If there was an understatement to be made about the past half a decade–probably more–it would be that being a footwear brand within the industry’s current climate is no easy feat. With other major brands dominating the landscape and giving no room for much else, to be a brand that’s trying to compete in the marketplace is near impossible. That’s why SUPRA, the storied skate-centric company has gone and done the only sensible thing in times like these. Instead of jumping on any bandwagons or adhere to the ever-thirsty trend cycle, SUPRA have buckled down and focused on what they know best: the integration of lifestyle into skate shoe, which is how they’ve landed themselves as the brand that has effectively altered the industry landscape.
With a goal set to to make the best damn skate shoe there is, while still remaining aesthetically conscious–let’s not forget the impact the Skytops made on the lifestyle realm when it was first introduced–the brand’s latest endeavor, the Skytop V, is just that. And a lot of it comes in part to the design talents of Adam Contreras, SUPRA’s Lead Designer. Working closely with legendary skater, turned artist and SUPRA’s OG ambassador Chad Muska, Contreras and team have put in more effort and development into the Skytop V than any other predeceasing silhouette. And if there’s anyone (other than Chad of course) that would know how to do that, it’s Contreras.
Having started off at SUPRA’s co-founder Angel Cabada’s now defunct other store 413 packing boxes, the then budding designer worked his way up to being in the formidable role he’s in today. If he’s not working around the clock tirelessly developing the future of skate shoe design, you’ll find the incredibly humble dude either at the Standard hotel or some cozy dive bar having a pint or two. With that hobby in common, Adam and I kicked it off easy, where I was then able to pick his brains at just what the creating the new Skytop V–SUPRA’s most developed shoe yet–meant to him, what working with Chad Muska is like, and where one goes next after accomplishing the “best.” Read our exclusive interview with the Lead Designer below, and check out the photo and video (by Zach Surprenant) recap down below of the official launch of SUPRA’s Skytop V held in Berlin.
In your own words, how would you describe where SUPRA is as a footwear brand today?
It’s pretty much a take on the classic shoe. Well, that’s how it all started, and we’ve definitely evolved from that. But as a brand, we know now that we can’t just come out with just a normal looking classic shoe. We’re now putting a lot more into it, a lot more thought behind the designs, the materials… So yeah, ultimately we’re now doing big twists on classics.
The last time we spoke to Chad Muska, he mentioned that there was a definitely a lot more focus on the technicality and performance of the newer shoes.
He’s definitely right. We takes treat things as a project-to-project. Obviously price point plays a big part of it, but specifically with Chad’s shoe, it was a lot of engineering from the inside. It was making sure there were all the qualities of a good skate shoe from the inside, but on the outside, it looked more futuristic and different from what you would normally see in that market. That’s a question I get a lot actually, where people ask me “can you really skate in this thing?” You can, because we’ve built it as a skate shoe from the inside.
“I literally worked my way up through the company. I didn’t have any schooling or anything. This was all completely organic.”
So it’s safe to say that the goal is to make first a foremost a skate shoe, and then the aesthetic part comes after to make it look great as well?
Yeah, exactly. Well actually, so the starting point with this was actually a lot more running inspired. The more and more we dove into it–the more we developed it–we both came to the realization that hey, this is SUPRA, so this needs to be a skate shoe, and then it almost became more of a challenge to where it was like, “Ok… how can we make this look futuristic, but at the same time skate super well.
How did you land yourself in the Lead Designer role within the company?
So one of the founders of SUPRA is Angel [Cabada], and when he started the company, he had a store on Fairfax called 413, and I had moved from Utah and actually started packing boxes for him there. And then one day I simply asked him if i could start doing colorways for SUPRA, and from that I went through all sorts of positions like dealing with SMU’s and such. I literally worked my way up through the company. I didn’t have any schooling or anything. This was all completely organic.
While the brand comes with its own story/history, what’s something that you brought to the brand – how did you personally help shape SUPRA?
I guess my background is a little bit more diverse… I grew up skateboarding , but I wasn’t just a skateboarder. I’m also grew up liking fashion, design, etc. So I was always doing all these things at the same time, instead of focusing 100% of your time on one thing–I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. But because of that, I bring all these different perspectives into SUPRA.
You work very closely with Chad on designing SUPRA’s shoes. Can you describe the relationship in a nutshell?
So when I mentioned that I used to work at 413, Chad actually co-owned that store with Angel, so I had known Chad for a long time. But back then it was on more of a friend level. But I mean now we pretty much talk on the phone a couple of times a week, hang out depending on how busy we are, just to hang out and talk. But in terms of designing the shoe together, it kind of worked out perfect because we’re both exactly on the same level as far as what we wanted out of the shoe. We also look at a lot of the same inspiration references as well. So it all happened really easily in terms of collaborating with someone on making a shoe.
So when it comes down to the collaboration aspect of making this shoe, how much input is there between you guys and SUPRA as a whole?
That’s a hard question to answer as it’s all organic in the process. I know that Chad definitely knew what he wanted out of the shoe–he had a rough silhouette all ready. And there’s definitely certain elements with the new shoe that tie back to all of the previous Skytops, so that was important to him. But all in all, it’s good to be able to collaborate with someone that’s like minded, to where every time we both got involved, it was us coming together to literally make the best shoe that SUPRA’s ever made..
Speaking about the design of the shoe, Chad has gone through changes in his overall aesthetic approach, where he’s currently focusing on minimalism (less is more). Where do you stand on the minimalistic approach? Did you agree from the beginning, or was this something you both worked on to get to where you both are today?
Well I guess from the beginning, in terms of the design aspect, if you look at the shoe, you’ll actually notice that there are so many different layers to it. To start out, we really wanted to do something that was a lot more tonal, and let all those layers speak for themselves. There’s so many different textures and parts to the shoe, to where we experimented with colorblocking and other special executions, but the initial thought behind it being more tonal was where we were hoping people would pick up the shoe up and figure the design out for themselves. I mean, there’s at least 15 different parts on the upper alone that you could color. We wanted people to learn that themselves instead of pushing that aspect on to them.
“At the end of the day, it was us incorporating everything that SUPRA has done over the last 10 years, and putting it all into one shoe.”
So you mentioned that the goal for the Skytop V was to create the best model yet. Can you describe what that company meeting was like when that agenda was announced?
To be honest, and obviously SUPRA had to give Chad and I the blessing to go forward with designing this, but it was more of a passion project for us. So as far as getting a brief or telling us what they wanted us to do, it was more us telling them what we need as a company. But at the end of the day, it was us incorporating everything that SUPRA has done over the last 10 years, and putting it all into one shoe and being like, this is where the future is, and it’s almost like the start of the next generation of SUPRA.
What about the moodboard for the shoe? What did that look like?
There was a lot of us trying to marry the mentality of skate shoes in the ‘90s–as far as TPU pieces and being heavily layered–and mixing it with this running lifestyle thing that’s happening right now. So it was like, what if those two had a baby, what would that look like in the future.
Lastly, where does one go from here? From always trying to create the best/better model than the previous, how do you envision making something better than the Skytop V?
That’s a hard question, and I couldn’t give you an answer right now, but as a designer, that’s something that on one hand you have something that you’re super proud of. Something that you feel is the best that you could do at that time. But on the other hand I now have to look six months down the road and ask myself what I can do to top that. I mean it took so much time to develop the Skytop V that there’s so many things that we have taken away from it. So I’m curious myself to see what happens next!