While there is an overabundance of startup skateboard brands popping up over the past 5 years, they’re pretty much all board brands or clothing companies. The market for skate shoes on the other hand has been rapidly shrinking in diversity, becoming more and more consolidated beneath a few big companies. It’s rare for a new brand to come out, probably because it’s so damn hard to do so. Creating and establishing a shoe brand from scratch isn’t easy, unlike with boards you pretty much have to produce them overseas, be willing to lose money in the beginning, and have a large amount of capital to even get started.
In such an aggressive climate where many iconic skater-owned shoe brands are shutting up shop, Kevin Furtado, the former brand director of Dekline, is willing to do what most sane people are not, start a brand new one up in these crazy times. We talked to Kevin about his plan for making sure his brand, State Footwear, survives.
How’d you come up with the name State?
There’s a few different levels. One of them has to do with the team riders and the people we want to associate ourselves with. I wanted to work with skateboarders that are in all kinds of regions. We only have 5 guys on the team and none of them are in the same area. I would love to build on that to have a guy in the Midwest, or the UK or Spain. As long as they all get their own little part of it.
The full name is “The Free and Independent State.” That part is pretty literal. It’s the fact that I can go do this on my own; I don’t have to have anyone else doing it with me. The last thing it is, is a jab at the Nikes and adidas of the world because if I’m basing a company based only on the fact that I’m not them, that’s not a recipe for success. I’m not going to hang our failure or success on those brands. They’re always going to be there. I just watched that adidas video yesterday and it was impressive man, what they were able to do. So I tip my hat to something like that, but we’re pretty far from that.
Who’s on the team?
Ben Gore from San Francisco, Jon Nguyen who is in Oakland but kind of moving around between there and San Jose, Jordan Sanchez up in the Seattle area, Kevin Coakley back east, and then Christian Maalouf who lives in LA, but he’s from Arizona.
Joe Castrucci and Josh Stewart have been helping out, right?
Yeah. Joe’s not a business partner with me, but he really helped me from the beginning just to really formulate what the brand was going to look like. I gave him an idea of something simple, like this is State, this is the concept of what I want to do, just classic stuff. Strong logos, just keep it real simple but consistent.
And then where Josh fits in, I just felt that those smaller board brands were capturing the attention of people in a way by just being true and honest with the way they were going about it. Josh’s brands do that really well. And I thought, what better way to approach it if this is what I’m trying to accomplish, to really be no frills. We’re a skateboard footwear brand and that’s it. What better way to do it than to work with team riders that are part of that same ethos?
I just spoke with him a lot and he really helped me, in terms of putting pieces together with Ben Gore. We felt like Ben was going to be the glue to talk to everybody else, so he definitely helped on the team side and Joe helped on the look and feel.
How much do you think it matters for a brand to have a good name?
I think it has a lot to do with it. There’s some names that are out there that are established and they’ve been around forever so you’re used to them and are comfortable with the name. Then there’s other ones that just come out that I feel just sound strong right off the bat like Huf and Brixton… those just sound like strong names.
You worked at Dekline before this. How did you come up with that name?
We went around forever trying to figure out a good name. We got the legal rights to spell it correctly with a “C” but we did the “K” and it just looked nice in logos and stronger. The purpose behind the name was just kind of… we didn’t think anything out there at the time was taking that classic vulc and making it skateable. Everything was really big cupsole stuff, so it was kind of a reaction to that. But looking back on it, calling your brand something negative probably wasn’t the best thing that we could’ve done… [Laughs]
When Dekline released True Blue, did the brand directly sell more shoes from that video’s success?
To be honest, not really, no. We had a lot of attention and distributors and accounts that were behind the brand that were really happy with it and felt like it shed a lot of light on the brand. I don’t think it instantly turned to sales. The unfortunate part, the brand really only delivered one season after the video. So it’s kinda unknown how well it would have done down the line, but we got great feedback. Like the adidas video that just came out – will they directly sell more shoes because of that? I guess, but what I think it does more is solidifies it as a brand more. We didn’t sell the video, we just gave it away, so we didn’t make any sales from it. It was very much a marketing thing.
Some of your models look like other shoes that are already on the market. Are there any features that you’re proud of that might set them apart?
When I see everybody walking around, they’re still wearing pretty classic looking styles. My goal to do this brand was never to reinvent the wheel when it came to what the shoe was going to look like. I want to stick to classics and just use good materials and colors, give a nod to the past and to what people have done.
So on the surface, if you just look at the profile, yeah pretty basic, 4-hole lace up vulc shoes, but there are components in it that were done specifically for skating. We do add some skate features of our own.
Like all the toes of all of our shoes have a perforated rubber underlay between the upper and the lining, so for skating, if you go through it on the ollie area, you still have a layer before you get inside the shoe. All the insoles are PU insoles, not sheet cut EVA, so it’s actually going to have some rebound to it. We also have our own outsole that has heel drag and toe drag areas, and we did reverse wrap foxing, so it’s a regularly vulcanized sole but it’s reversed wrap or double wrap, and it’s basically two layers of vulcanized the same way that Vans produces their shoes. It just kind of makes the shoe a little bit more stable.
