One of the best things I seen at this seasons Bread & Butter in Berlin was Native Footwear upon some fishing found this intresting inverview from Hihsnobiety, have a read…
We have done just that, and with each release we see the firming of a distinct brand DNA and a line that remains just a quirky, though tied to cultural classics, as when it first appeared.
As we are still intrigued a year after first sighting, we connected with Native Shoes founder Damian Van Zyll De Jong. Damian launched Native in 2009 with a desire to deliver classic, casual silhouettes in the lightest and most comfortable material available. He started with three, odes to the Chuck Taylor, Clark Wallabee, and Vans Era. From there he expanded with a twist, pulling influence from iconic hiking boots.
HS: Let’s begin with a quick burst history of Native.
Damian: As far as having a background in design or the shoe industry there is basically nothing to tell you. I grew up skateboarding and working in retail. My career, I see skateboarding as bringing me to the path of wanting to start a company. I was thinking about what’s on the market and looking for a niche and that is how Native spawned.
HS: What was the impetus for you to really start Native?
Damian: The kick-start for the brand was looking at the shoe industry and seeing a lot of the same. A saturated marketed. In my perspective, I thought it interested in EVA as a material that was out there and known, but rarely utilized beyond running midsoles or as a Croc. I thought, damn this might be cool to experiment with.
HS: There are a lot of casual silhouettes about, how do you pick the ones you use? And, how do you go about naming them?
Damian: For the first three shoes, I basically followed shoes I grew up with. The Chuck, which we call the Jefferson, is one of the most popular shoes in the world. A classic that stands the test of the time. The Vans Era, is just another I’d grown up wearing. The Wallabee was something my father wore. I grew up with it too. They are shoes close to my heart and will stand the test of time. They felt the right move to start the brand.
As far as the names go, the Jefferson is named after a friend of mine from Brooklyn. The Corrado, which is the Wallabee… we had to submit the brand to a jury to get into PROJECT and one of the guys, named Corrado, was kind of giving us a hard time. So we named it after that dude. The Miller is named after the skater Chris Miller, who has a super smooth style.
HS: What was the initial reaction in the trade to Native?
Damian: There were some skeptics, but most people appreciate it and saw how they could sell the product. However, some agencies didn’t quite get it and didn’t really know how to place it.
HS: What about the consumer?
Damian: When it came to the consumer side of things, when it actually got to market, the feedback was great. People really love the shoes. I get amazing emails from people. It seems to be really good. I’m super excited about that.
Damian: That boot came about from a dream. I just had an idea of making a classic boot. When you work with the materials we work with, I always think about what we can do next and how the EVA will work with another silhouette. When I thought about that classic hiker style, I knew what I wanted and it just came out the way you see. It was a pretty painless process to get the boot done and into the market. Generally, that type of boot is expensive and requires some working in. It is nice and refreshing to get the style light and easy to wear. I personally like it a lot.
People wondered what we could do for winter, thinking Native a summer brand. So, we just flipped the script and people were tripping on the boot. We are just trying to build and lay our DNA in product that is special.
HS: I’m interested in the manufacturing of Native Footwear, and I wonder how quickly you are able to react to the market and immediate style interests?
Damian: Right now, because we are a small company… and with any small company that is one of the benefits, you can react with the market and go places larger businesses can’t go… that helps us react quick. Our lead for design is 5 to 6 months. It might take a larger company 16 months. I think basically, being small is key and riding momentum in the industry.
When we launched we magically arrived at a moment when a lot of brands were trying to do light shoes. We were then able to ride an amazing wave of momentum. Light sells these days. Kids walk into stores and pick up shoes and go on weight.
HS: You see the classic silhouettes and the light weight, but there is also a back story about low-emission manufacturing and limited waste. What’s your interest in sustainability and environment and how does it relate to what you’re doing at Native?
Damian: It was kind of an organic thing for us. I started this brand on my own, traveling to China to deal with the factories and work with them on problems. In the market as a whole, everyone is trying to streamline the process. Less components to make a shoe. I wasn’t thinking on that level, but what I was making just naturally had less components. With the first few shoes we did, it was a one piece injection mold with virtually no waste. Everything that went into the mold made the shoe. Whether the factory burns coal or gas is another concern. Also, how you ship the product, pack the product. Those things are more important than trying to sell the green dream. A lot of the green stuff I’d like to do in the future has less to do with the product and more to do with programs like 1% for the world. The shoes are an artery to do better in the world.
HS: Some of the companies that trade on a sustainable platform that I’m most impressed with are those that are upfront about their shipping and direct with consumers about their energy consumption.
Damian: I’d like to have, just like they have nutrition facts on food, that sort of information on my shoe boxes. By Spring 2012, I’d like a label that explains everything about the shoe, how it got shipped, and all of that stuff… be really transparent. I’m done with the age where people can bullshit with their product, it is time to be upfront and let people know what we’re doing. 90% of the shoe industry uses EVA everyday, but we minimize the wastage and I think that is a big point to bring up.
HS: Tell me a little about the decision to expand to kid’s sizes.
Damian: The main reason is – Native for me can offer products that isn’t just for cool guys that line up around the block. Everyone around me is having kids, and I wanted for this brand to be something fun for everyone and one that promotes camaraderie.
Damian: I’ve always bought shoes. I stopped buying big sneaker brands in the mid-90s because they became super expensive. Or, with things like limited editions, it just got a little boring. It was a concern, that came from a desire to make shoes with a nice aesthetic for a good price. I thought that was the only way to get your product in the hands of many people.
HS: Have you ever thought of a style and thought, “Shit, that won’t work.”?
Damian: When I design, I’m really freestyling this stuff. I’m in the factory in China just kicking out ideas. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Each season I’ll have like two shoes I just can’t pull off. Sometimes they are just impossible.
HS: What’s your process of picking colors? I think there is inherent trend tracking in the silhouettes, despite the classic nature, and believe there must be something similar going on with color.
Damian: When it comes to color, I just think these are the perfect shoes for color. A lot of the market likes a darker color, and still with us that tends to sell the most, but I like to show color and inject it in our line. From my perspective, when I started the industry goes with this trend forecasting with color and if you don’t hit the mark it kind of throws buyers off. I always picked colors that I like. I don’t necessarily want to confirm to trend casting, but sometimes that raises eyebrows. We try and keep things consistent on the dark and have a few crazy ones to fulfill that appetite.
HS: What is the crazy for Spring 2011?
Damian: There are some great pastels, including Confetti Purple, which is a light lavender.