The Process, With Former Nike SB Designer, Shawn Baravetto

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Shawn Baravetto, photo: Jon Humphries

For having such a huge presence in skateboarding, the behind-the-scenes at a corporation like Nike is a huge mystery to most. Whereas most other brands have been open to interviews regarding design & their process, Nike operates in secrecy. Granted, you wouldn’t expect a master chef to reveal his famous recipe, but putting on a demonstration isn’t out of the question, is it? Enter Shawn Baravetto, a Nike veteran of nine years and a key player in the development and production of some universally beloved skate shoes, including the Janoski, the P-Rod 3 and a slew of iconic Dunk colorways. We caught up with Baravetto on the eve of his departure from Nike to chat about working behind the curtains at a major corporation, the current state of skate shoe design, and more.

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So first off, how did you get into designing skate footwear?
I worked in skateshops for about five years before I moved out (of retail.) My first industry, non-retail job was at Alphanumeric back when it started, so I started there doing in-house sales, and moved on as the years went by. I moved over to Circa and did some sales, marketing and team managing stuff. When I worked at DC, I was the transition guy between the designers and the pro skaters — it was kind of a PLM before we knew what a PLM was. That led into working on product full-time at Nike.

In comparison to your previous jobs, how is working for Nike SB different?
I was at DC for five years before Nike, and I was there before Quik and after Quik, and I think when I started at SB it was a really small crew, and it felt like they were actually down, you know? I got called up to Portland to interview for the job, as a recruitment thing, and I went in like “whatever, I don’t know much about Nike or their skate program.” I was friends with Kevin Imamura and Hunter, and that was about it. The interview was with eight people, and for the most part, it was like, “these guys are down for skate shit! That’s pretty cool.” That’s what it felt like back then, it was dope, it felt like we were fighting the good fight. But it was definitely different. It’s a machine, man, it’s a big place.

What did the interview process consist of? How does one go about conducting an interview with 8+ people?
It was a panel interview, so I got flown up and basically the original SB guys were all there, team, marketing, sales, etc and they just took turns asking me questions.

So, Nike was your first job designing?
Actually, I was a product manager at Nike — it’s PLM for short, part of the product creation team. You have your design guys, your product line guys, and your developers.

What, exactly, does a PLM do?
It stands for Product Line Manager. PLM is the person that’s sort of a bridge between sales, design and team. They are responsible for planning the business and putting the line together.

Sounds like there’s a lot of responsibility involved. Is it at all difficult to get your bearings in skate footwear, especially at Nike?
It wasn’t too bad. I think it’s one of those things that, as you do stuff over the years, if you pay attention to what’s going on around you — I was fortunate to work with a lot of good designers and I was able to pay attention to a lot of those guys. It was a good learning experience, working with a bunch of good people for a long time.

What was your first creation as a shoe designer?
As far as designing from the ground up? It’ll be this new stuff that’s coming out sometime next year. Closest thing I guess would be some color designs at Nike, where you color existing shoes. That’s the closest thing to creating footwear.

Sounds like you’re alluding to starting your own footwear brand. Interesting…but what was one of your first projects at Nike?
I went there in 2006, I know I colored up a couple of dunks — the griptape dunk mid was the first dunk I colored there. As far as getting into brand new shoes, I think the P-Rod 3 was the first thing I started working on there. I met up with Paul to get some feedback on what he was into, what he liked about his previous shoes, what he didn’t, that kind of thing. Price, colors, number of colors, some story ideas for brand. Shortly after that was when we started working on the Stefan. That was definitely the biggest project.

One of Baravetto's first projects, the PRod 3.

One of Baravetto’s first projects, the PRod 3.

