The life of a skate shoe designer is a pretty selfless one. While the pro rightfully gets all the shine and credit for all of his hard skating (think “Designed by *insert pro name*”), the designer takes a backseat to all the glory that’s equally deserved. As many designers don’t look for credit, they have the extremely difficult job of taking the sometimes incoherent notes and chicken-scratch drawings that a pro may submit, and turn them into something that not only the consumer is going to be pleased with, but the pro and company too. Sometimes designers are only to be left more confused than they previously were or know exactly what the skater wants within this process and that contributes to either an iconic shoe or a flop. Few possess the skills and patience to be a successful skate shoe designer and Aaron Hoover happens to be one of those individuals.
While his name might not ring a bell, Hoover has brought his unique and clean design aesthetic to brands that are in desperate need of a facelift. Most notably, when at Lakai, he worked with Rick Howard to create the longstanding and respected Lakai Manchester. He’s even been credited with taking Scott Johnston under his wing and showing him how to design skate shoes. After a successful run at Lakai, Hoover found his way to Habitat Footwear, where the brand’s identity came from his and Joe Castrucci’s combined effort. Each and every model was crafted by Hoover, and although Habitat Footwear is gone, let it be known that they had a dedicated fanbase that swore by their shoes.
After Habitat’s demise, Hoover’s respected talents were called upon by Jamie Thomas and the revamped team at Fallen Footwear. With Hoover’s respected track record in place, we had to have a sit down and pick his brain about his new work at Fallen Footwear.
As a well established skate shoe designer, what’s been your take on Fallen’s ups & downs?
Fallen’s brand identity is well defined… no question about it. It’s 100% skateboarding. Skateboarding has seen its ups and downs and Fallen has rode that wave like most other skate brands. The past is in the past, learn from the changes, adapt and move on. The focus now, from a design perspective, is to offer some fresh new styles that fit the market. Fallen is currently getting a blood transfusion. It’s this new formula of blood, when combined with skateboarding, creates something amazing. Have you heard about it?
I’ve definitely heard about it but sometimes these blood transfusions can go wrong and the patient ends up slowly dying (Adio, Ipath, etc).
True, but it’s crucial to select your physician carefully and make sure they specialize in the right field medicine. This way you get the proper treatment without side effects. The facility we’re in right now is a top notch operation with the best surgeons in the business for our ailment.
How do you think Fallen can compete in today’s skate market?
It’s a combination of having right people involved that understand Fallen as a brand and what we need to do to get back on track. That, combo’d with a fresh assortment of new styles that complement the brand and the current market.
Do you see the brand straying away from its “handrail chomper/rocker” image for something else or will the shoes convey a different message from their past models all together?
We’re not “reinventing” the brand… but it will evolve just as board shapes, sizes and tricks evolve with skateboarding. I’ve always liked the fact that Fallen’s brand identity is clear and you don’t have to explain it. A kid can look at an ad or watch a video and immediately connect with the brand. The new styles in development have that same immediate connection. Over the next 2-3 seasons, the collection as whole will evolve from where it is now but the brand message will stay consistent.
When we spoke to Franck Boistel, the former designer for Sole Tech, he stressed the importance of names for skate shoes. What role do you think the name plays in a shoe’s success? I ask because Fallen uses some distinct names, some of which work and some of which don’t. A thirteen-year-old me would never beg my mom to buy “The Roach”, for example.
As a designer, you want the shoe to have a great name but the name doesn’t mean much on the success. For example, the D3… the name didn’t sell the shoe. Can you name a shoe that sold because of its name? Names are important from a branding / marketing internal stand-point but rarely translate to the end user. Trust me, designers spend hours coming up with names that reflect the style or pro. Personally, I believe the design sells the shoe then people learn the name i.e. Skytop, D3, etc. I bet the majority of kids that come into the shop say “Do you have “that one (plug-in any brand) shoe”? That was an on-going joke between Rick (Marmoljio) and I. We thought it would be hilarious to actually name a shoe “That one shoe” because kids aren’t studying brand catalogs like most buyers or other skate shoe designers. I don’t know… that’s one of most difficult parts about designing a shoe that actually has very little impact on sales in my opinion. Look at New Balance or Circa back in the day… they just use numbers. Tell me the NB 997’s or 574’s all sell because of their name.