”We’re a one-man operation with little to no overhead and I don’t need a huge margin in order to make this work”
What do you think about some people on SLAP calling the brand “Stale Footwear?”
[Laughs] I can’t take that stuff too personal. Everyone’s allowed their opinion. I try to not look at that stuff too much but everyone gets intrigued. I wanted to start with the classic styles and build on from there. I’d rather do that then come out with a crazy shoe just trying to prove a point, some eye candy. I’d rather come out with a real skateboard shoe that we built to be able to perform and is gonna be $55 at retail.
So you’re not going to be ripping off an Osiris D3 in the near future?
[Laughs] Probably not.
So one big advantage is that shoes are much more affordable than most brands, right?
Yeah, if you are going to compare, State may be closer to Lakai or Emerica in terms of the kind of product were putting out, but I think our pricing is probably closer to Vans and the classics that they do, like the $55 or $60 range. We’re a one-man operation with little to no overhead and I don’t need a huge margin in order to make this work.
You mentioned to me that in order for this brand to work, State will be in local skate shops but also sold in Zumiez to start, correct?
Fall 2016 will be our first delivery, and the distribution plan is to be with independent doors of course, through skate shops. We’re also going to be selling to Zumiez, and we’re going to be selling to Zumiez from day 1. I definitely want to be super transparent with this right off the bat.
I’m sure that won’t be the most popular concept for a lot of people, but it’s a reality that is going to have to happen at some point. I’d rather face it head on and explain it to everyone right off the bat, that we have the plan to do it as opposed to being like “We’re skater owned and we only sell to skate shops,” and a year down the road Tilly’s and Zumiez comes knocking on the door and we sell to them, and then it’s not a good look. I don’t know a skate footwear brand that’s not in one of those stores. I wouldn’t use that as an excuse, because if there was a way to do it, I would do it without having to be in a larger box store, but it’s just not a reality.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you have to hit minimum orders through the supplier. Unless you have endlessly deep pockets and this was just a hobby of yours and you were cool with losing money, you can’t really operate a business any other way. We’re small and we have to be profitable from day 1 in order to pay for these guys like Ben Gore or Jordan Sanchez to have a career in skateboarding. But again, you’ve got to be careful about how far you extend out and who you sell to.
I think there’s a little ground rule of what we set for ourselves. I only want to sell to places that actually sell skateboard parts like decks and trucks and wheels, not just completes or longboards. We’re going to sell to Zumiez, but we also opened some accounts that we’re so proud of, like Orchard in Boston or Atlas in San Mateo, and Labor in New York. I told them all what our distribution plan was and they knew. We are able to sell to Zumiez and get our sales numbers high enough for our factory to produce and then I can offer the skate shops $55 retail shoes and pay our riders.
”Unless you have endlessly deep pockets and this was just a hobby of yours and you were cool with losing money, you can’t really operate a business any other way”
Did you look at other ways to start up State without selling in Zumiez right away?
It all comes down to the factory. The factory is the one that says the minimum order. To just make one colorway of one shoe, you have to make like 600 pairs. If you did a different outsole or something, you’d have to do something like 2500 pairs just to be able to do it.
So the only thing you could do besides working with Zumiez or a larger mall store would be to self fund the company 3 or 4 years until you were in 300+ domestic independent doors. That way you could meet factory minimums. But I didn’t inherit any money, and I don’t have the ability to do that. I don’t want to speculate but with someone like New Balance, it seems to me like that’s something they have the capability to do. I believe they are the only skate footwear brand that is not in Zumiez.
I don’t wanna hide from it or define the brand through our retailer. Accessibility and affordability is really important to me. I want people to be able to find it and find it at a skateboard shop at a good price.
Are your shoes made in China? Does everyone make their shoes there?
Pretty much. I assume a Vans or Nike probably own stuff in Vietnam or Korea because they have resources. Everyone mostly works in Asia. I thought about all variations like, how could you manufacture skateboard shoes in America, but what it really comes down to is the cost of labor. It’s not the material, an average hourly rage in China is much lower than what it is here.
If you hypothetically made a basic vulcanized skate shoe in America, how much do you think you’d have to charge for it?
I’m gonna guess, a black suede skate shoe, a shoe that is normally $60 – $65 retail would be like $120 – $150 if it was all made in America. I think there’s something down the road there. Employing people in America to manufacture skateboard shoes, that would be the coolest thing.
Will State be also selling directly online?
We’ll be selling direct through the site, but we don’t have it ready right now. Keep in mind that it’s going to be “direct” based on how many shoes I can keep in my garage. This isn’t like a pat on the back kind of thing, it’s just the reality of the whole thing. I’m talking to you from my garage, which is my office. Why spend money if it doesn’t really build the brand? The hustle and really building something and trying to be involved in skateboarding and pushing something seems like the fun part to me, so I want to hold on to that part as long as I can.
My goal is not to create this giant corporation type of thing. I would be so happy if we can get off the ground, and I’m not looking to buy a mansion or retire to Italy. I have a wife, I have a kid, I have a modest needs on still coming in. There’s challenges but I want to try to face them. I believe in the idea. I’m lucky and privileged that I even have the opportunity to try and do this. I believe in skateboarding.