Ten years ago Pontus Alv started Polar Skate Co. and kicked the skateboard industry square in the nuts. As one of the leaders of the small board brand revolution, he proved that people outside of the California bubble could run a successful, globally-known skateboard brand. Now he’s trying to do it again, but this time he’s going after footwear.
Last Resort AB is his newest brainchild, a fresh and independent alternative to the big five shoe brands that have taken over the industry over the last several years. While there are some skater-founded footwear brands still alive, it’s no secret that they have slowly been going the way of the dinosaur. Pontus is here to inject some new energy to that market, and show skaters that it’s still possible for us to control our own industry.
Calling from his mini-mansion in Portugal, Pontus gave us the full rundown on how Last Resort AB came to be and what he hopes this brand will mean for skateboarding as a whole. And if you don’t give a shit about shoes, read on for some wise advice on threesomes.
What happened to you saying you’d never do an interview again?
I took a break from it and I decided to do it again. I feel that I have something new to say and new visions to share.
When did you decide you wanted to enter the ring and make your own shoes?
I’ve always had an interest in designing pro shoes or boards. And if you take away the skateboard, shoes are the most important equipment. If you take away the shoes, then it’s the pants.
When I was with Converse, and they offered me to do the collabs and that stuff, the products were cool, they looked nice and so on, but I was never really completely happy with the performance of them and the fit. I know I can do it better and I can make it work better. With Nike as well, being involved in those projects opened my eyes to wanting to do more of it.
So I started looking into it myself. I started talking to people about doing vulcanized shoes. I visited some factories in Portugal but everything there is cup sole based. For me personally, I’m not a fan of cup sole shoes, the look and feel of vulc is my first choice.
So I asked another friend about vulc production in the far east, and the first answer I got was I needed these huge minimum orders and that starting up a brand like that was a heavy investment. Everybody was like, “You’re going into the shoe game, you need a huge, big, fat wallet. And how are you going to sell that many as a new brand? It’s impossible.” So I kind of gave up on the idea of making vulc skate shoes…
Long story short, I was chatting with my old friend Sami, a skater from Stockholm that I skated with in the ‘90s. He started doing shoes in Portugal, cup sole kind of high-end fashion sneakers under the name “3-3-20 by Last Resort AB”. I was talking with him from my local beach bar, a few drinks too many, and then basically said, “If you can get me vulcanized shoes, a very nice product design, and it has to cost less than $100 I’m in.”
Three days later he was like, “I spoke to a friend here in Stockholm that makes these super nice vulc shoes in Vietnam with very low minimums. Within a few weeks we had our first sample in our hands which looked great as a first sample. Just like that, oh shit, now we started a shoe company.
I had always heard it costs like $30,000 to make a mold for a new shoe model.
It’s true that you have a one time cost when you have to create a mold for the sole in all sizes, but it’s not insane costs. Our factory has small minimums, so it’s very cool that we can try this without having to spend a fortune. Our first complete sample of the shoe cost us like $3,000 – 4,000 which is an amazing developing cost. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass.
But the more important thing is why it’s needed right now. All skateboarder-owned shoe companies are either having a very hard time or feeling like they will pass any day. There is support for éS and Lakai here in Portugal. I heard Lakai is selling well at the local skate shop, which is cool to hear.
But it’s not a secret that Nike, Vans, Converse, Adidas, and New Balance all went in hard on the skate industry and basically Nike just dominates the whole industry. I’ve seen them do great things for skateboarders. They give great paychecks to a lot of riders and it’s amazing to see that the top riders in the world can make a great living from skateboarding and put money away for the future and be treated like—I wouldn’t say as athletes, because obviously one football player is like the whole budget for the whole skateboarding marketing program—but in skateboarding terms, we are used to being paid $500 a month. That was a good paycheck back in the day.
Nowadays, $1,500 a month is a minimum some of those brands pay and it can go up to $20,000, $30,000, or more a month. Who knows what the big guys are getting. I’m happy skaters are getting paid, but there should be some sort of alternative.
“I’m happy skaters are getting paid, but there should be some sort of alternative.”
Do younger skaters care about if their shoes are from a skater-owned company anymore?
It’s not gonna work because it’s skater-owned and it’s me. It’s gonna work if the design is great, the product is amazing, the fit and the performance are amazing, and obviously the overall feeling with the team, videos, and the vision. Obviously, if the product isn’t amazing, why should they buy our shoes? It doesn’t make any sense. I think I have a good product that will be—I don’t wanna hype it up too much, but I think it’s in the same league or even better than some of those bigger classic skate shoes. And obviously I ride them myself so I want them to work and be on point.