I heard that designing the Janoski was a two man process, any truth to that? And if so, who else did you work with in designing it?
It was really me, James Arizumi and Brian Linkfield (designer and developer). Not too many people knew, but there was supposed to be a Stefan that came out a year earlier. It was a cupsole, it got scrapped — we ended up not doing it at the last minute because he wanted to go back to looking at doing a real vulc shoe. So, at the time, it was Stefan, Linkfield, Arizumi, and myself. James worked on the designs, Stefan had a pretty solid sketch going into it, and we were showing that thing around and it had to be a little more expensive. Tons of people were claiming it looked too similar to a Vans, or it was too expensive, or it just wouldn’t work. It was like, well, we spent a lot of time making it as good as we can in conjunction with what Stefan wanted, and we were feeling pretty good about it — but there weren’t very many people at the beginning that were! Our old marketing guy, Gert, was super down to help us make it work.

Wow, I wonder how different things would be with an initial cupsole release of the Janoski instead of what we know it to be today. What were Arizumi’s duties against yours?
The way it breaks down in a product triad — I’m kinda like the in-between design and sales guy, I guess. So, when the design is actually drawing and using influences. We would spend a lot of time figuring out what kids are skating in, what they’re into, trends, figuring out what a kid needs — how much do they wanna pay? How much is too much to pay? Favorite materials? Favorite colors? It’s kind of this blend of the art and science of it. The developer is the straight-up science part, where they’re going to factories and working on shit. The design is the full on art part. The PLM is right in the middle.

Upon creating the Janoski, what are the next steps in terms of getting that design approved and ready for production? Do you have to pass it by a marketing/production team for approval, or was it sent to the factory right off the bat?
Once it made it through the product team, it goes to the brand guys. Getting them to Stefan, getting him to skate for catalogs or whatever, ads leading up to the launch, pretty standard for anywhere. We spent a lot of time with shops back in the day. We’d go in there, meet with everyone, show them the new shoe, and talk about it so they could get the info from us. It kinda got away from us later, but that’s what we used to do. We would take samples early and show them to shops that were down from the beginning, so that was pretty cool.

Were there any additional design lines or changes on the Janoski in comparison to what we know it as today?
No, not really. James spent a lot of time on the details, such as the x inside the box stitching. I think for the most part, it was making sure the shape was spot-on. A lot of it was internals, as well. I know that Stefan wanted to be able to wear it without socks on, so we spent a lot of time covering up the seams on the inside and making sure everything is really smooth in there. That’s why, when you put it on now without socks on, it feels nice.
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That attention to detail probably explains why it’s one of the best selling models of all time, amongst other factors. With the debut release, who’s idea was it to us the cork insole?
I think it was Stefan’s. There’s a winery in his hometown that his parents lived on, or have, and we thought it’d be a cool detail.

Do you ever nail a shoe design, first try?
I mean, the Stefan was pretty dead-on at the beginning. A lot of it was messing with the shape to make sure the shape was right, but nothing changed a whole lot from when we first started. Usually you gotta step back for a little bit and make some changes. It can be tricky, but it depends on the type of shoe. Usually anything is gonna need some love, it’s like editing a skate part. You get it to a spot you’re pretty happy with, then step back, take a look, and make any changes.

That makes total sense and really humanizes the design process. Do you have a favorite shoe that you worked on?
The Stefan was always a favorite, obviously.  The Koston 1 was a fun one. It was really cool working on the Project BA, because Brian was super interested in learning how to make shoes in general.  Anything with the pros is always good, you know? But a lot of that stuff is classic shoes that already exist, like Dunks, Bruins, Blazers. They’re such legendary models that it makes it fun to work with.

Did you have a least favorite shoe?
We had a couple that we definitely swung and missed on! Remember that shoe, the Veloce? It was a little before it’s time. We were trying to do some version of a skate runner, but it ended up being kind of a mess.

A swing & a miss or way too ahead of its time? The Nike SB Veloce

A swing & a miss or way too ahead of its time? The Nike SB Veloce

Who was awesome to work with, pro-wise?
Most of them are pretty rad. Stefan is sweet, he’s opinionated and he knows what he wants. Eric, same way. He’s super shoe nerd about stuff. One year I flew to Tampa to work on colors with Grant, Cory and Ishod and it fucking ruled. We had drinks at The Bricks and colored up shoes on my laptop all afternoon. Working on the Dunk with Ishod was amazing, just because that dude is my favorite skater anyways and he was so into working on the shoe and making it work right. He’s just a rad dude to work with and skate with.

