When és dropped the 20th anniversary of the Sal 23 it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Don Brown. He’s been behind some of the most influential shoes in skateboarding for two decades, and is still a driving force behind Sole Technologies.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little about yourself and your involvement with éS?
I grew up skateboarding in Brighton, England. In 1984 I came to the USA on a one way ticket and 5 day greyhound pass to check out the skate scene which was really small at the time. Although I skated everything, Jeff Phillips saw me freestyling and got me sponsored by Sims, which was weird as I had no intention of being sponsored. Sims owned Vision where they twisted my arm to get a pro freestyle board on Vision and travelled the world doing contests, shop demos, and signings blah, blah. 1989 at the peak of skateboardings boom I won the Freestyle World Championships in Munster, Germany… which was the biggest contest I had won. 1990-91 the skateboard industry crashed..Vision, Powell, Santa Cruz, Thrasher, Transworld who were all controlling skateboarding were all on the brink of bankruptcy. My friend Steve Rocco capitalized on this and changed the industry in to skater owned giving everyone a piece of ownership of the company that they wanted to start… Skater owned companies like World Industries, Blind, Plan B, Ghetto wear, 101, Foundation, New Deal, Shut, Underworld Element, Shorty’s, Big Brother mag etc.. all became the new direction for skateboarding. From a shoe Stand point my good friend, Pierre Andre, that I grew up skating with took over etnies skate shoes in 1990 and needed help. So it was him and I doing what ever it took to make things happen. Since I had the friendship with the top skaters of the time, the industry, the skate shops it was easy to get things going as brands like Airwalk, Vans and Simple going towards bankruptcy we were on the up and growing fast with the new generation of skater owned brands. As the industry grew we had the top skateboarders in the world riding for etnies… we felt there was a need for a new shoe brand to keep up with the new generation of skateboarders that were taking things to the next level of innovation. I was hooking up Eric Koston, Tom Penny, Chad Muska, Ronnie Creager, Paul Sharpe, with etnies and felt that narrowing a brand down to these elite riders, creating a new more technical brand/product, and selling just to skate shops would help cut through the clutter of 100+ rider shoe teams that were the trend. éS was created and rapidly became the top skate shoe brand in the world and set the direction in product innovation, rider focus, and hype. I also helped to launch Emerica, 32, Altamont, and Sheep shoes… but that’s a whole other story!
You’ve had a really interesting and influential career so far, for anyone looking to get into working in the industry do you have any words of advice?
It’s weird as for me as it was all luck, haha. I definitely believe that is you obsessively follow your passion in anything in life you will succeed. I’ve learnt everything I know in business and life from skateboarding. The best way is to become in involved with the skate community… help to get a skate spot built, go work for a local skate shop or sales rep, create your own skate website/zine make shit happen for skateboarding and you’ll get noticed. The more you make things happen the more important you’ll become to the skate community and the more you’ll get noticed and the more chance you’ll be recognized by the skate industry.
It seems like éS is fully back from hiatus. Would you agree with that, and how do you view éS’ place in the skate shoe industry going into 2016?
It’s been amazing overseeing the relaunch of éS. We put éS on hiatus in 2012 as the industry was at a weird point where all the market wanted was black and white vulcanized shoes. éS is about innovation, quality and style and we didn’t want to just follow everyone else. We decided to put éS on hiatus and bring it back when we felt he market was in a good place. It was a really tough decision as we love éS so much…the skaters of the world were also bummed that éS wasn’t around and we got more and more requests for us to bring it back. At the end of 2013 we made a run of Accel’s for Japan that became the top selling styles in every store we sold to. We’re also seeing a whole new generation of skateboarders coming up with no place to go and they are sick of being on a flow program of a non-skate company with no future. So we decided to bring éS back in Spring 2014 to help support the new generation of skateboarders, support the core skate shops, and to provide the éS fans around the world with their favorite shoes again! Fall 2015, was the first true season we had a full line for the skate shops of the world and we’ve been steadily growing to more skate shops around the world. The person that I couldn’t have done this without is Kelly Hart… Kelly was the first guy I called as he was an éS rider for so many years and I was always a fan of his skating. At first he was just getting shoes then he started helping on the team and marketing. Today he’s overseeing the team and is kicking ass hooking up the new generation. Kelly rules and is ripping harder than ever!
