adidas Originals x Burton | Ben Pruess & Greg Dacyshyn

It’s a logical and interesting project for both brands to do, but how did the collaboration idea come about? Who approached who?

Ben Pruess: The program was a natural process of looking at how we continue to evolve the brand and work with what our consumers want. We had often spoken about snowboarding in the context of our success with Originals Skateboarding and how this plays into other action sports and other seasons. We focused on product and distribution as they are the real difference between skate and snow. Skate brand do sneakers, decks, t-shirts and goodies, where snowboarding is a hard goods and technical apparel business model. With Skate, our credibility and skill set is natural since we are a leading sneaker and streetwear brand, plus our team is supper solid. With Snow, we didn’t have a hard goods or technical link.

We really wanted to build a new business model to get into these product and distribution areas, and we thought it was a good idea to build a bridge for the consumer to extend the relationship with our brand to an new environment and sport while still playing to our core skills. The idea to work with Burton was a natural one, as a market leader, we wanted to partner with a brand that brought the same level of impact. Burton is the leader and arguably the founder of snowboarding, as we are in the world of sports. In the end I think Burton also felt like a natural fit, as they seek to push opportunities to extend their brand into the street in an impactful way.

How did you approach this project, in terms of the creative process? I’ve seen previous adidas snow product, such as the Forum-inspired boot, but this is a little different.

The approach was pretty simple; we identified what we saw as a clear white space in the market and worked to use both our brands skill set in a combined way to fill this gap. The idea was about “transition product”. The brief was: what do you want and need after riding to look good and feel good? What do you want to wear – après-ski? What do you want to put your feet into after you get out of your boots? And what makes the whole collection work with style so it’s cooler than just wearing your hill gear on the street?

The Forum boot was something very different; we only made 50 pairs and just did it for fun. It was never for sale but just used as a gift to friends. The idea back then was simple: we wanted to build a 3-stripe boot to ride in to rep the brand.

Were there many existing adidas technologies used when it came to developing the product range? Or did you need to look further afield?

Both adidas and Burton have great histories of innovation for sport, so we had no lack of tools in the shed. Once we knew what was needed, we looked for the right technologies. It was more about sharing needs on how best to solve the brief vs. being lead by pushing any existing technologies.

Who handled the design of the products for this project? Was it a 50/50 effort from both brands?

It was a very collaborative process. We had about 4 design meetings in the process to brainstorm, present concepts and review. We each brought our own creative assets to the table. We brought our archive and clear visual language as well. Burton played to their strengths on the apparel side – bringing cuts, details, construction that they have pioneered with their great creativity on prints and graphics. We brought the sneaker and footwear knowledge and leadership of sportswear items, like track tops and pants. In the end it was really a 50-50 effort to reflect a real balance of influences.

Is it difficult to appease the core snowboarding crowd when creating something that will undoubtedly still need to appeal to a wider market?

Ben Pruess: Having worked in the action sports industry long enough, our team knew that the first rule is not to try and be something you are not. You have to be real. That was our approach; make great products that represent two leading brands in an open and honest way. We did not go out to make the ‘most core product’ – just great authentic products that the consumer would like.

Originals is one of the largest streetwear brands in the world because we are an open and accessible brand. We don’t want to exclude people, but rather invite them to use us as part of how they express and style themselves. This is what makes us an icon in the world of streetwear and allows us to go from the trend-setting top to a wider, more mainstream market. This product shares in that approach. It is what it is; great stylish product for hanging out after riding, not trying to be anything it isn’t. In the end, it makes things genuine. We see this as a value most consumers respect more then just “being” core. Burton’s in a similar place – they are the leading brand in snowboarding, they are the most credible because they remain true to the sport and market they helped create.

How was the work handled internally at adidas? Did the US team handle the design on this project, or was the work distributed between Portland and Herzo? If so, was there much going back and forth?

