Legendary skate shoe brand éS shocked the skate world in 2012 by announcing a self-imposed hiatus (dubbed a ‘Creative Retreat’) in which they would not create, sell or promote any shoes and as far as anyone was concerned, withdraw all operations.
éS is part of the Sole Technology family – the private company that founded not only éS, but also Etnies and Emerica. Speculation was rife with the reasons for the withdrawal, most notably that they weren’t able to compete with the non-skate brands that had tactfully bought their way in skateboarding over the preceding years.
After a successful Japan only release of it’s legendary Accel model back in late November 2013, the brand returned this year with an updated Accel model and a small capsule of two brand new shoes.
In éS’ prime they were unstoppable, home to the likes of Eric Koston, Arto Saari, Tom Penny, Paul Rodriguez and Bob Burnquist and throughout the late 90s and 00s they were absolutely on one, being increasingly known for their daring and creative shoe designs. They were committed to pushing the boundaries of skate shoe design and models like the Koston 3 broke the mould for what was possible and skateable without looking like you were wearing tank on your feet.
With their return came the opportunity to talk to founder Pierre André Sénizergues about their plans, just how they view non-core brands infiltrating the sport and just why a company would deliberately stop making money for over a year.
So could you talk us through the environment around the time you decided to take a ‘creative retreat’
Definitely. The thing I love about the skate industry is that it’s constantly moving and changing. When éS started in 1995, it was to push skate footwear in a new direction of innovation, style and design. This was to match the progression that was happening in skateboarding and the increased functional needs of the skater. Around 2005 and onward, the globally economy became more and more challenging, styles changed. éS continued to promote innovation and technology to the global skate communities, but the shelves were saturated with product. It was at this time that we felt we had to step back and take a breath of fresh air – really look at what was happening in skateboarding, determine where we wanted éS to be and make adjusted flexible plans for the future.
What prompted you to take the break and do you think it gave you a chance to address those concerns you felt you had?
We feel that the Sole Technology brands have similar needs as humans – as we grow up, you often have to step back and ensure that your surrounding influences are pulling you in the right direction. The market dynamics were pulling hard for the entire industry to make the same thing. éS is about innovation, style and design – it’s about not going backwards or being the same as everyone else! This creative retreat has definitely given us a chance to address things with the brand.
What do you feel you’ve brought to the table this time around?
So we’re not back 100%. We made a production of Accels for Japan and the four colours became the top four selling shoes in every store we sold to. At the same time, we’ve been hit up by thousands of éS fans around the world that want éS back. Many of them are sick of the mainstream brands that have bought their way into the industry and they want éS back. They want to support core skater owned footwear brands. So the styles we recently brought to fans were to provide them with some new styles that were inspired from the iconic Accel shoe. The new styles are: The Accent, The Accelerate, The Accelite. The quality and details on these styles are far superior than anything else in the market and the feedback and sell though has been amazing!
Why do you think there was so much demand from Japan?
éS has always been strong in Japan. I feel it’s because they love great design, style and innovation and everything that the brand stands for. The Accel styles in particular have always done exceptionally well in Japan.
There’s an argument that says that independent brands should be able to innovate due to their ability to move faster than the big corporations such as Nike, Adidas etc. Do you think this is the case in practice?
We’re skateboarders, so we instantly cut out so many layers by knowing what the functional needs are for skateboarding. Our STI Lab is also the only lab that has specifically studied the biomechanics of skateboarding. When you look at the larger athletic company products, most of them are pushing technology from tennis, running, basketball at skateboarders. The needs are completely different. The impact from skateboarding is the most impactful of any sport with up to 18 times body weight. This is why the éS midsole Foam, Phylon, along with the STI Polyurethane/Ortholite insoles we use are so much better than the non-skate companies.
You mentioned in your Hypebeast article that as an independent you’re closer to the culture, more authentic. Do you think that kids recognise this?
