a Chuck Taylor being one of the first basketball shoes before heading to the streets, an Air Jordan 1 being aesthetically pleasing enough to be a lifestyle favorite, or even rugged work boots from Red Wing and Timberland becoming casual favorites. Performance is just really peaking right now. An Arc’Teryx jacket is going to outperform any other option in either the wilderness or the street, and be the one thing you really need, people get that, and I think that understanding goes to footwear.

Where do you see the world of sneakers going in the next few years? Do you think there’ll be even more demand for functionality?

Yeah, I hope brands are taking note of this current wave. Some of the bigger brands like Nike and adidas may have leaned into lifestyle a little too hard instead of designing from an innovation standpoint and performance standpoint and figuring out how those technologies can be adopted into lifestyle. I also think we’re seeing a bit of a design maturation at a lot of brands with cleaner lines and a more timeless aesthetic. Hopefully that’ll continue as well.

Why are sneakers important to you?

Footwear, for me, is the most crucial piece of daily equipment, connecting your body to the surroundings and environment around you. As I age, practicality and timelessness become paramount, and what I wear on my feet needs to reflect that philosophy. Comfort and functionality matter, and I’ve never had a shoe that strikes that balance quite like these 003s. They’ve been my daily go-tos for the past six months, and I can confidently say they’re the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.

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