Almost all the design work was done in the Portland office; it was easier to do it there for obvious reasons. Time, testing and consumer insight are just better aligned working with partners in the US. We did develop the product in a few locations, tapping into our Japanese team that does Kazuki ObyO because they had the best skills on the more technical apparel.

Were there any concepts or products that didn’t make it to the production line for this project?

We designed the range a bit bigger then we needed to just so we could review and edit. Sure, some of the products hit the cutting room floor but it was all about selecting the best offer for the range size we wanted. I feel like most of the ideas we wanted made it into the line in some way. Of course some others did not make it, but that’s how it goes.

Is this intended to be a one-off project or is there scope for it to grow and develop down the line?

Right now it’s just a one-season project. We did not want to force any long term or contractual obligations on to each other. We did this program because we thought it was a genuinely good fit and one that would make some great product. As brands we have a good relationship so the door is open for us to work on future programs together. Right now we are happy to see this collection hit the market and gain some positive feedback.

Burton has always led the way in terms of snow sport equipment and apparel: as a top-tier brand, there is clearly no need to work with anyone else. With that in mind, how did you approach the collaboration with adidas to create this special range of footwear and apparel?

Greg Dacyshyn: Both myself and Ben Pruess of adidas have a long history in snowboarding. So our two brands got together through this common interest.

How does the range of products differ from your normal output? Were there any particular differences in design or construction when putting these pieces together?

The range was co-designed by my Burton Creative Team with the adidas Originals Team and features the adidas Originals Trefoil as well as Burton branding. The footwear styles were primarily designed by the adidas design team, benefiting from their history in the footwear business and expertise in production and quality execution. In return, all the apparel styles were designed by us (Burton) based on adidas Originals silhouettes, blending the adidas look with the visual language and design aesthetics of Burton.

I’ve always viewed Burton as a particularly creative brand, both in terms of the products and the brand communications. Diffusion lines, such as the [ak] range, and the artist projects (Futura, Stash, Mark Ward, Geoff McFetridge amongst many others) have always added something special, rather than dilute things. How does the process work to continually maintain this level of creativity? Is there a Burton ‘think tank’ – or are you always open for people to approach you with ideas

There’s no standardization to this process. There can’t be. This is art, not graphics-for-hire. We structure our projects in so many different ways. Through the whole thing, feedback is a huge part of the process – whether it comes from our pro riders, customers or employees. Our team riders play a big role here. They all have artists who speak to them or inspire them, so in the case of boards for example, we love to reach out to distinct artists who the team request, and have them collaborate with the individual rider to make a signature board. In other cases like in apparel or outerwear, each season we create distinct stories and collection inspirations that are communicated to the artists in very broad strokes, and then they interpret them in whatever way they are inspired. Lastly, in some cases, we create iconic collaborations like with the Andy Warhol Foundation or Playboy or Ralph Steadman, where we have the honor and privilege to incorporate their work into our products. At the end of the day, we always know that the Burton integrity will be well featured in all of our products, because the partners and artists whom we join up with have a natural affinity to our brand and our DNA. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on the program.

Was it difficult to keep things levelled towards your core market on this project? It’s clearly functional, but there’s a strong ‘leisure’ aspect to the range too, which differentiates it from everything else at the moment. How did you make sure it still spoke to the core snowboarders out there?

Snowboarders have strong personalities and think for themselves, which is what makes the culture so creative. We thrive off different styles, opinions and directions. There’s no way we can or would want to please every rider with every style. That’s why our product range is so diverse, so individual riders can find something that speaks to them.

This range with adidas reinforces the fact that Burton thinks beyond the actual slopes themselves. You’ve already gained a huge following from a street level (through things such as the Idiom product line), but is this something that’s considered at the start of each new project? Or is it always about the core snow angle to begin with?

We’re a snowboarding company. So every inspiration and design is somehow rooted in that culture.

Were there any concepts or products from the Burton perspective that didn’t make it to the production line for this project?

