Don Brown: interview about éS footwear

I bet everyone, who cares just a bit about skate industry was thrilled with the message: the éS footwear annonced release of small collection for this spring. Suddenly a lot of questions left unanswered: Is the hiatus over? Why just three models? Where is Accel? Will Ronnie Creager join the team?  and so on…

és is back(tail)
és is back(tail)

The situation around relaunching the brand is not easy and a lot of decision have to be explained precisely. So I hooked up Don Brown – the guy responsible for éS marketing strategy to clarify what can we expect from this comeback, because nobody knows the „behind the curtain“ information better than him.

[Česká verze interview je k dispozici na]

Ok Don, first of all, please make some introduction of yourself. Since you are „the man in behind“ even I have very few information about you. Can you please just shortly describe your role, responsibilities or history in Sole tech.

I’ll give you the short version! I grew up skating in England. Came to the USA in 1984 on a one way ticket with 2 friends and have lived here ever since. When i got  here i was sponsored by Vision/Sims/Independent for Feestyle skating. Traveled the world skating contests, demos and having fun. Placed well in all contests Winning the World Championsips at Munster, Germany in 1989.  I had met Freestyle skater Pierrre Andre Senizegues in 1981 at a contest in the UK. Pierre ended up moving to the USA too so we skated a lot together throughout the 80’s in Huntington Beach. At the end of the 80’s the global recession kicked in, skateboarding business became challenging and Fellow freestyler Steve Rocco started his own brands – World Industries, Plan B, 101, Bling, Ghetto Wear and many more …

Steve basically started a revolution in skateboarding that gave the skateboard industry to the skateboarders to define the future. It was at this same time that Pierre Andre started doing etnies he needed help and asked me when we were skating if i would join him. It was Pierre and I doing what ever it took to make things happen…we had the experience as pro skaters to know all the key skate shops, know the top riders, and most importantly know what was needed in a skate shoe.

Things took off with Etnies being the first skater owned footwear brand in the world. At the time skateboarding was in an anarchic period over sized clothing, small wheels, and connectivity to street wear brands…this look was becomng stagnant and many of the Etnies team (Koston, Mike Carrol, Rick Howard, Dae-Won, Kareem Campbell etc…)started to wear athletic styled clothing and shoes when going out at night. We figured we should create a skate footwear brand that can push the linits of innovation, style, and technology at the same time as creating a brand that had an elite team. This brand became éS i took the best of who was in skateboarding at the time and created the best team that skateboarding had ever seen.

és dream team in 2002
és dream team in 2002

My responsibilities for Sole Technology  over the years have been everything from doing everything possible to make things happen – Sales, Product, Marketing. The areas where i have contributed most are with marketing and the building the teams …also, product design  helping to design éS Koston 1, Sheep Templeton , Sheep Mcrank and in general  support with many of the Sole Tech rider designs: Muska, Jamie Thomas, Marc Johnson …you name a pro at Sole Tech in the 90’s and i have worked with them on getting them on the team and helping them with their product designs. For the longest period my role was SVP Marketing overseeing all 5 Sole Technology Brand Strategies. My current role is working closely with Pierre on the over all brand strategies with a current focus mostly on the return of éS. Phew…that a lot of information above!!

After you decided put éS on hiatus, its legacy of top technology was kind of spread  to Etnies and Emerica product lines. Now considering  that éS is slowly returning, can we expect Etnies and Emerica slowly going back to theirs previous brand positionings?

Innovation and progression has always been a big part of all the Sole Technology brands. Etnies positioning is bulit around skateboarding but reaches out to the Action Sports Culture of Surf, BMX, Snowboarding, MX… Where Emerica is 100% about skateboarding and defying convention… éS is about innovation, style, and connects more with street culture.

és footwear spring 2014

Are you afraid or already facing the brand canibalization in your portfolio?

It’s definitely something that we are aware of. We’ve learned our lessons from this before so know the importance to position each brand differently for different consumers and with targeted competitors. I read every comment on the éS Instgram, Facebook, and Twtter…the most common thing that i am see with with éS returning is skaters saying: „Finally, I have a replacement for Nike“ which usually relates into a #fuckNikeSB or someting like that i really didn’t know there was so much hate for that brand.

Everybody is king after battle, but it seems like it was  the worst moment possible to put éS out of the market because ever since then, all other brands went crazy with their tech features. Do you think they felt the opportunity of taking éS marketshare and adapted their strategies to take it?

When we put éS on Creative Retreat it was because the market was pulling us in a direction that we didn’t want to go. All the market wanted was cheap vulcanized shoes in black and white…that’s not what éS is about. We tried hard to continue to push great innovative, and technical products but the market didn’t want them. It was time for us to step back assess where the market was, define where we want to be, and get away from all the constraints and long term timelines.

To the dismay of the éS fans we didn’t put product into the market for 2 years…within this time we had so many people asking for us to bring éS back. We made a run of Accels in Japan in 4 colours…these shoes became the top selling shoes in every store we sold to. We figured it was time to drop some new éS style to let the éS fans know we still love them!  We’re still what we call in „Creative Retreat“ which is basically the freedom to get away from any constrictions and be as flexible as we want.

It is really hard for us fans to admit it, but in the end the brand really needed the time to redefine its brand strategy. Do you feel like you have already found the new brand essence or you are just carefully searching the market and customer reactions and looking for the new receipe?

As mentioned the brand isn’t back on all 4 pistons right now…we’re just releasing some fun new product collections…there’s no team and no big advertising push. We’re just giving the éS fans some really cool new éS products. The market right now is moving faster than ever… having a rigid plan that is the same as everyone elses doesn’t seem like a winning plan.

