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Native Shoes co-founders discuss new venture people footwear

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DH Vancouver Staff Oct 22, 2013 7:05 am

In year past, Native Shoes has gained undoubted acclaim worldwide for the brand’s unique approach to injection-molded PVC footwear. Popular styles, such as the Fitzsimmons and Jefferson, have even received support in celebrity circles, most memorably from stars like Angelina Jolie (who decked out her six kids in Native Shoes) and Jackass star Johnny Knoxville among others. Now, two of the key minds behind Native have moved on to tackle another venture – People Footwear. Rather than try to clarify the vision behind the new start-up ourselves, read what Damian Van Zyll de Jong and Matt Penner had to say on the exciting young project below.

Tell us about your new project.

Damian Van Zyll de Jong: When I started Native, it was such a great experience; everything was new and exciting. That really hooked me. I had found something I loved to do. Shoe design is a bug that’s gotten into me and I can’t shake it. You cannot stop doing something you love. If you’re a painter, you need to paint. We express ourselves with shoes. People Footwear is all about a vision or a feeling of getting outside, being in nature, being with your friends and living life.

What is your history in shoe design?

Matt Penner: I’ve known Damian since high school and have always been inspired by his vision. I have a background in design and worked with the gaming house Electronic Arts for 10 years. We are both pretty much self-taught shoe designers, and the last three years with Native have been like shoe university. We’ve collectively spent over two years of our lives in Asia working with developers and factories, experimenting and seeing everything firsthand. But at the same time, we are both outsiders and have a fresh take on what footwear should and shouldn’t be. Through our naivety, we are able to push the boundaries of what it means to make shoes. In a strange but useful way, it’s been good to put us in a naive zone because that’s when you aren’t locked into a certain way of doing things. The process becomes more abstract and you can pull from places you might not have gone. We are very open and don’t take any design options off the table before exploring them.

What was the beginning of Native like, and what were your roles?

Matt: Damian and I started the company together. Being a small company, we both wore many hats. I was mainly in charge of product development and design. Damian and I would work on the high-level concepts, but he was the person who really pioneered this brand. He was the first to go to China and open the door, getting us into laboratories where we could experiment and build the brand.I guess I am the founder. It started somewhere in early 2008, but really came to life when I started working with Matt in 2009. From there, it really took shape and we were able to get our first cash investment, and then it was off to the races.

Why did you move on from Native?

Damian: Back then, Matt and I were very hungry to create something new and special. We worked really hard to create an amazing brand and product. We looked back after three or four years of building Native, and we saw we had created a strong foundation for that brand to live out a healthy life. It had come to a place where there was some restructuring going on, and we were experiencing growing pains into our third year. As the brand grew, people’s visions on direction varied.

When did the idea for People Footwear come into play?

Damian: Almost immediately after leaving Native, we both sat down and asked the question “What next?” We worked so hard creating our own process that we just couldn’t stop. This is something we love doing, and we want to see people wearing our product and enjoying our creations. It’s in our blood. All shoes have a similar language, but when you get into the actual making of shoes, you see there are so many new ways to construct things. We take these new ways and blend them with selected old ways to create something new and fresh. Shoes have been the same for so long; we can now add our flavor to what people think shoes are.

Matt: In discovering and experimenting with injection moulding, we found lots of new emerging manufacturing techniques that are efficient and exciting. All of this has helped us explore and reinvent what a shoe can be.

How have you started this new brand and where is the funding coming from?

Damian: I’ve been selling a lot of shit on Craiglist [laughs]…. With friends and family, we’ve been able to come to a place where we can showcase our new brand. From there, we’ve found some great partners who will come into our world in the near future. Native was a great business card for us to engage the industry and tell our story.

What are your rollout plans for the brand?

Damian: We’ll be rolling the brand out globally selling spring 2014. We have distributors in place, and we believe they are a great way to alleviate any background and logistical issues, allowing us to concentrate on developing our brand. We’ve worked very hard to develop five new styles, which we think is a perfect first offering. We are offering a moulded EVA option along with a hybrid that is more street casual, all of which can be year-round options. It’s a nice balance and gives us two platforms to grow from.

Matt: We are focusing on North America and Asia to start. From there, we’ll introduce the brand to Europe and other parts of the world. We want to move forward in a controlled way, and we’ve been very calculated about who we’ve brought onboard and done it in a way where we can manage the growth of the business in a disciplined manor.

Source: SBC Business


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DH Vancouver Staff
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