Okay, now we have to ask, was there anyone who sucked to work with?
This was before I was doing design or PLM stuff, but way back in the day with Stevie Williams at DC, trying to figure out what he wanted. It was kinda hard to translate what he wanted until we went skating together. We went to a couple of meetings with designers to figure out what he wanted for his shoe, and all he told us was that he “wanted something fucking sick that he could skate in.” When that’s your feedback, it’s a little challenging [laughs]. Sometimes you gotta hangout with someone for a little bit to figure out what they really want. That’s part of what a product line manager does — you gotta translate those needs for a skate kid or a pro into a real thing. It gets a little tricky.

What are your thoughts on the Koston 3?
I was there for part of it, it’s not my favorite thing. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

We heard you left Nike, any particular reason?
I actually got let go. The first seven years were some of the best times ever at that place, made some lifelong friends, got to go on some amazing trips, skate with some of the best people in the world at fun spots. We got to travel around, do cool stuff, meet a bunch of kids, skate with dudes on the team and work with guys like Ishod, Grant, Cory, it was fucking rad. But when I think about, “man, skateboarding is what got me here” it makes me super thankful. But SB got bigger, we expanded, new bosses, all that stuff. Nike’s Nike, man. They do what they do, and they’re good at it, and that’s cool for certain people, but I didn’t really have any interest in going to the running department, or moving over to a different category. So the last couple years were different, which is fine, and I’m sure my bosses were sick of fighting with me. We just had different priorities, I get it, and it’s working out because it’s nice to be out of the rat race and just working on skateboarding. To be able to step away from it and really try to put what it’s given me back into it somehow and do the right thing for skateboarders feels rad. It’s different — there’s no salary, so there’s a lot more work for probably less pay, but it just feels good to work on some good shit for people that skate.

Shawn with a 360 flip in Berlin. Photo: Curtis Buchanan

Shawn with a 360 flip in Berlin. Photo: Curtis Buchanan

It sounds like an eye-opening experience at SB. With your experience there and having a good eye for foresight, where do you see the current landscape of skate footwear going in, let’s say, the next 10 years?
I think we’re kind of at that spot that happens every few years, where the up-and-coming kids in skating start beating up their feet a little bit more. It’ll start turning into shoes that can be better for you without being super expensive or over-the-top, design-wise. A good example is the Lunarlon in new Chucks. It’s a simple thing to do, but it helps your foot out a little bit. As people start learning how jacked your feet can get if you don’t take care of them, it’ll allow footwear to change into something that works out for people. It’s that cycle, we may not reach full tech, but we’ll reach some different designs. We’ll see. I think taking a look at the progression of everything that happens — skateboarding is weird because I feel like it’s one of the most endlessly progressive things to do. You go out and you do it and it doesn’t matter if you walk out your front door and you live in the middle of nowhere and you’re skating flat ground you can still learn and learn and learn. We all are trying to progress and learn new tricks, try shit no one has done, etc, but at the same time, as a culture, it can clamp down and be resistant to change. It’s weird, it’s this blend of super-progressive and super-stubborn at the same time.

Beautifully said Shawn. So, what are your post Nike plans?
I’m starting a shoe company with some partners from LA. After thinking about it and considering working for other companies I figured after about 20 years of working in skateboarding and half of that working on shoes, now’s the time. I’ve learned a lot over the years and have had the privilege to work with some amazing people so I want to turn that into something for skateboarding. We are going to focus on what feels good, looks good and lasts at an honest price. Footwear that works.