The hiatus was surely beneficial for the brand, but on the other hand, whenever something ends, people start to idealize it heavily. Do you feel that this fact influences your work on éS return? I think that most of reactions must be largely positive, but the previous  standards you need to meet are really high. Do you feel the pressure?

Yeah. When we’re looking at bringing back the new product collections we knew that the expectations of éS are really  high. That’s why we’ve choosen to be flexible and to work closely with supporting our skate retailers and the new generation fo skaters that are killing it right now.

és footwear accent red

I was quite surprised by your price strategy. If I take in account, that you are releasing limited edition of brand, which was highly desired by customers, I would expect some kind of premium price strategy. You know, like: „People are so crazy about Accels, we can sell them for 120 bucks!“ J What was the motivation to set the bran dat this price level?

We’re skateboarders we want to create amazing products at a great value. When you see the shoes and try them on you will be really impressed!

And the other thing: why is Accel missing in current product line?

The Accel is one of the biggest discussion points online! All 3 of the shoes came from the DNA of the Accel…the Accelerate specifically is a cupsole shoe that is an evolution of the Accel but with todays styling and functional needs.  When skaters try the Acclerate they will love it…if we brought the Accel out at the same time there’s a chance they wouldn’t have given the Accelerate a chance. We’re looking at the Accel for the future. Stay tuned!

The styles, you have put on the market for this spring are inspired or even combinations of previous styles (Accent looks like Square Two + Edgar; Accelerate is one piece toecap Accel TT with Keano outsole). To me, éS was always defined as progressive and innovations motivated brand with basically no looking back. Will the new brand strategy continue the fast pace, or will it slow down a bit and remind more the rich past?

We’ll always be evolving with the progression of skateboarding and skateboarders needs on and off the board. Taking inspiration from our rich heritage as we evolve will be important to still connect the dots between each generation.

és accelerate black

éS became a symbol of rotten skate industry. Seems like you have decided to accent this fact when you put the collection just in the scene suppporting shops. Do you thing people will wake up from the ads infatuation of big players and they will finally realize how important it is to support skater-owned brands?

We’re skateboarders, éS and all the Sole Technology brands are born from the passion and love of skateboarding. When i see these big multi-billion dollar

corporations buying up what all of us skateboarders build it bums me out. It’s tough to see these corporations create disposible „categories“  just to penetrate a demographic.

I still strugle seeing what they did in surfing to over inflate the cost of everything so the passionate surf brands couldn’t compete anymore many going out of business…then the cororate athletic company decides they’re not making any money and pull the plug on the program …this made the whole surf industry implode. I wonder when something similar will happen in skateboarding. For us skateboarding is our life …if skateboarding dies so does éS.

It is amazing seeing these guys togehther: Don, Pierre André and Paul Van Doren (Vans owner)
It is amazing seeing these guys togehther: Don, Pierre André and Paul Van Doren (Vans owner)

The pressure of fans on the brand is quite impressive: at first the iniciative to put the brand back to the market (eg. éS_please on instagram, rippedlaces articles ) and now the Ronnie Creager petition to get him in the team. How far will you hand over the brand to customers? Eventhough  it might be another step to prove brand´s legitimity in the community, on the other hand it was the difference betwen brand supply and customer demands which has caused the hiatus but the identity of éS was the thing the customers missed the most after it was gone. Do you perceive it more like the opportunity or as a threat?

I think it’s really interesting times. It’s the first time that consumers have a true engagement with brands…they want to to feel part of the brands. As mentioned for éS i’m reading every comment posted and answering as many as i can. It’s amazing that so many people have told me „Wow, it’s so cool that you reply to me, none of the other brands do“ I don’t see the people on the éS instagram, Facebook or Twitter as a customer i see them as a peer, a friend and part of the extended family of skateboarders from around the world. I speak to them as a friend. I’ve been writing notes on all kinds of requests from what shoe styles, functional needs, apparel requests, team rider names, getting the éS Game of SKATE back…are we going to do everything that everyone asks for? No…but the fact i’ve listened to them and replied letting them know we appreciate their feedback goes a long way. Will we implemet some of the ideas that come to us? Hell YES we will!

Ok, no more „industrial espionage“ questions: which is your favorite style from current colection?

This sounds like a diplomatic answer but i love each shoe for different reasons. I love the Accent as its the most compfortable Vulc shoe i own and the sole is really good for skating. I love the Accelerate as it’s a cup sole so it has more support and cushioning for support…plus the details of the lycra togue stabalizers are really good and the ThermoThane Ollie protection is really good! The Acceletite I like as it’s the ultimate chill shoe… So comfortable with the snug heel cup and P/U STI insoles…These are great to run away from the police, security guards or anyone with a badge and a uniform!!

és accelite black

Did you take part in actual designing of the footwear?

Pierre was mostly involved with the design. I gave him feedback on the needs of the market. We have our original éS designer Rick making the shoes come to life. Rick is amazing and also an incredible skateboarder!

How about the whole Ronnie issue? Did you talk to him about that?

Yes. Ronnie is a great friend of mine. I explained to him that right now we don’t have team and that i’ll always consider him part of the éS family so if he ever needs anything i’ll hook him up.

If you should name one word, that should define new éS skateboarding, what is that?

LOVE ….It’s what éS is about …our love for skateboarding, love of design, and the love of the skate community around the world.

és footwear love

What is – to you personally –  the main benefit of skater-owned companies? How do you diferenciate to „NONs“ with big budgets and fancy ads?

Skater owned companies do things for the pure passion and love of it.   Love is what makes the world go around… Love is what makes our wheels go around!

Thank you Don, for exhausting answers! I am sure éS will find and fight back its legitimity!

Thank you to and thanks to everyone who made éS comeback possible!

és footwear available here

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