Our place in skateboarding is to be the authentic alternative to all these mainstream corporations that have bought their way in. éS is 100% focused on skateboarding, beautiful footwear design and the skate community. éS is also 100% skateboarding – skater owned and run. If skateboarding ever completely dies, we’ll die with it… unlike these big non skate corporations where they have a “Skateboarding Category” that if skateboarding dies they just cut the category and continue with running, basketball, soccer and golf.
With the 20th anniversary, are there any other reissues in the works? Perhaps the Koston 1’s, the old Muska’s, or even something similar the 5boro collab from 2011?
Funny as we get so many requests for older styles. That’s what is amazing with éS is we created a whole new direction in technical stylish skate shoes for 20 years so we have a huge selection of iconic shoes to choose from. We’re definitely looking into bringing back some of the older styles cleaned up for today’s skate and style needs. Perhaps we can get you guys to do a vote on which shoes should bring back?! Check out the timeline on www.eSskateboarding.com to see the history and the styles!
The Sal’s are sick, and a classic skate shoe. How have they been updated and what are some of the things that the younger generation who may not know the history take away from this release?
The Sal’s are iconic to the 90’s skateboarding where there was a lot of inspiration from street culture. The Sal 23 was worn by every top pro back in 1995 … Jeremy Wray, Eric Koston, Drake Jones, Muska, Jamie Thomas just write every top skater from the 90’s! The Sal shoe is built on simplicity, which is the foundation of strong design and function. Check this video for more info…
We’ve seen a lot of NYC footage on the éS instagram lately, will we continue to see a bigger éS presence here in New York? Any plans for winter/spring?
Hell yes! We definitely want to build our presence in NY and help to support the skate community. One of the first skaters kelly started hooking up with éS was New York’s Chris Pierre Jacques.… his style on and off the board is perfect for éS and he’s such a rad person! We’re also hooking up Emmanuel Barco who has a really solid style. We definitely want to build on the NYC presence as we love East Coast skating and the whole culture.
Any thoughts on the cupsole making a comeback?
I’m not the biggest vulcanized shoe fan as it’s such an old technology and doesn’t provide as much support and comfort as cupsoles. We have some amazing new cup soles shoes coming up and we’ll continue to push this direction for éS. There’s also a new tech shoe dropping in Spring called the SESLA that has a unique STI Energy foam. Tom Asta and Chris Pierre are loving this shoe…cupsoles I feel will be growing in popularity.
Right now éS has a small team of really talented skaters; with Menikmati and the dream team of 2002 behind you, what’s in store for the future as far as videos go?
It’s interesting as we live in such a fast paced world now, and the days of holding footage for 2 years is a challenging thing to do. I feel through skate websites, social media we can keep everyone inspired by what the brand and riders is up to … we’re working on some short video’s from trips and will consistently post éS riders on Social Media.
Do you believe in the so-called “golden age” and if so is there a time for you throughout your career you see as being such both for yourself and skateboarding as a whole?
The best thing about Skateboarding is it’s always evolving and moving. The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s all had great moments the took skateboarding to new levels. From a skate period my golden age was the late 80’s, from the business perspective it was the 90’s skater owned movement. I feel right now is an exciting period for skateboarding as it’s so unpredictable with where it’s going to go.
Thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything else you’d like the skaters of New York to know that we didn’t touch on?
NY has so many amazing skaters Jeremy Henderson was a legend to me before I came to the USA. When I first skated in the late 70’s he was all over the UK skate mags as he lived there and had a pro board on BenjiBoard. He lives out here now and I still fan out when ever I see him, hahaha. NYC has some much amazing culture and pioneered real street skating in my eyes. Tell Alex Corporan I’ve been practicing my slappies in prep for #SlappieSundays next time I’m in the city!