What do you look for in a shoe, and what are you doing that maybe other brands aren’t doing?
I like a really tight fit on my shoe. Especially where you have the potato—I always call it the potato—but the side of the foot, the arch support. That’s where I wanted it to sit really well and tight. Finding the magic balance between thickness of the sole, thickness of the insole, and the overall shoe construction so you still feel like you have a little bit of protection but it still gives you good board feel and grip.
When I put on a pair of Adidas or Nikes, I can’t stand looking down and seeing the stripes or the swoosh. I just don’t like looking down at it. Maybe I don’t like the brands or maybe I don’t like the way it looks on my foot, I just want it to be really plain, simple, only one color with no logos.
That’s where people say, “You gotta have a fuckin’ silhouette on the side! You gotta have the stripes or the stars or fuckin’ something there.” But I don’t want anything there, that’s the point. Everyone’s forcing things on the side of the shoe and it doesn’t have any function. It just looks kind of ugly. So maybe there are other skaters out there that don’t want to be associated with these big corporate companies and just want to have it plain and simple.
“Everyone’s forcing things on the side of the shoe and it doesn’t have any function.
It just looks kind of ugly.”
What are some companies that have been successful in skating without using a ton of branding?
I can’t think of any skater based brands.
Is it possible?
Minimal branding small logos can work but you still need a name and logo somehow… but you can use it small… We have the logo on the tongue and heel tab, and on the sole you have the dude sticking out. A good logo and symbol is a very important part of a brand. But we wanna keep the side silhouette clean when it comes to the shoes. On clothing, tees, hoodies, etc. we will play with some back print logos. I am down with that.
On Instagram you wrote that you’re gonna have a team, but a team of creative weirdos where the skating is secondary. Could you talk about that?
I just wanted to have that feeling of personalities and creative people. There are a lot of guys on the flow, B, C, D teams of the big four or five shoe brands, and those are the people I want to put in the spotlight and bring out. There’s room for that too because I think the skate shoe industry is quite stale. It’s quite elite and athletic and performance-based.
I would love to see, in a perfect world, the Palace boys starting up their own shoe company, maybe Dill and FA starting a little shoe company. I’m doing mine, and whoever else would want to join. Bring new energy to it, just like how Etnies started back in the day with Natas [Kaupas]. Maybe it’s time now to repeat the cycle. I think overall people wanna support smaller more personal things again.
Almost all major shoe brands are criticized for the labor they use. Did you ever consider trying to create a shoe brand that doesn’t use low-wage labor?
We pay a higher price for our production. We get photo reports from the production line and it looks really sharp and clean. Due to the situation in the world, it has not been possible to travel. So yes, it’s a tricky time and as soon as the world stabilizes we will visit Vietnam and check out the factory and see all with our own eyes. I am not afraid to change and take action if we see shady stuff.
In the meantime we hire SGS (the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company) to make the factory audits for us, to make sure the working conditions live up to standards. So far everything has been very professional and over the top service, we have a very good team down there with a long experience working with European brands and requirements so the standards have to be high.
As a next step we are working on some strategies to make an even larger impact on the entire supply chain and we hope to be able to make some great things happen and share them further on down the road. Things will take time and we are learning & developing as we go along.
“The goal is to be in skate stores sitting next to all the big shoe companies… You decide what you want to support, and that’s it.”
I thought you were originally planning on producing the shoes in Portugal. What made you switch to Vietnam?
There has been a misconception around us producing in Portugal, as I mentioned my partner Sami started his little premium segment venture here with the cupsole/leather lining etc, but for the skate shoe project we have been sourcing in Vietnam since day one. Asia in general and Vietnam in particular is the best country for production of Vulc shoes, that’s why we turned our heads towards that direction.
What kind of shops are you putting the shoes in?
We are using the entire Polar networking structure. The goal is to be in skate stores sitting next to all the big shoe companies and being at the same price range and basically being an option. You decide what you want to support, and that’s it.
The big guys ran over a lot of the existing shoe brands with their roots in skating. I don’t know, but I feel that now is the right time. If it doesn’t work, fine, but at least there should be another option. Of course in the long term, it would be amazing to release some of the riders from the big guys. That would be a dream.
Do you ever plan on doing limited releases or collabs with people or brands outside of skating like how Nike does their super hype Dunk releases?