Valid point. As you mentioned, Fallen is pretty set in their niche in the industry. Do you design shoes to try to expand the brand’s demographic, or are you going to focus on the already-staunch supporters of the brand?
Well, obviously we’d like to gain more loyal supports for the brand but we’re not going start designing styles you wouldn’t expect to see from Fallen just to gain sales. The brand is well established in skateboarding and as skateboarding evolves so will the brand. Fallen is 100% skateboarding. When you see someone wearing Fallen’s you know they are a skateboarder and support skateboarding and you can relate to that. There are very few skate brands left that can claim that. We’re not a category within a big brand, we are a brand.
What input does the Fallen team, including Jamie Thomas, have on the reboot of the brand?
Jamie has a close relationship with the team and communicates with them on a regular basis. The brand is a reflection of the riders. Some guys have more input than others but we try apply their ideas where it makes sense, whether it’s colors, collabs or general concept for a shoe. It’s important that you get a sense of the team rider through their shoe. Each style relates to the individual’s personality with the overall look, and branding on the shoe. Jamie has a lot of influence on reboot of the brand. He’s the brand director for Fallen and Zero so he’s in the office making the day-to-day decisions for both brands. It’s great working with him as he understands our industry, knows footwear and is fully committed to do whatever it takes to improve the brand.
There’s no nice way to put this but Fallen has a stigma of poor quality. Other than improving quality, what will Fallen be doing to improve their standing in the industry? Does it start with the shoes?
Well, first off, we’ve been in a great factory for over a year now that understands the importance of quality with smaller brands and we communicate with the factory daily regarding production quality control and new developments to ensure we maintain high level of quality. Besides that, our plan is to grow slowly and support the local shops that have stood behind Fallen by offering special projects exclusive to their shop. The feedback has been overwhelming and we plan on continuing to offer special projects in future seasons with more shops.
The DOA model makes a ton of sense to come out now. Skateboarding has and will always be a creative outlet but it seems like that’s been lost in footwear. Who’s idea was it to come up with a “Half Cab-esque” shoe?
Dane wanted a mid. He gave us ideas on what he likes and dislikes. Jamie, Dustin and I were brainstorming on unique features and we threw out the idea to design it so kids have the option to cut it down on their own. Jamie called Dane to get his thoughts and before Jamie had the chance to explain it Dane mentioned it should have the option to be cut down.
And do you feel like there’s more room for creativity with customizable models down the line from Fallen and/or just in general?
Definitely. We’ll continue to add unique features within the collection down the road where it makes sense for the brand. Customizing / DIY grip, boards, shoes, skate spots, skate styles…whatever, everyone should be a different, it’s part of skateboarding. There isn’t just one way. It’s what makes skateboarding so much damn fun and way better than everything else!
Is this sample of the DOA ever going to go into production? Is the rubber toe version going to be coming out in the near future or was that just a sample that never made it production?
The rubber toe is just a sample. We may add it in future seasons as a limited version but it’s not in production yet.
What would you say is the biggest difference of working at Fallen versus all of the other brands that you’ve worked at?
Obviously, they have a lot of similarities. The biggest difference would be designing to fit the brand’s image. Lakai, Habitat and Fallen all have very different identities… from the teams personalities to design / marketing teams direction. The brands I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of have been great; very inspiring people and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some amazing friends along the way.
If it’s not to early to say, where do you envision not only Fallen, but skate footwear in general, progressing in the next 5-10 years?
I think within the next 5 years or so brands will be pushing design like in the late 90’s into the early 00’s but with more of refined form-fitting shapes. Consumers are ready for something new… that’s just my take.
Lastly, your top 5 or 10 favorite shoes of all-time?
1. DC Howard’s (#1)
2. SLB 97s
3. éS Koston 1 (black/gum)
4. Vans Half Cab
5. Airwalk J Lees (white/gum)