We Found The Center Of The Surf/Skate/Fashion Venn Diagram
A very fashionable drop from Globe and Austyn Gillette
In surfing, as in life, two empirical truths remain, regardless of era, niche, or cultural shifts: Timing is everything and style matters.
What makes for a successful fin drift if not a considered coupling of speed and distance? And what makes it pretty if not an artful arm flare? These same laws of aesthetics apply to urban and alpine canvases as well, with extra points awarded for lack of facial expression, claim, or egoic evidence.
Professional skater and FORMER co-founder, Austyn Gillette has built a career on this idea, developing a reputation for his personal style and a work ethic which rivals that of his prowess in the streets, whether or not he intended to.
We took some time with the skater, singer, and Stab High commentator, shortly after the release of his latest pro model shoe — the Gillette Mid — with Globe. We chatted design, style influences, and what the middle of a surf-and-skate sandwich tastes like. He also shared some hot tips for next-gen pro-athlete aspirants. Here’s our convo.
Cori: Obviously, Stab is a surf publication but there’s a lot of audience interest in ‘how the sausage gets made’ if you’ll excuse the crude phrase. For instance, one of the reasons people appreciate Dane Reynolds so much is his transparency — his openness about his doubts and struggles in surfing and running a business. It makes him relatable, despite being on the uppermost echelon of talent.
That said, I’d love to get some insight into the process of designing your new shoe with Globe – where did your interest in product design and fashion initially come from?
Austyn: I think I probably started caring about it around age 20, from exposure to older friends and a lot of people I was spending time outside of skateboarding who simply had other interests, whether it was music or design… I was pretty quickly drawn to the design part.
At that time, I had just lost a clothing sponsor — Quiksilver had canned their whole skate program — and was in the midst of working with a designer just to make clothes for myself. I was already pretty much cutting everything up or deep-diving into thrift shops for certain fits and specific things that I thought would be useful for me at the time, and functional.
C: Apparently that interest extended to footwear as well. The Globe Gillette Mid obviously isn’t your first pro shoe. What learnings did you take from your previous designs and apply this time around?
A: I did a lot of research outside of skateboarding, and there are a lot of details that went into it. There are the simple ones that people notice, like the rectangular eyelets – I don’t think that existed in skateboarding, or I’ve never seen it. I’m pretty sure it was from a hiking shoe… I don’t want to name companies but it definitely wasn’t in skateboarding at that time. Pretty much everything that I pulled from for that shoe — down to the materials — had nothing to do with skateboarding. I was just pulling from things so that, if you looked at a wall, not only would it not look like anything that Globe had ever made, but anything else that was sitting on that wall either. That was super important.
C: It certainly doesn’t look like many other skate shoes on the market. Would you mind going into further detail about the influences behind the design of the Mid specifically?
A: I pulled a lot from some fashion brands as well as some basketball features — mainly just lines that I really liked. The Jordan 11 has these lines that, if you look at my shoe, it has this 3-D printed resin that goes around the shoe that’s like a wrap. It has this wavy design that I personally hadn’t seen in a while, at least in skateboarding. So that was a defining feature that I thought would also be functional.
I’ve also always liked wax canvas laces. Some people prefer leather but I have trouble with my laces tending to rip a lot. So we also made the throat of the shoe — where you tie the laces — a little more narrow, so it sits higher on the shoe. This is so that when you’re skating, the grip tape tends to hit the laces less.
The feedback that I’ve gotten most has been about how comfortable the shoe is, and I think a lot of that has to do with the insole, which is a bit more costly but that was super important to me. I’ve just had a lot of knee and ankle injuries, so I was doing anything to ensure that wouldn’t happen again.
There are also the tri-oval inlets on the side that were a feature on one of Globe’s Chet Thomas shoes, which came out when I was a little kid. I probably bought, I don’t know…20 pairs of ’em. I thought would be cool to throw on some sort of heritage detail that people could reference and be like, “Okay, I know that’s a Globe shoe because of that.” I thought that was super important, instead of trying to design a shoe that doesn’t show any brand DNA. But it’s subtle.
C: Would you say that this shoe is the ‘ultimate’ shoe in terms of design and something with your signature on it?
A: It’s close to it. Things are always evolving…but in a perfect world, hopefully, it becomes a heritage shoe with the brand. I’d like to create something timeless rather than timely; instead of chasing something that’s current and present. I’d rather have something that could kind of stand the test of time.
C: By having associations with the likes of Dane and Craig and being an integral part of the team behind FORMER, you exist in this liminal space between surf and skate cultures. What do you see as the crossover in the middle of that Venn diagram?
