Photos courtesy: adidas
WORDS: Stu Gomez
It’s rare to come across a footwear designer with as much first-hand cultural insight as Scott Johnston. The Chocolate pro spent over a decade in a design role, most recently as adidas Skateboarding’s Senior Footwear Designer, and has been behind the laces for some of enduring skate silhouettes. But his legacy in style goes back even further, over 25 years ago, when he first started getting coverage as a young skater.
Johnston, at the time famous for his breakout opening 411VM clip of an unreal backside tailslide/5-0 on a marble planter (a few issues later he earned his own profile), had established himself as possessing a keen understanding of aesthetics in video clips and print ads for FTC, Mad Circle, and Chocolate. His evolution as a footwear designer, one which relies on marrying visually compelling concepts with straight-up dependability, was unsurprising (in retrospect).
His current brainchild is adidas’ 3ST series which this week has released its third model, the 3ST.003. You may have seen the previous models—the 001 and 002—and noted a certain flair, a decided fashion/function vibe. You may have thought, “Hmm, this is different,” and that’s because 3ST is attempting something novel. “The whole purpose of the series is to find the new design language for skate shoes,” Johnston says. “A style that hasn’t been created before.”
Breaking the skate shoe design mold is a monumental undertaking, and Johnston and adidas are uniquely perched to pull it off. For one, the heritage brand has a heavy history of design inspiration (Johnston, as with the 2016 Samba reimagining, is taking some cues from indoor soccer design); two, they have one of the best teams at their disposal to test these bad boys. For the 3ST.003, adidas and Johnston chose Miles Silvas.
Silvas provided his feedback from the beginning, from the very first 003 sample. And he had notes. “His input was super valuable,” Johnston says.
That’s another aspect of the 3ST series that is unique: The possibility of “going back to the drawing board” means that there have to sometimes be several iterations of the design. It’s a testament to adidas’ dedication to this program that there is no official deadline to hand in final designs for each 3ST shoe. Even the outsole was a work in progress, which is unheard of for skate shoes; everything had to be verified as tip-top by adidas’ riders before the shoe is finalized. Johnston says, “The philosophy was to bring in the team—there was no timeline.”
Johnston tells about some of the finer details behind the 3ST.003 design below.
“The whole purpose is to find the new design language for skate shoes.”
So Scott, since there was no deadline for the shoe’s release it gave you a lot more freedom for the riders to test it and perfect it?
Yeah, I think a lot of brands, once they open the outsole that’s kind of it. I don’t think they’re really scrapping outsoles in the skate industry [laughs]. We did a few rounds of outsoles to get it right.
Wow, so usually in the design process the outsole is a done deal. Once it’s finalized you can’t really go back and tweak it at all?
Pretty much, unless there was a major flaw—just a crazy miss. Usually, you review the blueprint over and over and if you’re lucky a brand could get a 3-D print of the tooling so you could see it three-dimensionally. But to get it open, feel it in the rubber, wear it, test it, but then just be able to scrap that mold and go again? That’s a little extraordinary!
The 3ST.003 is also really unique in that the outsole has three different patterns going on: the hexagonal, the herringbone and that textured rubber that wraps around. Is there some kind of functional philosophy behind each of those?
Yes, but obviously the function can be aesthetic. Visually giving you the signal in your brain that says, Oh that’s familiar; I know that! For the hexagon tread, we wanted to build it as sort of a design language. It’s like the Gazelle heritage tried-and-true tread—the Gazelle was very thin and small—and that’s very much the brand—so we wanted to explode it and make it deeper and more stable. Very stable and very durable.
Then, we wanted to still splash in a bit of herringbone because whenever you see herringbone, for any brand, you think, Oh that’s going to be flexible and grippy. We wanted to have that mix. And both [patterns] are celebrating that khaki gum wrap that meanders laterally, telling a durability story. The heavy textures is very much adidas. And, again, wrapping under for the center arch, then wrapping back up the sides for stability.
But then it’s also style: if you don’t look good, then you don’t skate good!
The way the gum wraps up the side is like an ollie pad, too. It has a very nostalgic late-’80s/early-’90s feel. Was that inspired by Shoe Goo in any way?
Yeah, to me it was almost a vulc moment where instead just being on the side you wrap it all the way underneath. Refining it and fine-tuning it. Taking the lessons from the little, tiny ollie pads of Vision Street Wear, which was an ’80s skate shoe, and Shoe Goo. Again, that was one of those things where we had to figure out that shape and get it in a good position to protect the shoe; it needed to give good grip when you’re flicking and it also needed to be out of the way in order to have flexibility. To me it was like, it definitely shows “skate” from afar.
_It’s kind of a mix of tech and classic, in a way. A lot of older skaters will recognize that immediately. _
I like the idea that from 50 feet away you’re going to get that nostalgic vibe: “That’s a skate shoe.” [laughs] And I like the idea that it can be a skate shoe but it can also be a sneaker—something cool to wear with a skate point of view. Like with running or basketball. That’s what we were thinking as we we trying to build what a skate shoe is, you know what I mean? Everyone assumes that’s what a skate shoe is.
Miles Silvas is the focus of the new 3ST.003 commercial. He obviously had a huge role in testing, but were there other riders involved?
We had Miles, Na-Kel, and Tyshawn kinda involved in the 001 and the 002. But Miles was definitely our focus for the 003. I met up with him in New York, and we would go out and skate. I was able to join him and see the process of how he was skating and how the shoe was breaking down, and he was giving me feedback right away. Which was super reaffirming. With the first samples, the laces were breaking right away and we thought, Hey if we do an assymetrical lace-up, again this shoe is inspired by indoor soccer, that’s very much the aesthetic there. So we were able to make an adjustment just by using the findings that we had, and we were able to save the lace.
Miles was backside flipping in this shoe, and he was like, “Dude this ollie patch is flicking it so good!” I could tell he was having a lot of fun skating it.
Does every design choice in this shoe have a tried and tested functional or aesthetic reason behind it?
Well, the philosophy was that a skate shoe is just suede. You know? A baseball glove is leather, trucks are forged metal, and a skate shoe is suede. You can try synthetic and all these things, but you’re gonna go back to a suede feel. We just wanted to build something that was all suede, not a lot of seams and layers. Just some mesh for a little bit of breathability, with a bootie and a tongue for a really secure fit. I think that’s really key, just having a locked down shoe for skating.
I noticed that too when I tried them. My heel didn’t slip out as is common with new shoes, yet they felt broken in right away.
Yeah, Miles didn’t even lace them the day he first skated them. He just popped them on and the laces were just kinda “factory loose.” He just went to town with it!
What’s the future for 3ST?
As far as the future for 3ST… the space is there for us to keep reimagining what the future of skate shoes can be and look like and have the opportunity to come up with rad technology. I feel like this is just the beginning!
adidas’ 3ST.003 is available now at the adidas Skateboarding site.