Watch any full length skate video produced in the past 3 years, and go to any skate park in America and you’ll see the Nike swooshes on so many people’s feet. Nike, Adidas, and Converse effectively pushed through to profit from the skate industry. They all sponsor some of the best skaters in the world, and maybe no one cares anymore. For the sake of argument I’m going to explain the skate shoe history to the best of my ability, and show it’s a shame that the big companies probably will dominate the shoe industry in a few years. Perhaps I’m a hypocrite because I’ll eat at McDonalds and shop for clothes at Kohls, but I think there was something good about skate only brands.
Recently in the news, I learned the cofounder of Vans, James Van Doren, died at the age of 72. He and his brother started the shoe company in 1966, and with the emergence of skateboarding in southern California in the 1970’s Vans was the skate shoe of choice. If you watch the documentary Dogtown and Z-boys and the later movie, The Lords of Dogtown you’ll see that Vans along with the invention of the urethane wheel set the sport in motion. Vans is a huge skate shoe company to this day, has many good riders, and has had some of the best selling skate shoes including the Half Cab. The Half Cab shoe was introduced in around 1991 or 1992 and still sells well today. To me Vans does not produce skate videos, something that the other brands do, and a reason for me not to be into them.
Instead of researching for this blog entry on the real history of skate shoes I’ll fast forward to my time as a skater. When I started in 1988 or so there were four skate shoe companies: Vans, Airwalk, Vision Streetware, and Etnies. The shoes were bulky high tops. Perhaps my ability was not good compared to later, but these shoes lasted awhile for me. Looking back it was not a stylish era at all. Vision Streetware was extremely popular but looked like Chuck Taylor with an ugly stitched label on it. I gave no thought on if these companies were good for skateboarding or not. With the exception of Etnies these shoe companies were owned and operated by businessmen and not skateboarders. Perhaps it is unfair to expect today’s kids to care at all about the shoes they ware, who owns them, and things like that.
In the early nineties the companies were still few, but the styles changed. Baggy clothes were in and the bulky low top skate design was created. Eventually this shoe style became popular with non-skaters as well. Somewhere around 1992 it became popular to skate in shoes not designed specifically for skateboarding. A model of Adidas shoes, and a model of Puma became popular to wear. People would search for different colors in these shoes. I believe these shoes were popular in the hip hop crowd and skaters picked up on that trend.
Around 1994 to 1998 was an important time in skate shoe history. DC, Adio, DVS, Es, Globe, Emerica and other skate shoe companies came on the scene. Skateboarding became popular again and some pros in the skate industry took advantage and started companies. Danny Way and Colin McCay started the huge company DC. Adio was Tony Hawk’s company after he broke off a long sponsorship with Airwalk. DVS, Es, and Emerica I assume are skater owned, but I’m not sure. So in a short time, the skateboard consumer had a lot of choices, but a lot of them were legit choices. Everything one could buy in a skate shop was made and promoted by skateboarders for their own companies.
According to Wikipedia (my librarian colleagues are shaking their heads if they bother to read this) Nike tried to start to sell skate shoes in 1997 but failed to break into the ‘specialty’ shop market. In 2002 they started their brand Nike SB, so that is almost nine years by now. In the late nineties to the 2000’s a couple of other skate shoe brands came out, mainly Lakai and Fallen. Lakai is owned by the same pro skaters that own Girl Skateboards, mainly Mike Carroll and Rick Howard. Fallen is owned by the pro skater Jamie Thomas. In 2007 Lakai put out a very acclaimed skate video called Fully Flared which made them very popular for awhile. Since 2007 at least three of their riders left for competitive companies. Eric Koston, who is a very influential skater, left for Nike. Luis Puig left for Adidas. And Alex Olson left for Vans. So even though that 2007 skate video was one of the best of all time, these riders found more lucrative deals with the larger more mainstream companies.
In the past month it was announced that Es is going out of business, when around the year 2000 it was the biggest name in skate shoes. One of my favorite skate shoe companies, DVS, seems to be in less of the skate shops in NYC. I like DVS because their shoes are comfortable, and the skate videos they produce are fun but progressive as well. I also see less skaters wearing Lakai shoes at skate parks these days.
A few years ago a friend who owns a skate shop in Ohio told me how Nike runs their business. They used to make local skate shops buy the full line of skate shoes Nike offers in every size. The stores can’t return any of the shoes for credit, owe for the whole amount, and have to sell the majority of the stock to make a profit. My friend pointed this out when I said that I see a lot of skate stores in NYC with not many decks for sale. He said there is a good chance if they have Nike, they might owe Nike a substantial amount of debt. And because of that debt to Nike they can’t stock skate decks. My friend is a good source, but I hope that practice has changed in the last few years. I liked the ideology of a about a decade ago of skater owned local skate shops and skater owned companies. In that world the people that love skating can profit from it too.
All of this said, maybe I’m getting old, and shouldn’t judge anyone for the shoes they wear. A few days ago I was watching a video and pointed out a pair of Nikes to my roommate. He made the observation that you can’t blame these sponsored skaters. Skating everyday to get to that level means sacrifices like not working full time. So perhaps the big corporate companies are making it possible for this generation of promising skaters. Also on the skate industry radar, Nike has an anticipated skate video to come out soon. They do have a stacked team, and maybe I’ll buy the video, but I won’t wear the shoes. I prefer a simple plain shoe without swooshes, stripes or other nonsense designs.