adidas Skateboarding | Danny Kinley

Trashfilter: We’ve had a few emails recently from people asking how they can get into the shoe design industry – mainly from students or skaters who are trying to work the angles and find a way in. What’s your role and what was your personal journey to get where you are now?

Danny Kinley: I think you can go all different routes, but I went a more traditional route: I went to design school for industrial design. It was a five year program, which seemed like an eternity when I was in college! I did that for five years, had a bunch of internships but my first introduction to working on footwear was working for Salomon, which at the time was in Colorado. I worked on some trail shoes and that kinda thing and then after college I got a job at DVS. I worked there for a couple of years and then came up to adidas.

I’ve known a lot of people who’ve gone from graphic design into footwear, such as C-Law here, so there are different ways you can translate those skills into footwear design.

Do they cross over much, do you think? Is having a background in graphics advantageous to design footwear?

Yeah, I think especially for lifestyle shoes there’s more of a crossover, because a lot of the time it’s based on a graphic or a focus on logo placement. I think on the Performance shoes, there’s another level. I think there are a few Performance shoes where the focus has moved away a little too much from the graphic side of things.

What’s your official job title at adidas?

I’m the Senior Designer for Skateboarding. I work on footwear, apparel and accessories. We have an ad agency called Juice who handle the ads, website and everything else.

Ahhh… They’re the guys down in San Francisco, right? I think we pitched against them once! They’re really good.

Haha! Yeah! They get the whole skateboarding thing, which is great: Dennis Busenitz will call into their office to see stuff and they know people in the city down there, so they’ve got a good handle on what’s going on. We work quite closely with them, especially when it comes to catalogue time. They’ll have certain ideas on what they want to do and we’ll go through it together. It’s nice to work with guys you can really trust to do things properly.

Trashfilter: So what is the process you go through to create a skate shoe? How do you take it from concept through to final product? Do you get briefed on what’s needed on every project?

Danny Kinley: Yeah. Marc Holcombe – our crack marketeer, I guess you could say! – will come up with a plan for the whole season. How many new shoes we’re gonna do and how many colourways of each shoe and, if there’s a new shoe, what direction it should be. He does a really good job and we work well together – he’ll give me a loose idea of what’s required, not too constraining.

From there, I’ll go and sketch for a week and work on it over and over again and then sit with Marc and we’ll refine it some more. We’ll have lots of arguments and discussions along the way, but we’ve been working together long enough to communicate really well and we’re on the same page usually.

After you’ve worked out the sketches to take forwards, what’s the next stage?

So, yeah, the first thing is the sketches, which I’ll refine to a point where we’re happy with the initial look. Then we’re in a position to take it to the German office and we’ll get feedback and make adjustments based on that. So after the presentation stage, we go to the sample making process. If it’s something we’ve never done before, like a new technology, we start the sampling process a bit earlier.

After a month of sample making, we go to Asia and revise all the samples and make sure the salseman samples are ready.

When you take your designs to Germany for sign-off, does everything translate easily? I don’t mean in terms of language, by the way! I just see the US skate market as being slightly different to the European one. We certainly get different models and colourways here in the UK to what the US stores are carrying.

Luckily, it’s a pretty international bunch of people in the German office. As long as we’re confident in what we’re presenting, they’ll back us up. The only conflicts are if there’s something they’re already working on that might crossover too closely.

Do you have to do different products for different territories specifically? Do certain areas take certain colours and models?

As far as Skate goes, it’s generally all international these days. I worked on some projects that were under the Coastal division category that were more targeted, but not any more. Some of the lifestyle models tend to be US-only: things that are catering for the shopping mall crowd, with bigger logos and graphic treatments.

Trashfilter: What’s it like to work on a pro model shoe for one of the skaters? Do the skaters generally want to have a lot of input?

Danny Kinley: Yeah. I’d say that each person is different: some pros are more involved than others. Dennis Busenitz was really involved in the design of his model. In fact, he just called me and is still trying to tweak things on his shoe, even though it’s been out for over a year and a half! Which is good, because it gives us the chance to continually evolve the design.

Some other guys just trust you to make it cool and you’ll show them the sample and we’ll just revise it from there.

So which skaters have you designed shoes for? You did Tim O’Connor’s model, right?

Yeah – those were all colourways of the Roster. We have our pro colourways of existing models and Dennis’s shoe was the first full-on pro shoe we did. The next one is the Silas Baxter-Neal shoe, which (at the time of this interview) is due out in a month or so.

And Pete Eldridge’s shoe was another colourway, right?

Yeah – in order to keep the product line tight, we can take an existing model and just adjust things a little bit to tailor it to the skater. This time it was a colourway and adding his name to the shoe, but next year it might be something else.

With Dennis’s shoe, that really surprised a lot of us who were waiting to see what was coming. The absolute antithesis of bulky skate shoes, it looked more like a football shoe. It seemed like a really bold and brave move by adidas, considering you guys were still fairly new to the core skate market. But it was really well received – I don’t know how it went in the US, but in Europe, the stores couldn’t keep it in stock.

Nice! Yeah, that was all Dennis’s direction: he really liked the Copa Mondial model. He grew up playing soccer – as we call it in the US! – in Germany up until the age of joining junior high (school). So that shoe had a big influence on him and he definitely wanted something with that toe detail. With the tongue, we were a little nervous about it, as it was our first pro shoe in the line…

Oh – I loved that detail though! The extra-long tongue, with scissor marks to guide you if you wanted to cut it down! I thought that was pretty cool, as it reminded me of when we used to cut down our Airwalk Prototypes!

That was actually something that came in right at the end. We were down at Juice doing an interview – Dan Wolfe (Eastern Exposure) was filming – and bouncing ideas across with Matt Irving, the idea of the tongue came up. We put the text on the back and had Dennis translate it into German for us

We were a little nervous about the tongue, but it seems like it’s been well-received.

I love that shoe, but to be fair, I think that’s a perfect example of a model that you needed to see in the flesh to fully appreciate. Photographs just didn’t do it justice.

It was a challenge to get it in front of people, but halfway through the season it seemed to gain more momentum. I think seeing any shoe that Dennis was skating in… well, he could be wearing Ugg boots and it’d look good! So we definitely had that going for us!

Trashfilter: The adidas skate team is pretty much second to none. Look at the videos, like ‘Diagonal’: amazing stuff.

Danny Kinley: Totally – lots of different styles on there. Maybe not the biggest X Games type characters, but the managers here have always understood about quality not quantity.

The European and Asian team seems to be as well-respected and considered as the US team, which definitely helps. I’m a big fan of Chewy (Cannon), so there’s a sense of UK pride when I see him on ‘Diagonal’ for sure.

Yeah, Chewy‘s amazing! Jascha (Muller) has done a great job directing the look and feel of the team, just like George here in the US. All the decisions about who’s going to join they discuss with the whole existing team first. Once you have that good base of pro riders, you can ask their opinions and get a good idea as to whether certain people will fit.

I was reading something recently where a sponsored skater was being asked in a magazine interview, ‘Oh, so what do you think of this guy who’s on your team?’. And he was like, ‘I don’t even know who that is’. Dude, that’s your teammate!

I guess one other thing that seems pretty apparent here in the adidas design area is that everyone seems to be involved in skating. Do you still skate?

Yeah! I’ve got two kids, so it gets harder and harder! But I keep telling myself that I gotta keep my skills up for when they’re old enough to start asking, ‘Dad, how do I do a tre flip?’. We have a day during the week – Thrash Thursday – where we can all go out for a skate in the afternoon, which is pretty cool.

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