We caught up with Stefan Janoski in the French capital to learn more about his skateboarding roots, early sneaker impressions and more.
During his brief trip to Paris, we caught up with the skater most know through his signature shoe with Nike SB - the Nike SB Stefan Janoski. A force in skating for the better part of 10 years, the man behind the phenomenally successful sneaker is about as nonchalant as you'd expect from a California skater who now calls Brooklyn home. On the heels of the release of the Nike SB "Flash" pack, we present a quick informative Q&A with the man whose last name is more often than not mispronounced. Check it out below.
Describe the skating scene around you growing up.
The skating scene was like four people. Me, my friend Josh and maybe like four to five other guys at different times. That was basically just a crew and that was it. I lived in the country, too, so I lived like far away from even Vacaville. I didn't even live in a shitty town, I lived in the country. All I wanted was to live in a neighborhood with cement but all I had was an asphalt road and dirt everywhere, so I would skate on the asphalt road.
What were you influenced by then and where did you find inspiration?
Well luckily Vacaville is really close to San Francisco so after I started skating a lot I would go to SF. My dad and my mom were divorced so every other weekend I would go to SF, skate Embarcadero, and that was when SF was the capital of skating, around ’93. Now it's Hollywood - I don't know why - but back then it was SF and it was really cool and luckily I got to go. So being from Vacaville I got to see the real world, too.
Hufnagel was around then, too.
Yeah, he was there and that's when he was skating brown marble. Ollying up and tre-flipping to the next and there was Embarcadero and the Black Rock. It was just all the most amazing spots. So yeah we'd take trips and when I turned 16 I had a car so we'd just drive up there all the time. If it rained we'd drive to the next town, called Concord, because they had parking garages since Vacaville didn't have parking garages because it was so small.
Do you remember what kind of shoes you were wearing?
I know I had some shell-toes when I was young but I also remember I got a lot of FILAs and weird Nikes at Ross.
And you bought them with the intention of skating in them?
Yeah, I think so. Back then the shoe style was more like they are now, slim and low. It was right before it got into the big puffy phase and that kind of died. I don‘t really remember that many shoes specifically, I know I had some shell-toes with duct tape wrapped around the front (laughs).
If my name is involved then you have to do it exactly how I say or we're not doing it at all.
In the past you mentioned that companies were making skate shoes before they were even aware they were making skate shoes. Do you remember which ones you were referring to?
Nike probably made some of the first skate shoes without even knowing it. But so did a lot of the companies because there's not the skate shoe - there's not even such thing as skate shoes - they're just shoes and if they don't have heels on em you can probably skate in them. So it's like every company made really good skate shoes but then they messed it up when they tried to make "skate shoes." They didn't notice the fact that everyone was already liking the shoes they made and then they tried to make skate shoes full of stuffing.
The Nike Dunk has a way better tongue than the SB Dunk because people think they need a lot of stuffing in the tongue to skateboard. I don't know who's using the top of their feet for what but all it does is make my pants look bad.
You experienced some resistance from Nike when initially designing the shoe. What were some of these disagreements?
Well, they had their own idea of what the shoe would look like and I said no because I had really specific ideas. When something is my signature thing, then I'm like, "alright, if it's mine, then it's fucking mine!" If not, then that's it. If my name is involved then you have to do it exactly how I say or we're not doing it at all.
You also wanted to have a cupsole instead of a vulcanized sole, correct?
Yeah, they tried to do a cupsole but it was before they could do fake vulcs. I was just really adamant about having a flat toe because I just really hate when the toe sticks up at all. With the cupsoles at the time, we couldn't get the toe - there was always this little upper part - so we had to go to vulcanized.
What about the leather laces? Was that just a luxury kind of thing?
They just looked really perfect with the shoe and the whole boat shoe vibe. I thought that was so cool when they all came with them, but I guess it's a little too expensive for how many shoes they're making. The original ones still come with them though, and then some premium versions still have them, too.
They always talk to me about it and I'm down for everything. I come up with some colorways here and there but they make a new colorway every day, so it's hard to keep track. In the beginning I was way more involved because there was only a couple of colors. I was really trying to figure out the colors but now there's so many I can't keep track - I've never ever have seen these before! (laughs)
My whole thing is, "are you gonna keep the black and white original ones?" And they go "yes," so I go, "fucking make a high heel as far as I care - I want to make a stiletto." If you're gonna keep the OG silhouette, then you can do anything. Same with the Lunarlon: "are we keeping the original?" Aight, cool! "Air Max, you keeping the original?" Yeah! "Alright do it!" I'm open to doing anything now; polka-dot, pink chambray and glow-in-the-dark, whatever, just as long as there's still black and white. Why not have fun?
You make art as well. Do you ever use any of your own work?
I did this shoe for the #BeTrue campaign, to stop ignorance, and I used my own handwriting. I wrote "Be True" a bunch of times and they printed that onto the shoes. That was actually the most personal one because my own handwriting was on the shoe. But I haven't done any art really on a shoe yet, just colors. I should do some more of that.
What about using Nikes other technologies (like Flyknit)?
I'm sure they're gonna do it, if they haven't already done it. Nike and I are really close right now and they're down to try everything. I'm sure there'll be Flyknit and bullet proof. Who knows?
What do you think are the biggest changes in the skate shoe industry in the 20+ years you've been skating?
The fact that shoes are the sponsor now. It's almost like boards are meaningless sponsors and it's so weird because that's what it is now. It's all shoes now, shoes run everything. Nowadays you don't even need a board company, shoes have just taken over everything.
Do you have a favorite model of your shoe?
Yeah, just the black and white original ones are my favorite. Also, the velcro. I think velcro is the best.
Those seem to be divisive, using velcro over laces.
Yeah but it's actually way more functional for everything, not only for skating. You don't ruin your laces, they don't come untied and they make your foot feel like a slip-on. It's just like better, looks cool and I think velcro is the future. The past is the future and the future is velcro.
One last question. How do you actually pronounce your name?