State Footwear: An authentic story about skateboarding

For people to support a brand, there needs to be a compelling story that somebody wants to buy—an element which resonates with your audience. Without this, brand’s message is void of any real meaning to consumers, thus creating no incentive for purchase.

Kevin Coakly and Ben Gore. Photo: State Footwear

That’s why Kevin Furtado—former Zorlac pro, 14-year Tum Yeto veteran, and past Dekline Footwear brand manager— made sure that the narrative of State Footwear was clear: it’s a story of authenticity.

If a brand isn’t "telling an authentic story and being true to what we are," then there is no reason for anyone to be interested in the brand or support it, said Furtado during a recent call to discuss the progress of State since it began delivering 9 months ago last fall.

This may seem like an over-simplified concept, but it seems to be proving successful with State’s audience and retail base. The focus is, of course, on core skate shops, although the brand does offer its products through an e-comm channel, as well—something Furtado says he wouldn’t mind growing as long as it doesn’t infringe on brick and mortar business.

“If it got to that point, I would take steps to pull it back because I think that essentially would be a good problem,” he says. “That would mean the skateboard shops have demand but the kids are buying them somewhere else. I would just pull back what we are offering online to help skateboard shops.”

Besides hammering on the importance of storytelling, Furtado dives into the past three seasons of production, keeping its offering tight, the pros and cons of the pro shoe model, and focusing on skateboarding first and foremost in everything the brand does.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hey Kevin, thanks for catching up. So, is it just you designing the shoes at the moment?

I have two people that I work with externally that help with the brand now. Philip Valois is our art director. He works out of Cincinnati. He creates State’s ads, catalogs, website, and general branding. Dustin Deardorff works on design and development of the shoes. Both of these guys are independent contractors, but I work with them remotely on the daily. Could not do the brand without these guys’ great talents.

How's the reception been? You came out in a big way with a really small, niche team of every skaters' favorite skater that hadn't had a shoe sponsor.

I know the product part of it, it's a shoe. Which means we are going to be like a shoe brand. But the ethos and the brand's mentality and the way it's worked, is that you can really compare us to a small board brand quicker than you can compare us to any shoe brand that is out there.

Totally.

And that was the mentality we wanted to have. We know that everyone that buys the shoes is not going to be a skateboarder. I'm not trying to be picky and tell them they can't buy. I just think that's what I know. And I know that the guys on the team, it's what they know, so that's the direction we want to go.

The State Footwear ethos stays true to protecting the authentic story of skateboarding.

When you came out, all the silhouettes were real classic ones. I know that was a good way to get in the market, to be safe, not go too crazy and get bad reception. Are you looking to stay as a more classic silhouette brand or start expanding out to more technical shoes?

So far, it’s been building on those classic silhouettes. When it comes down to it, if you look at a classic blucher shoe, like the Sage shoe that came out for Converse, and you take the branding away from it, there are a lot of brands that have that same silhouette. The reason being is that it's a proven silhouette; a lot of people have made that shoe.

When you have that identifying branding on the side—three stripes, swoosh, or Vans’ stripe—clearly the shoe is going to look different. That's your big logo pull into it. When it really comes down to it, there are only a handful of classic silhouettes that people borrow from.

I think it's fitting for us to stay in our lane, make the stuff that has proven successful, and keep adding the kind of hidden technical features. It costs us more to do the insole that we’ve created, but it is totally justified in a skateboarding shoe.

There's the rubber underlining we put on all our shoes. It's nothing that you can actually see. If you look at the shoe, you are going to go "Oh yeah, it's just a shoe. Black suede, four hole lace up, pretty basic." It’s the features we put inside of it that is what makes it skateboarding. But to overly design something just to prove a point that our shoes are going to look different from someone else’s, I don't have the need to do that right now.

From what you just described, there really isn't a need for that as long as you are making quality product and designing it in a way that's unique to your brand.

I ask myself this a lot. I see what kids say: "It looks like everything else." I kind of understand what they're saying, but it doesn't mean that it's not good because it looks like something else. There is a lot of stuff that looks like other stuff. There a lot of big brands that borrow from stuff. At the end of the day, how does it work? Does it perform and hold up? Somebody might call our shoes bland; they can call them that quicker than they can say they are poorly made. I know the factory and it’s a good product.

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State’s Jon Nguyen, switch flip. Photo: State

I still think that one of the biggest things for you guys, starting right off the bat, was starting with that rubber underlay. You were the first brand that I saw do that for every model and I think that was a huge step forward for any brand.

