Meet Your Maker: August Benzien

August's latest creation has everyone talk. What are you saying about it?

August’s latest creation has everyone talking. What are you saying about it?

From meeting & knowing August for the past few years, we can tell you that he’s a super nice guy. Whenever we’ve spoken to him, he’s always enthusiastic about whatever it is we’re talking about & always has a smile on his face. Recently, at this years Agenda trade show, we saw him talk to everyone, from industry-heads to kids who were just looking for stickers. For those who don’t know, at these trade show, designers & brand managers lurk every & any booth within their category to get a feel of the latest trends/ steal ideas. Now with that being the case, whether they were analyzing his work or just looking for free gear, he’d talk to them about their interests/feedback, share his passion for footwear & in the process, let them into his world, rather than push either party away. He’s humble & is willing to talk to whoever. We can also tell you that on the other side of the spectrum, as nice as he is, he’s a slave to his work. Granted, we’ve never been around him during the actual process of designing the shoes, but there’s just something about August that just screams ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ when it comes to designing shoes. Maybe it’s the bags under his eyes or the countless times we’ve heard him say “Oh, we’ve improved this. Check it out.” that’s eluded to the fact that August strives for perfection. By no means is this endless goal of creating perfect skate shoes for his own gratification, it’s in fact for his bosses, also known as, the Emerica team riders.

After loving his work for many years, including the new Westgate that has everyone up in arms, we just had to send August some questions to find out what it takes to get to where he is today. Enjoy.

Aug

The designer of some of your favorite Emerica models. Introducing, August Benzien.

What made you want to design skate shoes and who or what inspired you to do so?
I just wanted to make better skate shoes. Back when I was a kid skating, I used to modify all my shoes so they would work better for me to skate in. From adding Ollie protection, to cutting high tops into lows, painting different colors and the list goes on. To be honest I didn’t know that could even be an option as a career, but as I got older and learned more about design, I started to realize “Design” could be an option so I studied Architecture & Landscape Architecture.  That’s where I got my design background and developed my tool set.

The common misconception is that anyone who’s stepped on a board can design a skate shoe. What’s the actual process behind becoming a skate shoe designer?
I think it’s going to vary for anyone a bit, but for me being a skateboarding-lifer gave me a foundation of knowledge and experience that allows me to identify with our team. As a skateboarder, I know what they’re asking for or feeling, in order to do their job. Being able to relate 100% to the end user is crucial. Knowing the certain things about what tricks cause what kinds of wear, where the most important areas of board feel are, impact areas, support zones, are just few examples of a longer check list I use as I get started. I basically create a “map” in my head of what characteristics and key features each new design needs to identify, and try to do it for the price we need to hit, which is the toughest part.  You can design and build anything, but to do it for a price that’s acceptable to anyone is not always the easiest.

Any job within the skate industry is competitive and hard to get.  What’s the reality for someone reading this and actually becoming a skate shoe designer for a brand they grew up loving and respecting?
Anything is possible. If whoever reads this wants to be a shoe designer just don’t give up.  First though, you have to be into kicks, and I mean INTO KICKS. You have to develop your “eye” for proportions, be willing to learn as much as you can about the process of making shoes. Understanding each process and its limitations is key to designing a functional skate shoe. Second, you have to be willing to continue learning. It never stops, I still keep learning new things every day about shoe building even after 14 years of designing shoes. Things just never stop evolving, methods of construction, the addition of 3D into the mix, it keeps progressing really fast and with every trip to Asia, I try to see as many new things as I can to inspire my mind and try new techniques.

The original sketch that lead to the creation of the Westgates.

One of the original sketches that lead to the creation of the Westgates.

What are some difficulties that lie in becoming a skate shoe designer that most people don’t know about?
Patience for sure. That’s what I struggle with a lot. You’re working in so many media formats and dealing with all kinds of barriers that keep you humble. There really is never a for sure on any project. Doesn’t mean you give up or compromise what you want, but you just always have to know that each project never turns out 100% the way you envisioned it. Its mostly because we are our worst critic, but the good part of what doesn’t happen I always spin right into the next opportunity and things always seem to progress. The new Emerica Brandon Westgate for example is a perfect “don’t compromise the big picture” scenario. We were able to take a big step forward in technology and aesthetic, but to do this we had to do a bit of testing with Brandon first. In this case, it was because of the wear testing and ensuring that the performance integrity was held to our “Higher Quality” standards of excellence. We had to go through a bit of redesign and engineering. This is where we had a perfect case of form follows function and we ended up being able to keep it exactly the way Brandon wanted it.

What was your first creation as a shoe designer and looking back on it, do you wish you can change anything on it now?
My first creation was Matt Hensley’s signature shoe “The Gambler” for DuFFS designed in ’99. Looking back I would have taken more foam out tongue. Haha. I think it had 15-20mm in it, which at the time, the skate shoe standard had about 60-90mm of tongue foam, maybe more. It was the slimmest cupsole or one of a few at that point in the market.  Overall I was stoked on how this style turned out and it instigated my first trip to China in 2000, which was a life/career changer for me. Seeing the entire process made all these questions about building shoes click for me.

2014_Westgate_BlackBlueGrey

Here are all the inner details of the new Westgate. Click to enlarge.

Who are some of your favorite designers and why?
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one of the first designers that I had been introduced to in school that just blew my mind. Just clean and simple. Famous for “Less is more” & “The devil is in the details”. Another one as of more recently is Peter Schreyer who caught my eye at Audi & is now the Chief Design Officer at Hyundai Motors Group influencing KIA’s rise in the market.  He pioneered amazing clean, tough and coherent design & threads it throughout the entire product line as a signature to the brand . Both of these designers, for different reasons, always inspire me and push me to improve.

What advice would you give to anyone reading this in hopes of one day having your job?
Never give up. Just try to learn as much as you can about building shoes and constantly develop your creative process. It’s not all about what’s out there, but what’s not out there.  Designing for Emerica is a dream come true for me.  It’s a great team here and we all share the same common goal. Made for skateboarding. Made In Emerica!

Comments

  1. Chris

    August 3, 2013 6:41am

    This shoe looks so good, can’t wait to cop a pair. Great post, and a great designer. #Bringingbackthe90s

    Reply
  2. t.a.

    August 4, 2013 9:53am

    Many thanks to everybody at RippedLaces (is there more than one of you??) for this interview. I am a big fan of what takes place behind the scenes in the skateboard world – like the shoe world’s answer to On Video (RIP – still miss those). Anyway, I’m pumped for future interviews that you have.

    Way to go Emerica – everything about the company is top shelf; not only do they support so many amazing skaters (and have supported over the years), but they are, by far, one of the most consistent companies in terms of their productivity. And putting out a shoe like this – ahead o’ the game once again – is an excellent reminder of the designers and the company not interfering, nor compromising what the skater wanted.

    Honestly, I’m feelin’ generous and cannot say enough great things about these guys. Obviously!

    Reply
    • Ripped Laces

      August 5, 2013 3:08pm

      Thanks t.a.

      Yes, despite what most people think, there’s more than 1 of us.
      We’re having a lot of fun with these Q&A pieces. We can’t explain how insightful it is to talk to all of these designers.

      Thanks for checking it!

  3. russW3ll

    August 9, 2013 11:45am

    Hands down….awesome interview !!!

    Reply

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