Airwalk This Way

Remember the 80s? Madonna? Floppy hairdos? Frontsideboneless ones? Farenheit 1000s? How about 1990? Parking-lot vert-ramp contests? Tiny wheels? Airwalk Enigmas? Maybe you don’t, butsoon your memory will be refreshed as Airwalk parent companyTare 7 unleashes a retro campaign aimed at reminding veteranretailers that Airwalk was skateboarding?s upstart shoe brand beforeskate shoes were a proper category of their own.

Retailers may remember Airwalk’s unfortunate period inthe mid 90s, when the brand’s previous owners were chasing themainstream buck and in the process alienating ?core skate retailers.As soon as the new wave of skate-shoe companies like Etnies, DC,and DuFFS had established itself by the mid 90s, shops were happyto drop Airwalk’s uninspired designs, lacking customer service, andoutdated image for the fresh young companies and the new era ofskate shoes.But through the 80s, Airwalk managed to attract the cream ofskateboarding’s crop (Tony Hawk, Mike Vallely, and Jason Leeamong them), and offered imaginative ads and modern–for thetime–shoe designs that contrasted with Vans’ classic vulcanizedmodels. Skaters entered the 90s with the street craze that left vertskating behind. Airwalk reflected skateboarding’s new technicalstyle and had no real competition at the time–it was a good time forthe brand.

The recession that hit the U.S. economy in 1990 coincidedwith a downturn in skateboarding’s popularity. As some industryveterans describe it, one day the phones literally stopped ringing.For a burgeoning company like Airwalk, which had great potential toexpand its distribution when its ?core customer base disappeared, ashift in focus was understandable. What it didn’t need to do wasalienate the remaining–and struggling–retailers that helped makethe brand successful.

Inheriting a mixed legacy with Airwalk, Tare 7 iscapitalizing on skateboarding’s retro movement and will releaseseveral classic Airwalk shoes to highlight the period when the brandmade its mark and contributed to the growth of the sport throughits support of athletes and programs like the NSA amateur-contestseries. The retro campaign will also include many classic Airwalklogos and other artwork, and will attempt to rekindle the originalfun and progressive personality of the brand. “From ’86 to about ’90there was this incredible momentum, and it just kept growing,” saysAirwalk veteran Rob Dotson, who left the company in the mid 90sbefore being hired by T7 a couple years ago to help launch Geneticand help with the new Airwalk skate program. “Every ad, the logos,and the personalities of the riders spoke to the customer. Itwasn’t just a cookie-cutter look. And that’s really the vibe we’regoing for–really going back to basics and looking at skateboardingfor what it is. It’s about having fun.”

Though Airwalk remains a broadly distributed brand, Tare7 will segment the line to include skate-specific models available to’core shops only. Dotson says the entire Airwalk promotionalcampaign will reflect the tastes and styles of its team, whichcurrently includes names like Andy Macdonald, Jesse Paez, DannyFuenzalida, Jon Comer, and Dave Hupp. “Skateboarding isimportant–it’s our roots, our lifeline,” Dotson says about thecompany. “In the past there were individuals in the company withtheir own agendas. They were into entertainment, or music, orsomething, and with all the growth in such a short period of time,they thought that was the right thing for the brand.”

Tare 7, he feels, is better suited to manage a ?core skatebrand. “All the designers here either snowboard, BMX, or skate,” hesays. “Salespeople–same thing. They (T7) embrace it andunderstand it more than the previous regime. The whole focus sinceI’ve been back is ‘We have to get this brand back to what it was–askateboarding-footwear brand.’ That is our number-one prioritywith everything that we do. People here have a better understandingof the heritage of the brand and where it truly needs to be.”

While in the recent past the skate team wasn’t generallyconsulted with for shoe, ad, and Web-site design, Dotson says theirinvolvement has become integral. “They’re the rock band onstage,”he says about the team. “We’re (management) just behind the scenesmaking it all work.”

Although involved with both Airwalk and Genetic, Dotsonsays that the unique personalities of each team will keep the brandsdistinct. Genetic will continue to be spearheaded by Bucky Lasek andPat Channita, plus a host of ams like Alysson Castro, and willmaintain its technical aesthetic. Fold-over stitching, heel-and-forefoot cushioning, and molded inlay pieces that havecharacterized the young brand will continue while Airwalk delvesinto its history for a while. What will tie the two lines together is afocus on mid-priced shoes packed with features and qualitymaterials. “Airwalk’s going to more suede and leather, and Genetic’sdoing a lot of coated leather, high-abrasion meshes, and a lot ofapplications to the material to make them more durable,” saysDotson. “Airwalk’s still putting out a durable product, but we’re alsosaying, ‘Hey, price is a major factor, so we want to make sure thekids are getting an affordable, durable product.’ With all ourproducts made in the same factories, on the Genetic side of it wecan still put a lot on our shoes, but we don’t have to charge whatyou would typically have to. We definitely want to make sure thatwe’re putting out pricepoint-effective shoes.”

Some of the classic Airwalk models to be released includethe Enigma, One, and the Reflex–based on the Prototype series. Plusupdated versions of classic styles, like the Enigma Low and The Kirk,a modern version of the Jim Shoe. Airwalk will also continue itscasual lines for men and women, plus launch a new series of casualshoes under the Etura name, although according to Dotson thecompany has retrained its focus on skate. “A shop can buy and sellany brand they want,” says Dotson. “There aren’t any brands theyhave to have. We know that.”

The ?core Airwalk line will be promoted internationally byits skate team, as well as members of its Chosen program–a groupof skaters “sponsored” by Airwalk’s regional reps to help promotethe brand locally. A heavy rotation of television ads will beginrunning on MTV2 in June, July, and August.