A lot of stuff right now tends to be lifestyle based, like, ‘will it work for a certain account that’s not necessarily a skateshop?’ I’m trying to move away that, and really focus what you can benefit from, which is what will make you feel better skating. You don’t need a shoe that’ll make you win whatever gold medal, just have a shoe that works better for you on a skateboard — looks cool, feels good, and is built by people that care about it. That’s the biggest thing we can do. The industry is in a weird spot, I feel like we could use more sense of ‘skate community’ and less ‘industry’ and that’s something we need to take back. That’s the goal, I think, start doing some good for skateboarding itself.

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What’s your motivation for starting a new brand from scratch? What will make it stand out on the shoe wall?
I think there’s a couple things that we can bring to the table that aren’t being covered by any of the current companies while adding to the skateboarding community. Stay tuned on that…

Outside of skateboarding, which designers inspire you?
I just try to pay attention to what’s around me, and stuff that I like, I research a bit. I love guitar stuff and band stuff, so I’ll pay attention to lines on that. Motorcycles, choppers, that kind of stuff is always good. Other than that, I just try to see what I can get out of skateboarding, as opposed to hauling it from somewhere else. That’s something I think kind of happened for a long time. When you look at DC and éS, and all of those guys that came up in the mid-nineties, they were literally copying Nike catalogs and making them a little bit skateable. Nike at the time had no idea that was going on. But now, skateboarding has become its own thing enough that you can take inspiration just from what skateboarding does, and it’s that beauty of how you make something functional that looks good, as well. It’s probably because my whole life has been skateboarding, but I try to equate everything to it. Like, anyone can back tail a ledge, but when you see a magic one, like that Suciu clip at Pulaski, that kind of shit is the sickest! How do you translate THAT into a product? We want something to come back to that gives you a good feeling, like “whoever made this thing understands what I’m into and they probably do what I’m into.” That’s the way we want it to work. If you can’t go out your door and what you’re putting on your feet makes you happy to push down the street, you’re doing it wrong.

What about in skateboarding? Do you have any colleagues that you really admire?
Most of the dudes who I worked with on the OG crew. Sandy, Kevin, Hunter, Dobbs, John Martin. Keating, Tufty, Bob, Scuba, Sissi. Todd Jordan for helping me get in hella trouble. Mickey Reyes, Staba, we got to do some fun collabs. The shop dudes that we used to do prelines with like Steve from Alive & Well, Dom at Brooklyn Projects, Nieratko and Steve out at NJ. I mean, it’s a known fact that you can trust people from New Jersey with your life so on that alone… Too many good people in skateboarding, I could go on and on…

Okay, well in classic fashion, I have to ask…Top 5 favorite shoes of all time? In no particular order, can be skate or non skate.
The Rick Howard 1s on DC, with the gummy thing, those thing were the sickest. The Lynx, the Bruin, the Rudy 2, with the big-ass DC logo on the side, and the Sal 23’s.

Comments

  1. tomisrad

    April 20, 2016 8:51pm

    Sal 23 and rudy 2…this guy knows. Good luck on the new shoe thing…fallen, dekline, circa, dvs, filment, globe, vox all on the fritz. Its a tough time.

    Reply
    • RG

      May 12, 2016 10:13pm

      rumors are swirling- possibly Daewon and MJ headed to the three stripes along with Reynolds?? only time will tell, not looking good for the small brands but anybody who has got a pair of DVS, Lakai, Emericas etc.. in the last year or so knows the quality has changed. their shoes are shit now plain and simple, and they have pretty much just rolled over and given up (no local flow guys in regions anymore, reps have no promo for shops etc. etc..)