Oh thanks! I wasn't thinking ahead enough at the time to tell that message, but now the stuff we are delivering for Spring 17, they all have hangtags with little bullet points outlining the five key things that make this shoe more skate impactful. It's like: double-lastic vulcanized, PU insole, rubber underlay, tread on bottom with heel, and toe drag area.

Are you guys looking to do pro models? There seems to be a lot of flip flop about whether or not a pro shoe matters anymore, or if it’s smarter to just stick with colorways since it can be such a big investment to have something that doesn't work out.

It’s less about what pro rider we would highlight, because to me all of those are good stories. If we have a compelling story, I think that makes somebody want to buy that product, more so than the brand itself.

Ben Gore has been putting in a lot of work lately. Ben is definitely unique in what he does and people really like him. Now, does that mean people are going to support a pro shoe for him? And are we doing a good service if we create it, but can't tell that story in the right way? Is it better to support him in other ways, and try to build a color and material collection with his other brands like Magenta, for example? And tie in those things that really have a personal story as opposed to "why is this design unique to him."

state footwear
The Salem is a retro athletic-inspired high top with a perforated rubber toe underlay for increased durability, polyurethane footbed for impact absorption, and reverse wrap vulcanize rubber out sole for increased durability.

Today, because of social media and how fast everything is, everything has a story. Even if they are the biggest Ben Gore fan in the world, they might not be down [to buy his shoe] because where is the connection? They like his skating, but why does this shoe have anything to do with the way he skates?

As of right now, I'd love for us to continue on the same path we’ve been on. I want to build on shoes. Of course I want people to look at the shoes and say "That's unique, that's different." But at the end of the day, the focus right now is getting our name out there, getting people to check out the product and see that it's made well. And although it might look like something else, that doesn't mean it isn't good.

Going forward with coverage for the brand, what are your marketing goals and where are you investing your resources? 

We don’t have a a lot of resources to invest in those things. All last year we invested in print advertising. We spent a significant amount of money on print ads.

A lot of people wanted to see video from us, but I wanted the video to be authentic. I mean really, the guys started riding for the team nine months ago, or a little more than that. Putting a video out when we started wasn't realistic—Oh, Coakley is wearing Converse and Christian's wearing Adidas; I wouldn't be down for that.

That said, we are actually premiering a video today called “Free,” on TWSkate.com. It's a ten-minute clip, with editing and animation by Colin Read who did “Spirit Quest.”

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A State Footwear ad that ran in TransWorld Skate magazine.

That's a great way to go about it. If you're saying you want it to be authentic, you're actually going to have those guys in the footwear.

When you see the video, you will see all the print ads that we did last year are tied into the video. It’s State branded; it's a State video.

Although I was anxious, I wanted to put stuff out, and this is the right way to do it. Having Colin on board to help out with stuff is insane, he's such a great talent. The video has imagery and ads from a lot of the stuff Phil created in our print stories, so it ties together really well.

Going forward, your big thing has been having all these riders and employees from key areas on both the East and West coasts. Do you think that factors in to making your brand stick out?

I don't consider the brand San Diego. I consider the brand wherever it’s being showcased the best. So if it’s Ben Gore I considered it SF, if it’s Kevin I consider it Boston/New York, or it it’s Jordan it's the Northwest.

I named the brand State because I wanted it to be everywhere. The full corporate name is the Free and Liberated State, which has a bigger meaning in that it’s broad, but it's also about not being tied to anything. It’s everything that encompasses skateboarding— even if you suck at it, or if you are great at it, or just mediocre, you can do it and be part of it.

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The State team (l to r) Ben Gore, Jon Nguyen, Kevin Coakley, Jordan Sanchez, and Christian Maalouf. Photo: State Footwear

It's not limited to one area or any specific person. If you want to give it a shot, it’s open to you.

Totally! I am a lifelong skateboarder— it's all I've done since I was a kid. If I had to try and do something else, I would be completely lost. I know I’ve learned business lessons along the way and am confident in what I can do, but in terms of knowing what I know, it's something that I’ve done since I was a kid and I've been doing my whole life.

I think everything has to be authentic with this brand, whether we win or lose. If we can make this work, keep going every day and put this brand out, and we are telling an authentic story and being true to what we are, I can't think of anything we could be doing better, to be honest.

It's the one lucky thing we get to do— to be involved in this industry, to skate and to do something we enjoy every day, there's nothing to complain about with that.

Yeah, exactly. I wake up, there are struggles, there are pains. But even with all those challenges that come up, it's just like you said, I'm putting food on the table through something I’ve been doing since I was 11 years old. Not a lot of people get to do that, and I'm very grateful for that fact.