In the world of streetwear and sneakers, the multi-hyphenate visionary is king. The most famous example would be Virgil Abloh, who has gone from architecture to DJing, sneaker design, fashion design, product design, and more. Another example is Tom Sachs, the multi-faceted contemporary artist whose Nike collabs, the Mars Yard Shoe and Mars Yard Overshoe, feel somehow beyond mere footwear.
Like Sachs, skateboarder Stefan Janoski’s signature Nike SB shoes are only one small part of his portfolio. When he isn’t skateboarding, Janoski occupies himself recording music, writing books, and creating sculptures, paintings, and pool floats. His uncompromising vision gave us 2009’s Nike SB Zoom Janoski, a skate shoe brought to life by Janoski and designer James Arizumi after a lot of struggle, and now the Air Max Janoski 2.
The OG Janoski has been one of Nike SB’s most successful models beyond the Dunk and is probably the Swoosh sublabel’s best-known signature model. Nike is celebrating 10 years of Janoskis not only with the follow-up, but also with the launch of the Janoski Remastered (RM) collection, featuring the OG in four different styles: slip-on, Velcro, low-top laced, and mid-top laced.
To mark the occasion, the skateboarder opened up Garage Janoski, a free indoor skate park tucked away in the backstreets of Paris. We caught up with the man himself in Paris to dig a little deeper into the complicated story of a shoe that has become a modern skate classic.
I was talking to James Arizumi and he was explaining the technical details of the Janoski. It sounds like making it wasn’t an easy process.
It wasn’t easy. Well, it was easy for me, but it was hard for them [Nike SB].
Why was it easy for you?
I’m just kidding. Well, it was easy because I knew what I wanted. The thing that wasn’t easy was getting what I wanted. I was like, “I want this.” And they were like, “No, you get this.” I said no and then they said no and then they said yes. [Laughs]
What you created is 10 years old and still going off. Surely that’s a result of that integrity. Had you not stuck to your guns and been a bit difficult, it wouldn’t have happened.
What was it like going into the initial design stage?
Well, the initial meeting was Nike calling and being like, “You’re going to get a shoe.” And at the initial interview, they just handed one to me, like, “Here’s your shoe.” But it wasn’t this. [Points to the Janoski RM] It was something else. It looked like Nike tried to copy something that already existed, which is a crazy thing right there. Nike doesn’t need to copy something that already exists, you know what I’m saying?
They tried to make it very skate, but the thing was, skate shoes at the time weren’t very good or cool. They were very puffy, had tonnes of padding in the tongue and a bulky toe.
So when did you transition to lighter, thinner shoes?
Initially, I think I was just wearing stuff I saw other people wearing. I was like 13 or 14, going to San Francisco, and seeing what all the pro guys were wearing, and I would basically copy them. But as I grew up and started skating for myself, I started having preferences. At first, when you start getting free stuff, it’s like I would’ve worn anything. When you gave me free shoes, it was like… it could’ve had spikes on and I would’ve worn it.
So that was the first thing, like, “Yay, free stuff!” But then you get older and start having preferences and your own personal style. So by the time I got on Nike, I’d been pro already for a long time. I had my own personal style and flavor. I knew exactly what kind of shoe I wanted to make.
Did you have to push for it? Was Nike up for it?
No, they weren’t up for it. They didn’t like it. I think they finally just gave in. They were like, “Just give it to him.” [Laughs]
How dramatic did it get?
[Laughs] Just temper tantrums. But it doesn’t matter. It was kind of fun. It has its funny stories. But I was like, “You guys are Nike. You can do anything in the world. Just do it!”
Nike [SB] didn’t have any slim shoes in their entire line at the time. I would go to NikeTown and get non-SB shoes because they had less stuffing in the tongue and were actually better for skating. Usually when a company makes a shoe for skating, they just stuff a bunch of unnecessary bulk in it and are like, “Here you go.” Nike, adidas, Converse — they were making skate shoes before they ever knew they were making skate shoes.
How did it feel the first time you put on the finished Janoski sample?
Oh man, it was great. I wore them for a year. I never gave the samples back. James [Arizumi] always says that. I just skated the first samples till they were unwearable. I might still have them somewhere.
Arizumi told me that the first time he showed the shoe to other people at Nike, they were like, “Where’s the visible tech? Where’s the Flywire?” It’s nuts that all of that exists, only hidden inside the shoe.
What’s your favorite performance aspect of the shoe?
I always say this: I have the best tongue of all skateboarding shoes. The best tongue because there’s nothing there. It’s just a little piece of leather. It doesn’t make your pants look bad. It’s just nice and simple. The long flat toe is a big one for me, too.
