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Scott Johnston Breaks Down the adidas Skateboarding 3ST Project

With the release of the adidas Skateboarding 3ST.004, we spoke with adidas Senior Footwear Designer Scott Johnston to learn more about the 3ST project, the inspiration, skate shoe design and what’s next

Scott Johnston Breaks Down the adidas Skateboarding 3ST Project
Posted by Neil Chester 5 min read
Sunday, February 10, 2019

The design of skate shoes over the years has taken quite a few different directions. From the early days of Vans very simple boat shoe style offerings to the 90s and early 00s bulky, puffy tounged 'skate shoes' from brands like Etnies, DC, Globe, and Osiris. These were made famous off the back of bands and singers like Blink 182, Avil Lavigne and the media rise of the X-Games and the Tony Hawk Pro skater video game series.

Skate shoes have been refined a lot since those heady days, technology has become far less of a gimmick and more of an innovative feature and central to the design philosophy of the skate shoe. This has been helped massively by the large sports companies, namely adidas and Nike both turning to skateboarding and investing heavily in not only product, but huge skate teams to test out skate shoes. Footwear research and development is key to the success of both adidas and Nike, they've built up a huge knowledge base from producing shoes for various sports, many moons outside of skateboarding but when broken down can easily be adapted and technology shared. 

adidas Skateboarding has had a solid skateboard program now since the early 2000s, they've introduced many successful shoes to skateboarding. One such skate shoe is the adidas Busenitz Pro, this was the perfect balance of addressing the levels of durability that skateboarding required and mixing it with a large dose of classic adidas sports shoe DNA. It's no surprise that the adidas Skateboarding Busenitz Pro is up there with the Nike SB Stefan Janoski when it comes to riding the wave of almost ten years of skate design and innovation. 

With professional skateboarders such as Lucas Puig, Dennis Busenitz and Mark Gonzales being part of the adidas skate team for many years now, adidas have built a great reputation in the production of their skateboarding shoes. By learning from past skate shoe models, whether successful or not, they have consistently created new skateboard shoes that is the demand from their team riders. The latest Lucas Puig Premiere ADV signature shoe attempted, to great success, the mix of bringing archival adidas shoe design and fusing it with classic skate shoe features to provide a modern take on what is a skateboard shoe. 

It's this desire to create the new and place a persistent focus on the future that has recently driven adidas to develop a whole new chapter in how and why they design skate shoes. Called the adidas Skateboarding 3ST project, it relooks at the whole process of skate shoes and how they are designed. Innovation and technology must sit comfortably alongside fashion and style. It speaks volumes as skate shoes are simply not worn only by skateboarders. Just like running, tennis or basketball shoes, they are worn across the whole spectrum of shoe usage. So it's with this and many other challenges that the adidas Skateboarding department set about this new process. 

Another huge goal of the 3ST project was to further push the boundaries of skate shoe innovation. One could say it's easy for Nike or adidas to simply bring back an archival shoe, such as the Nike SB Dunk, Blazer or adidas Skateboarding Stan Smith, which have all seen a skateboard shoe version. This does not equal true innovation but has paid off in recent years as most overly technical or innovative skate shoes has become somewhat of a commercial gamble. Presenting newness to skateboarders can often be a challenge, skaters don't like things messed with too much. The functional shape of a modern skateboard is a testament to this. Skate shoes are a tough product and design balance and it's something that is consistent across any professional sport. If a previous product performs well then why change it for something new? All of these challenges are what adidas wanted to face head-on when embarking on the 3ST project.

adidas Senior Footwear Designer Scott Johnston initiated the 3ST workshop program. As many readers will know, Scott needs no introduction having previously been a pro skateboarder with Chocolate for many years. He knows all the in's and out's of skateboarding and the subtle nuances, and at times, changing views of skateboarders. Needless to say, his designs demonstrate skateboarding knowledge and experience. “We set out to challenge the status quo of skate footwear, which can be pretty stagnant and 3ST is our opportunity to take risks.”

The first product launched was the adidas Skateboarding 3ST.001 in Spring 2018. With invaluable team insight and testing, the first 3ST stated its intention immediately and sought to open the aperture of traditional skate shoe methods. Scott continues, “When you think about skate footwear, it’s safe to say one would think Vulc. So this was our first target for 3ST, to explore how we can approach vulcanised footwear through a newer performance lens.”