There are always different rounds of designs in every product development process. But we’re really happy with how the final line turned out.

Many people will already know that you’ve got the perfect credentials to put together a project like the adidas and Burton collaboration: can you break it down for the readers who don’t know? You used to be a professional snowboarder, correct?

Ben Pruess: Yes I was, but to be honest I am not sure being a pro rider more then 20 years ago gave me the perfect credentials. Sure, it played some part, as it was part of the path that led me to where I am now. More important, my continued love of the sport has been what happened after when I join the business side. The value of such a diverse experience working in action sports and streetwear for the past 20 years and the insight it has helped to make this happen.

This was not about me but two iconic brands with great teams working together (An adi group and a talented crew with Greg at Burton) to make a project they felt the market would benefit from. Sure the fact that the core group that worked on this project are riders that helped us to speak knowledgeably to create products consumers would want to wear.

You worked at Salomon before joining adidas Originals: was there much of a transition from being immersed in a performance-orientated brand to steering a respected lifestyle brand?

Working at Salomon was a great experience and I owe a lot to Jean Luc Diard for bringing me into that team. They thought about the performance side and the hard goods side of product marketing; it was all about feature and benefit and consumer performance. This helped a lot when I went on to manage Bonfire, as the technical apparel game is very similar. What was also clear from the start was the understanding that success in snowboarding doesn’t come from purely a performance point of view. Snowboarding, like all action sports is first an emotional approach and a lifestyle. Without making a commitment to this side of our market, you will never create a meaningful offer. In snow or skate, looking good and feeling good go hand in hand. Being real is more important then how you think about buying into a brand. Great product is important but without a credible approach is doesn’t matter. This is why even some brands that make technically superior products don’t successfully make it to market. Working on making sure Salmon or Bonfire lived up to what it meant to be a real snowboard and lifestyle brand allowed me to develop the skills needed to find the transition to streetwear so easy. Very few brands are as emotionally connected to street and pop culture as adidas Originals. It really is the original lifestyle brand.

I know that you’ve answered this question before (specifically in your Sneaker Freaker interview a while back), but what advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the industry?

Know what it is that you want to do in this business and why you think it’s for you. Understand that it is a business and whether you’re a designer or a marketer, that’s what success will be judged on. You need to know from the start that if you work for a big brand, a start-up or a shop that this is not an art project or 24/7 fun and games. It takes work, passion and a willingness to listen to what consumers want. It is a great career that can allow your creativity to be seen. Ultimately it can and will expose you to great people and give you the chance for a professional life so that you never give up on the things you enjoy.

Obviously, this interview will be on our website, but I’m from a traditional media background originally – and that’s something I always want to keep an eye on. Whilst I like a lot of the news sites and blogs, my aim to try and create a lot of timeless content that will be just as interesting to read five years down the line. What do you think about how information is communicated these days?

I think that there is a real need to be aware of the relationship of speed versus value. It is a trade off that many consumers are happy to make right now, but at what expense, I don’t know. I see a risk in the disposability of content, both products as well as media.

At the same time, the ability to react and effect so quickly has a huge positive result. In the end, I think we will get a better understanding and respect for what each approach offers and not try to replace one or the other but rather nurture both. Unfortunately I think we will have to go though a period of serious disposability before consumers realize what they miss when time is not given to refine a thought on a product. After so many shoes, many that we still love today would not have become the classics had the market not been patent enough to allow them to develop. Same holds true for music: many people say that we will not see brands like The Stones or GNR be able to become the icons they did because the market does not allow the time any more.

Greg, could you break down your personal and professional background? I’ve read about your early interest in sneakers (before the term ‘sneaker culture’ even existed) and how you became interested in fashion and design along the way. Did you consciously set out to become involved in the design industry?

