Who is PROPER, and how do you guys know each other?
Tristan: PROPER is a store in Long Beach that tries to sell some good footwear. Rob and I did some tours of duty together in ‘Nam. Michael and I know each other through our girlfriends. Long before there was a store I knew that Michael was always into kicks. So I'm the common link between Rob and Michael. They say the fastest way to lose a friend is to work with them... But I guess we’re an exception to the rule.
At what point did you decide to get into the sneaker business?
T: Wasn’t exactly a collective decision. I first decided I wanted to do something like this in maybe ‘99 when I was going to school in Japan. When I came home I knew that I wanted to get something going on in the US for people that were into kicks. Shit was just different in the US then. The major companies still towed the ‘strictly athletics’ banner, so stuff wasn’t readily available and in the limelight everywhere. Tried a couple of other times throughout the next couple of years to get something going but funding would keep falling through. Fast forward a couple years: finished school, working, still trying to get something going on. Was just about to throw in the towel and move up to San Francisco when everything finally fell into place and we opened the store.
Being roughly 35 minutes south of the LA/Hollywood scene, what made you guys set up shop a little off the beaten path?
T: ‘Cause that path is beaten. Long Beach is ill, a lot of history, crazy mixture of people racially, economically, mentally. Growing up in Southern California I was never into the ‘LA Scene’. So when it came time to open the store I knew already that it would be removed from that whole area/scene. After the last couple of years people’s perceptions of Long Beach are changing: internationally known but locally respected. We have people that come to the store from everywhere but we’re still down with all the people in the neighbourhood, they were tripping on the lines when we first opened though ‘cause they had never seen anything like that. Some of our neighbours are rocking heat though, its funny.
So how’s the scene in Cali and what brands and models are dominant?
Michael: The scene in Southern California is very trendy. People wear what celebrities are wearing and what other people say is the ‘new limited’ shoe. Nike (Air Force Ones, Dunks and Blazers) and Vans (slip-ons and Sk8 Hi’s) are the brands that dominate.
Seeing as you grew up in Vans territory, do you have any early memories of the brand?
T: Yeah, definitely. We grew up wearing and skating in Vans. Vans are, and always have been, quality shoes that were sold at affordable prices compared to the major brands back then. They had their own stores through Southern California and a lot of the best skaters were wearing Vans. Growing up, we weren’t exactly well off. So we’d hit Vans factory sales and get seconds to skate in, or leftover customs that people never came back to pick up, for dirt cheap. We would order custom stuff from the Vans store around the corner from where I grew up in Santa Ana. They’d have these metal rings filled with material swatches hanging on the wall and we’d go crazy. Now PUMA’s got their Mongolian BBQ thing going on, and Nike had their whole iD program, but we were ordering custom Vans when we were like 11 or 12 years old.
I was recently in Europe and noticed more of a variety of sneakers. Is the US scene mostly driven by hype, or do people generally buy what they like regardless of brand or exclusivity?
T: Hype, of course. It’s weird ‘cause things have changed so much in just the last couple of years. When I was in college I only knew a handful of other people that were into kicks. Now it’s out of control. Magazines, websites... Hell, even TV. Shoes are everywhere and people feed off the hype, even more so in the US than other places. I don’t know, people will line up to buy shoes painted with fecal matter if it’s limited.
M: It’s funny, but customers will come in asking questions like, ‘What’s the new limited shoe?’ Or, ‘Is this exclusive?’ Or, ‘How many pairs were made?’ And, my favourite, ‘Is this GR?’ In Europe, the fashion scene is more open and what is trendy over there is a bit over the top compared to the US.
Moving on to the PROPER x Asics GT-II shoe. How did you settle on that particular model?
T: Asics has always been based in Southern California so we were cool with some of the people working there and they initially approached us about doing something with them. I’ve always been into some kinda oddball stuff, whether it be Asics, New Balance or whatever, so I was really into it. We dug through some stuff they had and were really feeling the GT-II. I had a couple of original pairs, and they were crazy comfortable and it was the first shoe to feature GEL, so there was definitely some history there. Rob and I are both into runners so it was a good fit.
How many colourways were on the drawing board before you guys settled on the cammo scheme?
T: A grip... I really don’t know, maybe 50 or more. We knew we wanted to use the ripstop material from the beginning but the colourway took a little longer. I mean, realistically, if we were doing a Dunk or something like that we probably could have done anything and people would have bought it.
It’s a great-looking shoe. Which aspect was the most difficult to get right?
T: The ripstop, hands down. The factory refused to source the right material. We cut up samples and they’d still send us back some crazy stuff. We’d just go back and forth. John Luna at Asics had our back though and finally just got it taken care of. Almost didn’t go down ‘cause we were getting frustrated with the whole process. John got everything straightened out and the last round of samples came back dope.
Now, I realise this may be premature but I understand there may be another PROPER x Asics collaboration on the way? What can you tell us about that?
T: Well, the first shoe was well received and we’ve been going back and forth again working on a GEL LYTE III. We haven’t finished the final sample process yet so most likely it won’t go down for a while. The shoe has a split tongue that separates down the centre. Asics has always made some of the best running shoes and has been on the forefront of technology. The materials are a little different from what they originally made due to some environmental restrictions on plastic, but we had them replace the insoles with some of the memory foam stuff they’re using on their new running stuff and it works insane.
OK, moving on. From a purchasing standpoint, have you seen any shift in trends from the manufacturers, or will retro still be king for a while?
T: Retro will be king with some few exceptions. Adidas is doing some amazing stuff with new technology. Nike is doing amazing things with FREE and CONSIDERED. So there is definitely going to be some new product, but retro will run the show for quite a while. Probably more fusing of retro styles with new technology similar to the Zoom Trainer One, that is one of my favorite shoes from recent memory.
What new packs or collaborations do you see flying off your shelves in the near future?
M: Terra Sertig Pack, Defining Moments Pack, History of Air Max.
With BAPE being a sort of flavour-of-the-moment sneaker that doesn’t seem to be dying, how have you guys not given in to stocking them? I’m sure people call up for them all the time.
T: We get people calling the store all the time for them. Yeah, we could probably sell a grip of them but it’s just one of those things where, from a business standpoint, we probably make the wrong decisions. I mean, they’re imitation Air Force Ones. R&D seems to stand for rip off and duplicate these days much more than research and development, but whatever... Nike has always been good to us, so I’m not really trying to carry product that for the most part is an imitation of theirs... Even if it could be lucrative.
With new info surfacing daily on the internet, how do you stay ahead of the curve so your customers don’t know more than you do?
T: The consumer these days is incredibly well-informed, more so than most of the people working in the industry realise. I really don’t think that we ‘stay ahead of the curve’ so much as we just see a lot of stuff early because of the relationships we have formed with people at different companies, and due to the fact that the buying window is so far out. It’s crazy though because there is no surprise left in it for the most part anymore. And sometimes it’s impossible to stay ahead of the curve because companies are very risk-adverse and rarely go out on a limb with new stuff. A lot of the stuff we’re into and order ends up never being produced because not enough other stores order it.
I recall you telling me about some random hunter calling up for the shoe saying it would be perfect to go hunting in. Can you tell us how that went down?
T: Some random hick just saw the shoes in a magazine and decided he needed a pair and called us up. We explained to him that we only made 150 pairs and that we had already sold out but he just couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t be getting more if we had sold out. It was hilarious. This guy really wanted these things and he couldn’t grasp why we just wouldn’t make more. I mean, I guess we could have made more than 150 but it was mainly just something we wanted to make for our friends and people that were into Asics.