When the first Janoski came out, I noticed the toe box was super flat…
Yeah, I really do not like when it puffs up. I just want it flat. Flat toe, flat toe, flat toe. No toe bulge. Originally, we wanted to do cup soles, and that’s why they took so long to make. The first time we tried to do it on a cup sole, it took like a year, but it wasn’t working. So we had to go vulcanized. Now you can make that shape of shoe with a cup sole, but back then you couldn’t.
When things weren’t working out, did you lose faith at all?
I wasn’t really stressing about it. I was totally willing to not have a shoe. It was either the way I wanted it or no shoe at all, and that was it. That was my thing. I wasn’t like, “I need a shoe!” [Nike] asked me to do a shoe. So I was like, “Alright, you want me to do a shoe; it has to be exactly what I want because it’s my shoe or no shoe.”
That’s bold. A lot of people would do anything to have a Nike signature shoe and just want it out ASAP. What inspired you to take that approach?
That’s just always how I’ve been. I didn’t become a pro skater to make money. I became a pro skater so I could keep skateboarding. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I want to get this good job because it’s got great benefits.” It’s like, “I only want to skate and never be without a job.” So I have to ride for companies that pay me so I can only skate.
You’re just supporting the lifestyle you want to live really. The money isn’t the end goal. The money is the tool for doing your thing. Riding for Nike SB was a steady way for me to keep skateboarding forever. It’s hard to make money in skateboarding. I didn’t design the Nike SB Janoski for anyone. I was just very selfish and wanted to make the shoe for myself, and that was it. I just made what I wanted.
It’s rare for someone to have a job that’s also a passion project they won’t compromise their integrity for. For example, you might make a sculpture and take as long as you want to finish it, but for this, you were essentially putting your financial ability to keep skating on the line just to keep creative control.
That’s true, but I didn’t know that. I wasn’t being strategic. Everyone, when you tell them you skate, they’re like, “Well, how long is that going to last? How are you going to make money?” But for myself and a lot of skateboarders, we’re just like, “We’ll deal with it later.” We’re not planning ahead really.
What would you do if it all collapsed?
Probably just try to do art and music, I guess.
Would you have a Stefan Janoski studio? Like a Tom Sachs kind of thing.
Yeah! I want one of those now. [Laughs]
If you had one, what would be your studio rules?
The first rule: it’s private. I don’t know… I’d want a kiln master. I want a kiln. I want to make ceramic sculptures, but I haven’t done that. In my dream studio, I have a kiln master and he can use [the kiln] really well, so I can make the sculptures and he can make sure they don’t break.
Have you ever thought about bringing that into skating?
Yeah! Right now, I’m trying to combine them. I’ve been coming up with a lot of ideas for sculptures that you can skate. But they have to be big, so there are financing issues. [Laughs] Maybe next time you interview me, we’ll be talking about the skateable sculptures around the world.
How would you feel about it getting skated? Is it weird designing something like a skate shoe that’s going to get all beaten up?
That’s why I’d want to make it. I want to make it so it can be skated. For shoes, I know it sucks for kids and for parents because skateboarding messes them up. Really bad. I guess it’s good for business. [Laughs]
One thing Arizumi mentioned was removing the Swoosh for the Janoski RMs. He said people might think it’s a fashion decision, but it really meant manufacturing one element fewer, reducing the shoe to two simple layers. Is that true?
Less anything on the shoe is good. The first sample actually didn’t have a Swoosh, so these [Janoski RMs] are actually going back to that.
It was perforated on the first sample, but James and I both decided we had to have the Swoosh on there for the first one. Because the thing that made it so different was that it was a Nike that looks like this, you know? The Swoosh was important for it. It’s a good design but it’s not a “changing the world” design. It’s just a classic, timeless shoe. With a Swoosh, it made it different because it looks different than every other [Nike] shoe. It was like: sports, sports, sports, sports, classy, sports, sports, sports, sports.
So in a way, the Janoski RM comes back to your preferred design for the shoe.
You’re now one of the older, wiser skateboarders out there. Do you mentor anyone, or would you?
Yeah. I’m open to any questions people have about my experience pro skating. I mean, jeez, there’s so many different ways to be a pro skater. There’s like different genres of pro skating now.
Is there anyone in the younger generation you’re hyped on right now?
Finally, were there any unsung heroes that helped get the Janoski made?
I’d say Mark Oblow. He was there from the start. He was definitely a sort of mentor figure for me. Some of my first meetings with skate companies were just me, Mark, and my dog. [Laughs]
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