So far we only have a collab planned with Polar Skate Co. I have a lot of ideas about how I want that thing to be.
Some people might argue that there’s no need for an independent shoe brand because the big brands already make quality shoes and support skaters. What’s your response to that?
I’m really happy about how Nike is supporting some riders and treating riders, I definitely don’t want to bad talk all of them because there are great people on at Converse. Lee, the team manager, for example, is doing great stuff, supporting great projects. There are skaters working within the corporation and they’re doing cool stuff.
But for me personally, I’ve never seen a Nike video that I felt, “Oh wow, this a real team, this is a real thing.” Because it’s artificial. The team is hundreds of people. It’s great for them and getting all the support but I still think the spirit of a shoe company could be something else. Product is one thing, but the message, and the spirit, and feeling of a brand are another thing. I think that’s where I can bring something to the table like creating a new team and video and showing an alternative to how a shoe brand could feel. But that’s obviously to be proven.
How did you end up on the final name for the brand?
My friend Sami’s shoe brand was called 3-3-20 by Last Resort AB. I thought that name was a bit abstract, so when I became a partner in the company I said let’s change it to Last Resort AB.
“AB” is the Swedish version of “Company” or “LLC.” It’s our Swedish touch because we’re Swedish so we want to keep those roots.
You must already be super busy with Polar. Why do you want to add more pressure to your life by running another brand?
Long story short, last year I decided I wanted to move away from Sweden, so I relocated to Portugal to start a new life in a better climate. I bought a house and it’s quite big, then after I moved in I was like, shit, what have I done? I thought it was gonna be easy but turned into being a huge nightmare. I spent all this money on this building and it’s not really up to standard. There are humidity problems, it’s leaking here and there, and I just kinda freaked on it. I tore it all out, changed the layout, but construction is a nightmare. So I’ve been quite stressed out with all that. It’s been hell to try to move forward with the house. Now I’m living in temporary places, moving around with my soon to be wifey.
But I’m positive, you know? There are so many other things on this planet right now, you know with the whole virus thing, the political situation. U.S., China, Middle East, Europe, climate change, pollution, the whole planet is polarized on all levels so I’m just trying to spread positive energy and be on a good track with myself and what I do, and try to give positive energy around me and not be a source of negative energy basically [laughs].
“The whole planet is polarized on all levels so I’m just trying to spread positive energy and be on a good track with myself and what I do.”
Your house is like a Scarface type of mansion, right?
I don’t know if it’s the Scarface mansion [laughs]. It’s definitely gonna be some sort of grand design house. For me, it’s all the same; designing a skateboard or designing a T-shirt or pants, and now I’m a full-on architect, ha. I’ve designed some tiles as well but in the end, we did not use ’em. Running Polar and starting Last Resort AB, that’s easy compared to the house. [laughs]
Will you be buying cocaine, like Scarface?
No, I won’t. Cocaine is wack.
Is it true that you were in a three-way relationship for a while with two women?
[Laughs] Yes, that’s true, if you want to know. We had a time where we wanted to wild out a bit, so we were dating a girl for a while and seeing some girls. It was on and off for a year. I think it’s fine as long as all parties involved are fine with it and nobody gets hurt. I don’t see anything weird with it. I’ve been together with my soon-to-be-wife, we’re engaged. We’re gonna be married in 2021 if all goes well. It’s not a secret that we live in a sexual world and a sexual society. Nowadays with all these new ways to meet people, it’s like we are in the happy 20s again [laughs].
Was it an authentic three-way relationship or was it more just a girlfriend of your girlfriend?
No, it was cool. Everyone got along really well. They were having their time alone and we had time together. People just see the sexual part like, “You had a threesome, blah blah blah.” But if you’re in a relationship with two parts, it could get boring. With another part, it’s like playing a card game. It’s more fun when you’re three or four. The conversations are different and hanging out is different. If things are stale or repetitive, it could bring a new fresh breath of air.
I see so many relationships where people are unhappy and sexually unhappy and they’re cheating. And they’ll be like, “Well, my girlfriend and I didn’t have sex like this or like that,” and it’s like maybe you should talk to her or maybe you guys should figure out your shit. Maybe you shouldn’t be together or maybe people should just talk about sex and what they want and what their fantasies are because it’s a taboo for a lot of people.
My advice to everyone is to talk about sex. Talk about your dreams, your feelings, and whatever else, because most of the time you’ll be happily surprised when you talk to your girlfriend and you say, “I like this,” and she says, “Oh, really? I like this and this,” and then it’s like, “shit, really?” Most of the time girls’ sexuality is much wider and broader than men. Men are quite strict and boring.