    • Skatingwolf666

      May 13, 2016 4:58am

      Rg is right I was on flow for DVS I got to talk to tim Gavin and he said things arent going so well over there mostly do to sales being slow. I was kinda sad when he said he just had to drop me and I didn’t even know why till I compared the DVS product (DVS shoe argon)I have to Nike or Adidas (prod 7 and busenitz) I not gonna lie the quality is shit compared to Nike or Adidas I was seriously so bummed out over it since I though I was only but I heard from couple of my friends this is true not only for DVS but also for emerica and fallen and they dont want to flow anymore product (which is kinda stupid since the product isnt the best) same goes for couple friends that are on flow for DVS withe me its kinda sad cause I heard daewon leaving the last time i was at dvs he kinda told me it was both shitty product along with death of skating community and the rise of industry persay.I hate to say but if you loves DVS, fallen, or any other small shoe I recommend buying couple of pairs from season pass and to save them for memory sakes. look at dekline one most skate rats teams with some great product just closed their doors along with fallen who knows if your company will be around in near future

  2. DAVE

    April 21, 2016 3:08am

    Awesome interview. Loved the Kalis interview, and this one with Shawn Baravetto is heavy as well. I’m just going to rant a little bit..

    I’ve never heard of Shawn before this article, but he is doing what all the current sponsored skaters on Nike, Adidas, and Converse should be doing, LEARNING!!! Learn as much shit as you possibly can about how that big business works. Learn how to design shoes, learn how to acquire textiles. Learn those overseas accounts. Learn how to market and advertise. Learn the fuck out of that shit! There’s actually LOTS of super smart skateboarders out there, so use your brain! There’s a shit load of industry people who have roots and connections to skateboarding, and they’re all working for the BIG 3. But don’t hate! Don’t hate on them! I’m proposing a different way of thinking. Think of it as…an infiltration…an espionage…and an inevitable coup d’etat.

    But before I go further, let’s back up a little bit. Let’s go back to a simpler time, the late 80s. Back then, there was also a monopoly, also a BIG 3. It was Powell Peralta, Santa Cruz, and Vision. Shit was selling like hot cakes, and nobody dared fuck with them (back when the term “fuck with them” meant “make them angry”). But guess what, along came a smart mother fucker named Steve Rocco who beat them at their own game. You know what Rocco knew that those BIG 3 didn’t? He knew that the BIG 3 were dinosaurs, they didn’t really know what the people wanted. They were just basing their sales on last year’s trend, and number crunching a pie chart that gave them a precise formula of what’s demographically cool. And guess what? Rocco was a skater, he KNEW what was cool. As for the business side, he figured shit out. He watched and learned the same way a skaters does to learn a trick. He figured it out like how a skater figured out a tre flip is really all in the back foot scoop, like how a slappy is easier if you keep your back foot light, and how the secret to a high ollie or good manuals are in the core. What I’m saying is, he learned from experience. There’s no pie chart for that shit, that’s the shit only a skater knows.
    Think of the movie BIG with Tom Hanks. He was in a meeting with industry big-wigs talking about toys. None of those motherfuckers use the product! Of course Tom Hanks blew their minds when he said it would be cool if the transformer turned into a bug, BECAUSE HE USED THE PRODUCT AND KNEW WHAT WAS COOL! So that’s what I’m getting at, WE ARE TOM HANKS! And right now, there’s a shit load of Tom Hankses sitting in some corporate office right now, trying to figure out some shit. We are “the kid” inside the adult. And Shawn, is hopefully just first of many Tom Hanks’s to emerge from the BIG 3.
    I’m not saying that Shawn will be as big as Rocco, but I’m just hoping to see more and more people like Shawn. One where a skateboarder who’s been through the Big Industry ringer, and figured shit out, and is now going to use his knowledge to empower the industry and take care of our own. I think a BIG 3 will always be there, if not, another one will always replace them. But skateboarders will always evolve and adapt. Skateboarders will always create something new, even if out of boredom. But skaters…please just remember to learn some shit along the way.

    Thanks, I’m drunk.

    Reply
  3. DAVE

    April 21, 2016 3:15am

    Oh, and another thing. I predict that the BIG 3 will fall in a few years. Dare I say as soon as in under 2 years? Simply because the trend of hating on some shit is so much more contagious and fun. So yes, I’d say hating on Nike, Adidas and Converse will come soon. Why? Because of the political climate? Because of the fashion industry trends? No, because hating is so fucking easy. Hating will be the next trend.

