Converse’s latest release comes as a three-shoe pack exploring new possibilities made available by the brand’s expansive CX toolkit, which arrives centered around a new cushioning technology aiming for the pinnacle of comfort. The innovation lab led by Brandon Avery works under the design philosophy of “Future Familiar”, meaning they maintain familiar parts of a shoe that consumers can identify with while progressing the rest of the sneaker to the future through functional and emotional developments. We spoke to Brandon Avery as well as Converse Design Director Matt Sleep on the new releases, how they connect to the Converse consumer and what we can look out for in the future.
As VP of global innovation it goes without saying that you’ve been a big driving force for this project which is heavily focused on the development and revision of existing heritage silhouettes like the Chuck and Weapon. Could you talk a little bit about how these two models play with your persistent design philosophies of “Future Familiar”?
BRANDON: The Weapon is a sports icon to begin with, but also a street style and lifestyle icon as we move forward. We’re reinventing that icon to bring back the classic look, to bring additional comfort but also to think about self expression and style when our consumer wears it.
The most iconic and loved sneaker of all time, the Chuck Taylor – we continue to reinvent that sneaker. First and foremost we think about that emotional connection with our consumers and how they love that product, and also how we can bring it into the future and bring things that have never been seen before as you see with the Runstar Motion.
One more thing about the philosophy, I think things that are familiar to us bring comfort but also confidence as you know what to expect with a brand and the relationship with the brand. We always want to progress and move forward, so that’s where the “Future” piece comes in. That balance is something we continue to strike when we work on these CX products.
In the CX Showroom we heard you speak on the Weapon. Mid-80’s basketball silhouettes have never been more popular so are you excited to be able to expose a new generation to what is such an iconic shoe worn by greats like Magic Johnson?
MATT: I remember very well from the English side, growing up loving basketball. Yeah, you’re absolutely right, 80’s silhouettes are back and it’s an honor as well as a challenge to make kids care. How do we make kids care? The weapon is an absolute bloody icon, an amazing piece of history. It’s certainly not been left in the past with everything we’re doing to try modernize, contemporarise and innovate around the shoe and i hope the kids catch the zeitgeist of this kind of new energy heating around the throwback heritage silhouettes, new intel inside, new comfort , movement while maintaining styling from yesteryear.
For those that maybe haven’t been exposed to the Weapon before could you tell us about its significance and heritage?
MATT: Absolutely. The future familiar is perfect terminology to be used here. Familiar is the upper, it’s the most iconic piece of the shoe – especially the Y-bar that straddles the ankle. It was an innovative design in the 80’s when the game was dominated by big men, power forwards, centers, who were under the basket rebounding and putting huge weight through their feet. At the time every designer was working with this “more is more” philosophy and going full steam ahead on functional design around silhouettes like this.
It might sound silly, even though it’s so miniscule a detail, are the perforations on the quarter and vamp. For me I always likened this to the barrel of a gun – I don’t know if this was an actual design reference but I think of it as one. For me it always gave a utilitarian and performance based feeling which I loved. The star chevron logo is an iconic detail full of history and heritage – the star is of course ours, but the chevron was introduced back then to signify progression and it’s great to stand unapologetically true to the meaning of the logo.
Could you give our readers a run-down on what’s been done to give the classic ball shoe a new contemporary feel that’s ready to wear on court and in the street? What involvement did you have in the shoe’s big return?
MATT: Proportion first and foremost – it’s way bigger. Aesthetics are a massive thing for us as a brand and our consumers. The weapon was so popular as it stood on foot and shelf in such a menacing form. We absolutely needed a bit of that, but wanted to try out comfort and movement in the silhouette. Rather than just looking as if you’re on more foam we wanted to actually have you stood on more foam.
The stylings came from a study into the anatomy of the foot, whether it be muscular flow and skeletal form. The bone structure inspired a lot of the design lines and flow of the sole. From the ankle, to heel bone to the actual midfoot. Mixing this with the CX suite really opened up more possibilities with this so it’s an amazing thing to be a part of.