Greg Dayshyn: To be honest, I’ve had some pretty eclectic experiences. From urban bike courier, snowboard and sneaker store hustler and philosophy student to Russian military conversion consultant, I can’t really pin down a linear path to here. But what I can say is that everything I’ve done in my life led me to getting here. I have always been a boardsports and street culture junkie, and that combined with a passion for design, international business and love of the Burton brand all came together in getting me here.

When I came in, all creative was sourced outside of Burton, and so with my love and background for design I started doing my own designs and taking the initiative, and then wrote my own job description. I turned it into the job I wanted, not the job I had. Sometimes people have their head down and they’re working so hard that they can’t see it that way – but you have to make your own opportunities But beyond that I don’t look back. It’s about what’s next, personally and professionally.

Were you always interested in snowboarding? Were there any other sports or pastimes you were interested in that shaped or influenced your career?

It really all started with skateboarding for me. I was into it from the beginning. I loved the whole counter culture, and the vibe and the lifestyle, and the new crop of athletic heroes that it created. I was never huge into the team sport thing. I did the prerequisite ‘football at middle school’ type thing, and a little bit of hockey (hey, I’m Canadian), but for the most part it’s always been about individual sports. Cruising on my bike or skateboard back in the day, that’s where it was at. Then snowboarding came along, and it just fitted me perfectly. It was super fun and cruisy and had the surf feel, and I learned with all my family and friends at the same time. So it just instantly became a lifestyle for me, and even though I lived in the city (Toronto) at the time, I would head up north every weekend to snowboard, and started taking riding trips out west for more snow and then finally found my way to Vermont which has an awesome local snowboard scene.

What does your day to day routine at work look like? Are you involved very much with the design team?

To start, I am waging a protest against the intrusion of alarm clocks. Really, why do we need to be on such a schedule all the time? Let’s just do our thing and it will work out. Unless you’re catching a flight, and then a clock can save your ass…. I keep a sick vintage Cartier travel clock just for that purpose. But I think the workday should start mid to late morning and then go well into the night. That’s when true inspiration comes anyway. And as for how it works with my team, I am really hands-on. My day is literally full of product reviews and product talk, covering all phases in the development timeline, for all categories. So it could be looking at board graphics one meeting, then outerwear designs or sales samples at the next, then it will be a conference call with an artist or designer or potential partner for something that could hit in two years. It really makes for a diverse day which is both challenging and rewarding.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into the snowboard design industry? I can imagine it’s quite a competitive environment…

I think the design industry is very unique. Some careers are a defined skill set that could progress in status/skill/rank. And some careers are strictly about managing others with that skill set. But in product or in creative, there really is an opportunity to do both. You can be the artist, and/or you can be the one who manages the artist. There have been designers who want to design and those who want to manage and in creative you can take either path. I like being a blend of both, so that my actual DNA is built into the products, while also being on the directional end of managing a team of designers. With experience comes the ability to choose your path. As far as newcomers to the industry you just have to be patient. And don’t assume that you have to get into a brand only through the product department, because that is where you ultimately want to end up. Be willing to get in the door however you can, ie., through customer service, retail, internships, etc., and then make sure you get on the radar of the Creative and Product teams. Ultimately, you’ll get in if you earn it. But check your ego at the door. Being humble is a key requirement of success in product design and development.

Obviously, this interview will be on our website, but I’m from a traditional media background originally – and that’s something I always want to keep an eye on. Whilst I like a lot of the news sites and blogs, my aim to try and create a lot of timeless content that will be just as interesting to read five years down the line. What do you think about how information is communicated these days?

The world is a small place these days; in fact, it’s about the size of your 11 inch laptop screen. Everything is accessible to anyone. The fringe is the mainstream. So you have to work harder to stay on top of it, and stay ahead of it. For me, pop culture, global news and current events come from everything around me and everyone around me. Get outside your comfort zone. Travel. Don’t be “anti-TV” when we thrive in youth culture. Don’t be afraid to get into movies, books and magazines outside of your industry. Think big. Get inspired. Play hard. And in the end, inspiration, quality and integrity will never be out of style.

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