    Thanks, I’m drunk.

    Reply
  4. Art Hellman

    April 21, 2016 3:14pm

    PAUL

    These tests were conducted over a six month period using a double-blind format of eight over-lapping demographic groups. Every region of the country was sampled, the focus testing showed a solid base in the 9 to 11-year old bracket–with a possible carry-over into the 12-year olds. When you consider that Nobots and Transformers pull over 37 percent market share, and that we are targeting the same area, I think that we should see one quarter of that and that is one fifth of the total revenue from all of last year. Any questions? Yes? Yes?

    JOSH
    I don’t get it.

    PAUL
    What exactly don’t you get?

    JOSH
    It turns from a building into a robot, right?

    PAUL
    Precisely.

    JOSH
    Well, what’s fun about that?

    PAUL
    Well, if you had read your industry breakdown, you would see that our success in the action figure area has climbed from 27 percent to 45 percent in the last two years. There, that might help.

    JOSH
    Oh.

    PAUL
    Yes?

    JOSH
    I still don’t get it.

    PAUL
    What?!

    MR. M
    What don’t you get Josh?

    JOSH
    Well, there’s a million robots that turn into something. And this is a building that turns into a robot. So what’s so fun about playing with a building? That’s not any fun!

    Reply
  5. ab

    April 21, 2016 4:54pm

    Good rants Dave. Bang on.

    Reply
  6. Tony hinds

    April 21, 2016 5:02pm

    This guy here ^^^^ am I right

    Reply
  7. Baravettski

    April 22, 2016 3:18am

    Thanks! I’ll do my damned best, let’s take it back.

    Reply
  8. Brink

    April 23, 2016 12:54am

    Best dude … At a time when I came into the industry as a new guy who had just moved across the country and some people at DC were being real assholes to me, Shawn was someone who treated me like a fellow skater, not a stranger, even though we barely knew one another. Thanks, Shawn and good luck on the new gig.

    Reply
  9. Marty

    April 23, 2016 2:33am

    Good read. Always good to see actual skateboarders doing their own thing and taking back some control over the situation.

    Reply
  10. Chris

    April 26, 2016 2:24am

    State shoes???

    I hope that the recent “success” of independent board companies can carry over to the shoe market.

    Great read. Best of luck to this man.

    Reply
  11. The Heel

    May 20, 2016 10:35am

    Can’t believe anyone is stoked on anything Nike does. You know, prices for boards have been around $50 for over 30 yrs and there were no parks when I started in the 90s, so this money Nike is using to buy its credibility isn’t really helping the act of skating, but more the media it’s controlling, basically its own advertising. Personally, the thought of skateboarding trying to be some prime time sporting event is really lame, but there SLS is, I can’t wait to see what Nyjah buys w/ his winnings and can I hear Felix Arguelles say ‘set it off’ 50 times in a row. Smh. It’s strange to see skateboarding start from outcasts and trendsetters, now coopted, homogenized and run by suits and focus groups. Wouldn’t have a problem w/ Nike if my local shop hadn’t closed, trying to keep up w/ Nike dumping unsellable garbage on them, then calling collection agencies, when their crap doesn’t sell. Also this corporate bs has opened the doors to a new breed of know-it-all-know-nothing ‘skater’ who focus on skater marketability and act like they know everything about corporations and industry.

    Reply
  12. cg

    June 9, 2016 6:21am

    Ok now I know why nike sb shoes are so ugly. thx

    Reply
  13. bulbolito

    May 18, 2017 10:01pm

    The Koston 3 was fugly, I agree with Shawn.

    Reply
  14. Heffer Wolf

    May 22, 2017 1:38am

    éS Koston 3 was magnificent. The one hyped shoe lame ass sneaker heads can’t ruin for me. The current SB Koston 3 however, is overpriced and overproduced. Nike’s shit is wack, especially the Janoski. Mythologized quality and looks.

    Reply

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