Gustav T - wear test for the 3ST Gustav Tønnesen became instrumental in testing 3ST.001 and 3ST.002, feeding back to the adidas design team.

The .001 was quickly adopted by the adidas team, especially by Miles Silvas and Gustav Tonnesen who both appreciated its subtle technology, support and refined board feel. Check any recent footage and you’ll see them in the .001, showcasing the products diversity through their differing skate styles.

Releasing a new shoe is the litmus test for any skate shoe designer, yet alone something strikingly different. R&D gets you so far but the real indicator is how it resonates with the skateboarding public. Something Scott Johnston is acutely aware of. “Post-release is a big moment to see the comments but I really like to see how it shows up in footage and how people are wearing our product. Giving life and personality to what we created is most important. And yes, the negative comments are well heard in the efforts for improvement in the future.”

adidas - Tyshawn - 3st004 "I really like to see how it shows up in footage and how people are wearing our product" says Scott Johnston

Almost simultaneously adidas released the 3ST.002, which stretched the imagination by being a laceless slip-on boot that challenged the norm of any previous skate shoe aesthetic. With skateboarders looking down at their feet in the vital last moments before popping any trick, they need supreme confidence in their footwear. Having a shoe that is also pleasing to the eye is essential to many professional skateboarders, maybe it’s mind games but it all plays a part.   

adidas rider Na-Kel Smith was instantly drawn to this contrasting style of the .002. For him, it represented a lot of himself - challenge expectations and show no fear in the unknown. Looking at the subsequent release of the 3ST.003 and now the new 3ST.004 highlights just how much the .002 is a departure from the series. In a way, it was the most perfect 3ST product, pushing a design philosophy without too much concern for the commercial side. It’s something that is a delicate balance. "All skate shoes have different intentions in their design processes" adds Scott. Some shoes magically stick, such as the 10-year-old Busenitz Pro, which remains as popular as ever but this was never the primary objective of the 3ST project. It’s a serious hat-tip to adidas for running this creative and commercial risk.

Other learnings outside of design presented themselves throughout as Scott expands, “we learned to rethink what an introduction of this style of product needs to look like in the future. Maybe it’s more like seeing a concept car. You don’t quite know what it is you’re seeing.”

The latter half of the busy 2018 saw the introduction of the 3ST.003, which utilised a recurring theme. Scott continues: “This was based off soccer shoes, which is the footwear category we reference most for adidas skate shoes because the need to feel a ball or board are somewhat similar. It was for this reason the 3ST.004 combines performance indoor soccer with the style aspect of adidas Originals.”

adidas 3ST.004 - close up of the three shoes. "There is still so much we can do with colour and materials, I see a long life of energy and upgrades", SJ.

The adidas 3ST.004 is the most technical and inspired offering to date, featuring Boost technology to aid impact and comfort, it promises the most of any previous 3ST product. “I’m extremely happy with how the 3ST.004 came out. There is still so much we can do with colour and materials, I see a long life of energy and upgrades in this model alone” explains Scott.

Pairing technicality with style is often considered to be the holy grail of skate shoes and this combination is not easy to achieve. Durability and resistance usually don’t mix with an underfoot feel of a simpler vulcanized or lightweight shoe. In order to achieve optimal board feel and control, a low profile sole is applied to the forefoot, while an s-curve heel lock holds in the rear. With the 3ST.004 really looking and feeling like an evolution of all the previous 3ST product, it holds a lot of promise. The .004 design direction was achieved more through process and learning rather than imagination. Hence taking only a small dose of outside inspiration from the extensive adidas archive, looking to the early 80s Kegler Super OG for is translucent grippy outsole.

While the .004 may be the finest 3ST product out of the workshop so far, it’s no final conclusion with Scott stating “a lot of new concept ideas will run through this filter, as 3ST is intended to be an open source workshop space for new ideas and concepts.”

You can shop the new 3ST.004 skate shoe and the accompanying track pant and top by searching 3ST on Parade or by visiting adidas Skateboarding in our brands section. Photos: Dominic Marley

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