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Footwear February, 11 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Pierre Andre Senizergues Talks éS and Its Unusual Brand Behavior

Since it’s launch in 1995, Sole Technology’s éS brand has become one of the most adored skateboarding footwear labels of all time. But in 2012, the company shocked the skate world when it announced it would be going on what its owner and founder Pierre Andre Senizergues referred to as “creative retreat” – effectively shelving the brand and its team to the surprise and dismay of global fans and retailers. But late last year, éS silently resurfaced in Japan where it released a limited run of its popular Accel model to select skate shops around the country. On February 14, éS will be offering one hundred global retailers a similar opportunity to carry the brand via a new, Accel-inspired model. In light of the brand’s latest move, we reached out to Senizergues to find out more about éS and its unusual brand behavior.

What really happened back in 2012 when you decided to take éS off the global market and put it into what you called, “creative retreat?” In past interviews you cited tough economic conditions as playing a role in the decision. How much of the decision was economic based and how much of it had to do with the need to retool the brand itself?

In 2012 I decided to put éS on creative retreat. It’s fair to say that tough economic conditions played a part in us looking at things. It was sort of the opposite of what we did in the ’90s.  We had etnies but we created éS and Emerica so that the market would have more skate footwear brands made by skateboarders to build the market.  A few years ago, I felt there were way too many things going on in the market and we needed to rethink about éS and footwear in general so we took it away for a time so we could really think about what the market needed and how éS best fit into it. But as we went on retreat we were surprised by how many people were asking about the brand and who were also wanting shoes.

What does “creative retreat” mean exactly?

The concept of the “creative retreat” is basically just making a space with a free format where we can be independent and do what we want. We want to get back to this place – a place just like in skateboarding where you’re extremely free, independent and can create.

Couldn’t you have been more creative with the brand and still kept it on the market? Why did you have to go into retreat to do that?

When you’re on the market you have deadlines and certain things you have to do at certain times for retailers and factories. When you’re in a retreat you’re in a creative space where you don’t have to do those things. You can just do what you want with product, design and just have fun. That’s the difference.

So was there something you perceived as creatively wrong with the brand? Was there something specific that needed fixing or retooling?

No, there was nothing creatively wrong with the brand.  I think there were just too many brands. When we came into the Great Recession we decided it was time to move back. It’s given us time to think, get back to the foundation of éS and look at a different way of doing business in this market.

How involved has your design team been with the brand since it’s gone into retreat?

During this creative retreat we’ve been designing shoes and having fun with how we feel skate shoes should look in the future. But is was interesting seeing how much demand there was out there for the product after we took it off the market. We knew it was a good brand but we never realized it was so iconic. We were just in the trenches making it happen and never realized it. That was the moment where we woke up and realized how much we had built.  You can never imagine how hard it was for me and the team to make the decision we made to go into creative retreat.  I have two children but all of my brands are also like children and it was so very difficult to do.  But what kept us going these past two years is to know that we were going to return éS to our fans one day. That kept us focused, creating and designing. The process has not stopped.

Recently a limited run of the éS Accel popped up in a handful of stores in Japan. How did that happen? Why was it brought out of retreat for a one-off retail drop in Asia?

We kept seeing this demand at retail for éS and there was a particularly strong demand coming from Japan – so we dropped some shoes in Japan back in November. They wanted the original Accel so we re-released all of the original colors – four colors that were the shoe’s original colors and one new color. It became the number one selling shoe right away in the stores we were selling to. We were really surprised.

Why supply just the demand in Japan? Wasn’t there demand elsewhere too?

It was because Japan kept asking us for it day in and day out. They never stopped asking and so one day I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” There was no big plan behind it, so I figured let’s give them what they want. It’s really what got us thinking about bringing out some of the new designs we had been working on in our creative retreat and making some for everyone. A few months later, here we are. We started in 1995 and we’ve been on the market for 19 years. Sometimes you think about how the brand is today but you can’t forget all the people who loved the brand in the past. I think the demand is there for everything that we’ve done. And, we’ll see this week if the demand is still strong around the world beyond Japan. From what we’re seeing online, I’m feeling hopeful.

So with demand all over, it sounds like this move in Japan was more of a marketing play – like a popular band getting back together to play a reunion show for one night in Tokyo. What’s really going on here? Is this marketing fireworks or what?

It’s definitely not a boy band tactic but it’s a good question. (laughs) When we took it off the market, we felt that the brand needed to go underground but we just didn’t realize how iconic it was. We didn’t intend for it to be that way but that’s how it came out. When it’s something you love you want it even more. With that in mind we decided we wanted to drop these shoes in Japan, because as I mentioned, they never stopped asking for it. There was no big plan, we just decided to give them what they wanted.

The big announcement now is that éS will now be offering select shops around the world a similar opportunity with a new Accel-inspired shoe. What’s the story behind that?

We are now dropping new éS styles globally because the demand is so strong but it’s not a re-launch. On February 14 we’ll be dropping shoes in the U.S. It will drop in only 30 U.S. stores and another 70 around the world for a total of 100 stores – so it’s extremely limited. We’ll be releasing three new styles and each style will be available in only two colors. These colors will never be made again. It’s for people who love the brand and it’s also a collector’s item. Each store will receive an average of eight pairs per style and per color. It’s easy to put a new color on a heritage shoe style but since we’re still on creative retreat we decided to show some of the new designs that are inspired from the Accel – otherwise, where’s the design creativity? I hope people can look at the shoe for its details- that’s where the love was put in. That’s why we’ve been posting the design details on social media – so people know we’re focusing on making the best shoes. The entire construction, the fine details of design and every inch was thought out and gone over painstakingly. We really looked at it as craftsmanship and a labor of love.

Why do you think the Accel is so popular? What about that style in particular is attractive to skaters and people in general?

It’s about the style and then about the construction with the board feel, the cushioning and the durability. That’s why the new shoes we’re dropping ended up taking a lot of the DNA from the Accel. The Accel is what people are looking for and out of the creative retreat we reengineered the design to give a fresh perspective on an iconic style.

So if there’s this unforeseen demand popping up all over does that cause you to reconsider the decision to shelve the brand? Why don’t you just bring it back out again if the whole world seems to want?

We’re doing this strictly for the love and because people are asking for it and a lot of it is for the skate retailers. Instead of doing it just for us, we’re also doing it for the community. It’s for the love of designing, skateboarding and the community. We do plenty of shoes with etnies and Emerica. With éS we’re just doing whatever we feel is good to do. We don’t have any solid plans, we’re just looking to create amazing footwear and talk directly to the skate community about what they want. That’s going to determine what our next steps will be. I love that we have social media today and can have these amazing and direct conversations with our fans and they can tell us what they want.

What happens after this limited global release? Does éS go back underground until it decides to satisfy another demand spike somewhere?

We’re still on “creative retreat” and we’re still watching the market. We might drop another color along the way. We just want to keep it free with no timeline and stay independent with what we’re doing.

Interview by Cullen Poythress

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