A: I think that’s why we started FORMER – we saw that crossover. We started it as a media company that needed to sell something [laughs] in order to fund films that would affect people. Dane, Craig, and I’ve been making videos independently for our whole careers. Maybe that was our value to some of those companies – that we were allowed to do the things that we wanted to do and they seemed to have a big effect on people and hopefully inspire them.
Along the way, we’ve become more passionate about clothes and more particular about how and where we need to sit in the market to make sure that we don’t become predictable or generic. There isn’t one piece from each collection that we don’t all touch, see, name, or have a vote on. Hopefully, that’s how it translates because that’s what it is. I’m pretty happy with where things are at and that we’re still able to control these things.
C: I imagine all of that experience goes somewhere. Were you able to utilize any of that in your partnership with Globe?
A: Absolutely. I think being able to use the programs too has helped a lot. I’ll sit over shoulders and I have sat over many shoulders over the past, you know, seven, eight years, wanting to know how they do what they do and why this thing works and what goes into it. I don’t want to do all of those things, I don’t want to take these people’s jobs, but it’s been so helpful to learn how to use Illustrator and work with Tech Packs and work remotely through COVID.
It was difficult to design without working with a designer in person or seeing all the materials, but yeah, that’s definitely helped out a lot. I love looking at line plans and PDFs of anybody really just pushing any sort of idea and seeing how that’s able to translate. Being able to get your point across in a PDF without having to talk is a very valuable thing. So I’ve loved learning that process and it’s helped a lot with design as well.
C: Speaking of PDFs, you mentioned in your Nine Club interview–
A: You watched that?
C: Yeah… research!
You mentioned that you presented Globe with a proposal or a pitch about what you thought their skate program should look like.
A: Oh yeah. The deck’s really interesting. [Laughs]
I haven’t looked at it in a long time, but it was like 20-something pages. It was every single detail, down to the social copy, website design, how I see the brand, how they should speak to the public, what the website should look like, what the Instagram should look like, what the URL should be, what the catalogs need to look like… I didn’t really skip a beat. All of that stuff was super important to me and still is.
But [Globe] has so much history in skateboarding and it started in skateboarding so I thought that, with all the other companies that kind of like wave the flag of that, a company like Globe should absolutely do that.
C: It seems like there’s a new breed of professional athlete that is a hybrid of athlete, brand ambassador, as well as an in-house part of the company — yourself included. Someone who’s making different moves than the average athlete may have 10 or 15 years ago. Do you see that as the future of what it means to be a pro skater or surfer?
A: A lot of people have managers. I have a manager as well but, for me, that was the easiest way to get my point across. I felt like with a brand that big, they needed something like that in order for me to be heard. But do I think that skateboarders make their own brand deck? [Laughs] I don’t think that that’s very common. I think that that’s only for a certain type of person.
C: Well, it clearly worked out for you and Globe.
A: Yeah. They have consistently trusted me with a lot of stuff. So, it’s thanks to them and hopefully, I’m of value to them.
C: In professional sports, and surf and skating in particular, a lot of people have a hard time making it over a certain age gap and continuing to have a career. A lot of athletes reach their peak in their twenties and then there’s this hump in the thirties that not many make it past. What advice would you give, if any, to the up-and-coming generation about finding longevity?
A: Develop your own individuality and don’t look at your phone. [Laughs] That would probably help. Obviously, you’re going to have people that you’re inspired by and that’s fine too, but that already happened. We don’t need that again. We don’t need what is happening right now, again. Everybody in skating looks exactly the same. Maybe it’s the same in surfing, I have no clue.
But I feel like the people that do make it over the hump are people that challenge the viewers and the people that look up to them. Like, if they’re constantly challenged, then they’re going to either be excited or conflicted with it, but it’ll at least make them consider, “What the fuck am I doing that’s so unique? Why is there value?”
Like, I don’t see the value in a lot of these things. I don’t see the value in looking exactly like everybody else. There are not many people that stand out, which I think is a good thing.
C: How so?
A: Of those, fuck, hundreds of thousands of skateboarders, I could maybe list 10 in their early 20s, that have a developed style and that have something going for them. If they continue on that path, it’s gonna be pretty exciting to see what they do. Besides that, it’s all just mush.
I think it offers a lot and a lot of people that surf and skate have a lot of drive and that transfers to work ethic. And that’s pretty useful. Even when I’m doing simple things — it could be with anything — I find myself being pretty self-competitive. And I think that is because of skateboarding.
Austyn’s signature collection combines ageless aesthetics, keen attention to detail, and practicality — all in a muted, core-pleasing palette. To view Austyn’s full collection and favorites, click here.
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