The right kids do. When we started posting éS images on our @eSskateboarding instagram/twitter/facebook in April we received so many comments from skaters and sneakerheads on how stoked they are that éS is coming back. So many of the comments refer to how they love éS, that it’s skater owned and run, and that they are so stoked éS is back. As much as there are a lot of kids that are naïve to the bigger picture corporations that are buying up, homogenizing, and monopolizing the passionate industries of the world, I feel there is a growing trend of the new generation that are sick of the big corporations and are looking for realness.
Is there a specific reason why you decided to release this run as a limited edition/test?
There’re too many brands and products in the market right now. The plan was to make sure the shoes get to the skate retailers and sell through. We want to help drive demand into their doors because we believe that the skate community and culture ignites in skate shops. If we could give them something that no one else received, we could help drive demand. So far the plan is working really well!
Where do you see the place of core brands currently?
Core brands play a very important part of the skate community. By core, I’m referring to brands that are driven by the passion they have for skateboarding, have skateboarders that own and run the company and give back to the skate community. There’s a new generation of skaters coming though right now that aren’t going to wait for their spot on the top skate brands team list. They are becoming more attracted to the newer brands that are more connected to their world. Brands like Magenta, Welcome, Palace, Polar are many of the top selling brands right now and it’s amazing to see the new energy. éS will definitely be tapping into the new generation of riders and brands.
I think the new éS have really nailed the whole ‘Skate shoe influenced by runners’ thing, way better than some other brands offerings, they certainly hark back to the golden era of the Koston 3 and 4. Do you think it’s important to keep this design, especially as other brands are just trying to emulate the Janoski formula?
éS pioneered the runner style skate shoe, so it was natural for us to create the Accelite for this collection. éS encompasses the needs of skateboarders on and off the board. Our lifestyle is 24/7, so we build products around this.
Is there an element of éS’s return that is geared towards ‘fighting’ the bigger brands, Adi, Nike etc, or are they not a concern in that there will always be a market that wants something different, and will stay true to core bands?
We’re not fighting anyone, we’re providing skateboarders with an authentic alternative. A lot of the bigger corporate brands have reached the latter part of their strategy where they take their skate products into mass market retailers. The core skate shops need a replacement to bring back the core spirit of skateboarding. That’s where éS comes in to play.
Just to skip back a few years, did you ever get in any trouble from Nike or the Jordan brand for some of the Koston models and colourways?
We’ve always done what we want or what the riders want. Many riders like the colours of their favourite teams so we’ve had fun emulating those colourways.
What are you favourite shoes from that era? Some of the designs then were incredible and it’s a shame they’ll probably never be replicated.
Wow…there’s so many. The Accel has been my favourite as it’s stood the test of time and is a true classic. The Air Aura was a beautiful shoe and it was the first skate shoe to use an air system. The Breeze was evolutionary as was the Scale being the lightest technical skates hoe made at the time. There’s so many good shoes. We may need a separate interview to go through them all. Check out the timeline on éSskateboarding.com to see everything!
Long term plans, are you testing the water or are we seeing a full-scale return for éS?
We’re keeping thing flexible and doing what we want to do. The reaction and demand of this first collection have been so good that you’ll be seeing more fun stuff coming up from éS.
And with that, are you going to continue to push the design of skate shoes, like you always have?
Design and innovation are key components of éS, so we’ll definitely be pushing things to new levels. When you see the new shoes there’s a lot of really beautiful details that set éS apart from all other products in the market.
What technologies are around now that weren’t when éS took a retreat? Any plans to capitalise on them?
This first collection is focused primarily on beautiful design and high quality materials. The shoes are backed up with our STI insoles, Neoprene heel support, and on the Accelerate we included a new application of a Thermo Plastic Urethane (Similar to that used in wheel production) welded on to the Ollie area. As we move forward expect more great things to come from éS!
Words: Tom Kirkby
Please do take the time to look through the timeline of éS, it’s absolutely brilliant.