On that same topic, the Aeon active CX is a step outside the box for Converse. How have you been able to maintain the “familiar” side of things with this silhouette?
BRANDON: I love hearing you say that it’s a push for us, a big step outside our boundaries – I’ve been in the lab in Boston for so long, working on this silhouette and things that look like it for a long while. We have so many iconic running silhouettes from the 80’s that have influenced us in terms of design lines and it’s so great to see this in fall 21 come to the market after so many amazing iterations of this sneaker.
Over our 100 year history we’ve had so many products come to life and when you go into the archive and see all these different iterations you have these specific design details, signature details that you can bring forward. We have the star Chevron products that denoted sports in the 80s obviously, they come to life in this silhouette. Also just thinking about our consumer and how we can bring comfort in new ways through this silhouette. Having that underfoot comfort with the larger midsole, making it easier to get on and off through the elastic bootie, I think mixing that with the great DNA of our brand is what makes it new and pushes things forward, but also keeps things connected to our brand and keeps things familiar.
You don’t want to create something so foreign that you can’t connect it to the brand but this is a great stepping stone with us to get into a new space and share some products with our consumers in the running sphere.
We’ve seen so many brands implement new tech into heritage silhouettes to inject some new life. I believe it’s early 2022 that this CX foam will be ubiquitous across the Chuck – is it amazing to know that you and the team have been able to modify the identity of such historically significant sneakers and navigate a new era of technological breakthroughs?
BRANDON: When I first came to converse I had this moment where we all had a story about our first pair of converse, how we connect with the brand and everything. I’m one of the rare people that get to be a part of this on a daily basis – my job as leading innovation for converse you take as a privilege but it makes you kind of nervous right? I want to do right by the consumer and open up self expression for all those who come.
As I think about everything we’ve done over the past years we always start with the consumer needs. This toolkit is so great as solving functional and emotional comfort makes our products so much better. When we launched the Chuck Taylor with CX foam and stretch canvas in the upper, the toolkit moved forward and we can bring those same comfort benefits to the wider range of Converse footwear. We’re more excited about what we’re working on for the future in 2021 and 2022.
Working in the Innovation lab at Converse must be really exciting, being on the forefront of these big steps forward for the brand – will future products play with the same “future familiar” duality, or is the plan to focus more on groundbreaking new silhouettes like the Aeon and build the identity of Converse past the classic silhouettes like the Chuck and Weapon?
BRANDON: I think again we continue to push that balance. If you see the Runstar Motion and where it is today with elements of the Chuck pushing into new space, you can imagine a step beyond that and that’s where we’re experimenting right now. More exaggerated functional comfort and forms is what we’re seeing in the lab. We continue to push forward for this next design language. I would certainly say you can expect to see more progressive design building on the foundation we see today, but we’ll always stay true to the converse brand and what we’ve stood for over the past century.
We’ve seen you central to the revival of so many heritage and long-forgotten pairs from converse’s archive – can we expect to see more of this in coming months and years?
MATT: Yeah I think we’d be very remiss if we forgot about the massive catalogue of sneakers that existed in the past 100 years – it’s absolutely one of our competitive advantages. Celebrating our archive sometimes will come as a true 1-to-1 version or as a more contemporary stance like we see today.
We’ve seen converse work with Nike on the Crater sole unit on the Chuck as well as a couple of Nike silhouettes as well. On the converse side of things I wanted to know what you guys were planning on doing as a wider stance on sustainability with the CX toolkit and what you guys were planning on doing in the future in terms of sustainability.
BRANDON: Yeah so it’s a great question, sustainability is a key tenet of our innovation principles as we push forward and it’s always on our mind. We’re always looking to reduce waste and carbon footprint on all our products – we’re always looking to improve in that space. When we think about CX specifically, its a philosophy around pinnacle comfort involving fit, ease, comfortable design. In the future we’re going to be considering how we can evolve comfort as well as a journey of sustainability for our innovation and product as well.
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