“Most of the time girls’ sexuality is much wider and broader than men.
Men are quite strict and boring.”
Do you like being the boss? Are you really strict?
Regarding the company, my fiance is running most of the organization. She’s at home right now laying out the new catalog. After all these years I managed to set up a structure with two girls who manage a lot of the designs together with me. I have my soon to be wife as my right hand, my production woman, and a production guy, Mike, that handles all the sales logistics, web orders, etc. with the warehouse team. They all work as a team so they can manage a lot of things without me.
My job is to focus on the graphics, the ads, basically all the creative stuff. Most of the time I’m quite disconnected from the daily work and the organization. It’s the dream to have a company and do everything yourself. You’re packing the boxes, doing the invoices, all this shit, and then the dream is to only do the fun stuff. Now I reached that level and do the fun stuff.
Also, for the SLAP forum, Polar has never been funded or injected with money by Converse and Nike. That’s some kind of fucked up rumor out there.
I guess in an old interview I said something like back in those days I made a $750 or $800 monthly paycheck for Converse and I think I had $400 from Carhartt, so I was making $1,200 or $1,300 a month back then. So starting a brand was huge for me. With that money, I could pay my apartment rent and put food on my table. I was like, “This is great, I could be a pro skater, cover my existing costs while I’m doing things with Polar.”
Just to make it clear, I own 95% of Polar, and it was funded and started basically with the money I made from selling In Search of the Miraculous DVDs. I was 30 years old so I said fuck it, I’m going to take this money and risk it.
Would you ever consider selling Polar? Could I offer you money right now to buy it?
No, I like my job very much and what we do. I like to keep it this way. Normally you sell parts of a company to get more capital to grow expand and so on, but I like the way Polar is. It’s a very clean and direct structure. We don’t have any investors stressing us out with bullshit ideas or forcing us to do crap.
How do you know when your idea for a brand is good enough to work?
Sell me your dream. Draw me a world that I so badly want to be a part of. Make original ideas and designs. Produce high-quality goods. Be nice.
How would you describe Last Resort AB in four words?
I will say, alternative, as in an option. Simple. Creative. And fun.
Being the alternative to the corporate companies, I could never shut them down or kick them out, I’m fully aware of that. But there needs to be an alternative. That’s my goal. I hope to create that. We shall see.
Also, I need some team riders, so if you know anyone who needs some sponsors. I need some cool east coast guys, think about the B, C, D teams [laughs]. The really cool guys are on the D team. You just have to search for them. Brands are blowing it. They have all these guys but they’re blowing it. They’re putting their energy into the wrong dudes. That’s the problem.
“Nowadays you can be good, have the style, have the attitude, the looks, the fashion, live in the right city and you have a cool name, but still, there’s no room for you.”
There are also too many great skaters so brands can treat everyone as more disposable.
That’s a whole ‘nother discussion, but we’re living in a crazy time in skateboarding. There are so many fucking good skateboarders, but there are no board sponsors. I don’t know how many people hit me up to be on the company, and I’m like, I can’t have a team of 50 dudes. The industry has so many rippers but I guess not everyone could be sponsored.
Nowadays you can be good, have the style, have the attitude, the looks, the fashion, live in the right city and you have a cool name, but still, there’s no room for you. The list of getting on a company is insane. I can flow some guys, but I can’t give you the ad or the place in the video, the official stage to perform. That’s the thing, you have to win the lottery to perform at the fucking arena.
After everything you’ve accomplished so far, do you feel any happier than you did when you were coming up?
I think maybe, now when you’re older you’re a tiny bit wiser. I feel like I can appreciate things a little more. When you’re young, you think you’re hot shit. I think nowadays I’m in balance with myself. I’m happy for all the things I’ve accomplished, and if I die tomorrow, I think I left a contribution to the biggest thing I love in my life, which is skateboarding. I wouldn’t say I changed it, but I think I contributed to it with my videos and my companies and whatever. It’s nice to know that if I pass away tomorrow it wasn’t all for nothing.
My biggest advice is rich or poor, you still have the same problems. Sure, money makes a lot of things easier, you don’t have to stress about certain things, but it will never make you happy and solve your problems. Sometimes you’re working and chasing things and you’re like, OK, when I reach this level, I’ll be good. Then you get there and you realize you’re dealing with the same thing.
We humans stress too much. We stress too damn much about everything. It’s hard to live in the present and enjoy the present and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.