I bought my first pair of etnies in 1996 right after I started riding. I still remember what a difference the shoe made to the Airwalks that I had worn previously. It was my first taste of a "legit" riding shoe. In years to come, I rode in many varying models of etnies, including Vallelys, Rooftops, Joe Rich Throttles, and the many models designed by Taj Mihelich. In 2004, John Povah (etnies BMX team manager) started hooking me up with kicks, and in the time since, I've been a loyal member of the etnies BMX team.
Over the years, BMX footwear styles have experienced a number of changes, from styles to colors to materials to outsoles. I've never been able to appreciate what goes into making all of these shoes until I got to visit etnies and see what goes on behind the scenes. And this appreciation increased even more when I learned that I would be working with etnies on a signature color way for the Jameson 2 Mid model. What follows is a brief look into the construction of an etnies shoe, with etnies designer Chris Reed.
ESPN.com: Can you describe your title/position at etnies?
Reed: I am the etnies footwear group manager. That means that I work with my product team to come to the table with great footwear that both performs for the athlete as well as looks great on your feet.
Designing a shoe is a quite complicated process. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in designing shoes for BMXers these days?
Really, the hardest part of designing footwear is that every rider has a type of footwear they like or feel more comfortable wearing. So making all riders happy is down right impossible. Our goal is to make sure that the shoes perform and protect the rider so they can ride longer. BMXers have certain needs that have to go into the footwear, so figuring out how to put all those into a shoe is always a challenge.
As I walk through the design room at etnies amongst the countless racks of shoes I noticed that some shoes were cut in half, some split right down the middle and some completely dissected as if it were a science experiment. What's the deal with that? What are you looking for when you do that? Is there a lot of research and development that goes into the new shoes?
There is a ton of development that goes into every shoe. Way more than you would ever expect. The shoes are cut up in my different areas. The bottoms are cut to double check EVA durometers or to confirm bonding strengths. The uppers are cut up to check foam package thicknesses or weird areas where a rider is feeling a "Hot Spot" or a weird flex area. Sometimes the outsole is completely removed from the bottom just to check the bond strength between the two parts. All this is done to make sure the shoe is built properly to provide the end rider with the most comfortable, performance footwear.
You've recently worked with a few of the etnies team riders to provide input on shoes. How important is the rider input on what you produce and design?
Their input is what makes the footwear what it is. It gives the shoe a reason to be, when it is designed with the rider input from the beginning. Whether it be with Aaron Ross on his pro model or working with Nathan Williams on a new shoe that we have coming out. These guys are the dudes out there performing and killing themselves on their bikes, and if their shoes are not doing what they need them to do, then that's a problem.
Can you tell by working with each rider that their preferences are different? Is there anything similar between everyone and the shoes the prefer?
Like stated before each person is different. And that goes for BMXers to skaters to surfers and even our moto team. What Twitch wants is a little different than what you like Brian. The hardest part is developing a cohesive line that can make the team and the local ripper at the dirt track or skatepark happy. I think that comfort and protection is what unifies all these and all etnies products are built with those properties first. That has been a priority here from day one. When other brands were removing EVA or PU midsoles from cupsoles in order to save a few cents, etnies said no. We need comfort and performance in order to help that kid ride longer.
With many riders being brakeless this day in age, how has the effected the way you design shoes?
I would say it does because it wears the shoes out in crazy areas. I just got a pair of Nathan's shoes from three weeks of hard riding and they are insane. The outsole is worn in such strange areas but it is in the exact spot that he needs extra rubber or a harder compound of rubber. The places BMXers wear out there shoes are definitely not the same as where skaters do. So making shoes for a BMXer makes sense. Having shoes that work for both sports, now that is the best, and that is what gives our designers a challenge that they demand.
Your job seems like a balance between art and science. The shoes have to be functional but they also need to look good as well. Is it a challenge to balance these two?
Yes, that's a huge challenge. We all know a kid can ride/skate in any type of footwear but making a certain style or look be a performance product -- that is the challenge. Our team of designers spend hours working on sketches to make sure the aesthetic is right (with all the tech needed to make the shoe perform properly to the riders demands) and perfecting how the shoe looks with your jeans on. This can sometimes take months to get right. But in the end all this hard work is worth it when someone is out there having fun wearing an etnies shoe.
Without letting out too many secrets. What are some things on the horizon in respects to BMX shoes that riders can look forward to in the near future?
Well, you will be seeing shoes built to address brakeless riding. That is for sure and I have been stoked at the initial footwear samples. There are other ideas floating around at the STI (Sole Technology Institute), but it's too early to blow minds.