From the neo-classic Skytops to the gold 14k Chad Muska model that sold out in a nano-second, Supra has managed to spontaneously combust in a market place swamped with black, lo-fi blando-sneakers. Even more surprisingly, they have done it with challenging designs that are as ostentatious as they are original, sporting multiple buckles, gold chains and blinding patent on sky-hightops. The story behind the brand is virtually unknown, so we were very fortunate to pin down the main man, Mr Angel Cabada for an hour or so of freewheeling conversation. He’s an elusive cat, a dog lover and a native Californian. In the space of less than three years, he has somehow built one of the most daring footwear brands out there, and we wanted to know, how the hell did he do it?
Hey Angel, I’ve been trying to do my research on the internet and you’re a complete mystery. So tell me about the Angel Cabada story...
I grew up in Orange County, California, pretty much all my life. I fell in love with skating and things just fell into my lap along the way. I mean I have had some normal jobs, I worked at McDonalds for fucking two hours and I left on my break. I worked at Taco Bell for about a week, I worked at Track Auto for a little while, that was kind of fun. And then I realized that it was time for me to try to make clothes with my friends and I don’t know, I just learned as I went. I still skate too...
Good for you. You haven’t broken too many arms or legs yet?
I’ve just fractured my ribs. I’ve dislocated a few things, but it’s amazing I’ve never broken any bones. Knock on wood.
What was the first enterprise you actually started under your own steam?
It was at least 16 or 17 years ago. The first brand I started was called TSA. That lasted for about ten years before I split up with my partner, and in 2002 I started doing KR3W, which I’m still doing under One Distribution, which is actually the umbrella of KR3W and Supra Footwear. Supra only launched in 2005, so it’s fairly new, still a baby.
It is a baby but it’s... got big balls already, but we’ll get to that. The experience you had with those two labels must have been a really good grounding before Supra.
You know, I’m having a hard time hearing you because the damn dog over here is barking. Sorry. What was that again?
OK, I was thinking Supra is widely known, but most people out there wouldn’t be aware of the origins of the label.
Well to be honest, I was actually going to do KR3W footwear and then I kind of sat back and thought about it, and it would have been a big conflict of interest with people that we work with. So I re-thought it one more time and then I had to explain it to my partners because I had already dumped like 100 grand on sampling and they just looked at me like I was crazy. But as far as the concept and where it came from... I don’t know. I’ve been around shoes all my life and I just felt I wanted to do something to complement the clothing we make, plus the shoes out there were a little chunky for me. At first, people looked at us like we’re fucking nuts for making these fucking Skytops and people laughed... But you know what? I’m laughing all the way to the you know what, you know what I’m saying?
I know what you mean. What is the essence of Supra?
Supra is a Latin word that stands for ‘above and beyond’, that’s where I got the word from. Names are very important and it has to sound right. So that’s that.
Has the success exceeded your expectations so far?
I don’t know man, I think we’re just getting started. I mean, I’m happy and I’m satisfied that we’ve caught everybody’s attention and people are loving our stuff. I was hyped to see Little Wayne and Jay Z wearing Skytops at the BET awards recently. A lot of people are embracing the shoes, it’s all organic, it’s happening on its own.
You’ve partnered with Steve Aoki and Samantha Ronson and Chad Muska of course. It seems genuine to me and I think kids are responding to the fact that they’re close to the brand and they’re a nice fit with what you’re about. Are you a little cynical about the way some brands associate themselves with celebrities?
No comment. Everyone does their own thing. I just know that for me personally, I have to make this connection and the people that we have given stuff to are actually our friends. We’re not paying money to place the product. They’re my friends. Like I said, we don’t pay an agency $20,000 a month to place our products (laughs). I mean, you couldn’t pay me to put something on that I don’t like. I think that’s how they feel as well and I appreciate that. I don’t want to mention any names.
The gold 14K edition you did with Chad Muska really got kids in a frenzy. There were queues at some stores and...
Hang on, I got two fucking Dobermans over here going crazy.
I was talking about the 14K...
Sorry hang on one second, now they’re really going crazy.
A few retailers told me they had long queues and international calls about the shoes. That level of hype is normally associated with Nike more than anyone else in terms of consumer interest. Did the reaction to that shoe in particular take you by surprise?
Yeah of course it did. This whole thing is still taking me by surprise. But at the same time, I’ve been in it so damn long it’s kind of like... I’m at the stage where I’m jaded you know?
I know exactly what you mean (laughs). Well it’s still a remarkable achievement. It has to be an amazing positive for the brand?
I just live one day at a time and try to be myself. With the first batch of gold shoes, people were scared because the shoe’s really crazy. But, by the time they actually came out, they were hot! Everything that we put out has been sold right off the shelf. The last 413 silver edition sold out in 30 minutes. The feedback we get from the stores is that they’ve never had a shoe that sold that fast. Ever in history. So I’m hearing all this stuff, yeah I’m super amped, but I think the thing that really hit me the most was seeing Little Wayne wearing Supras.
So are you tempted to increase production? Or do you think there’s a fine line between selling out quickly and kids being able to get the shoes that they want?
This is the deal, we make stuff, some stores pre-book, and there are some people that don’t. Our brand is still fairly new, but now I think they are realizing that every time a customer comes up to their store and asks for a pair of shoes and they don’t have it, they just lost profit. I’m not going to give you numbers but we overbought 50% of our pre-booked orders and by the time our shipment came in, we’d sold out.
Does that success make you nervous that Supra is about to be imitated by other brands?
No. Chad called me from Bread and Butter (Barcelona tradeshow) and he said he saw four Skytops pretty much knocked off to the T. At the same time, I’m not mad at them, it’s a compliment. But you know, there’s only one Supra Skytop and that’s our shoe and if people want to go out and buy the fake one that’s on them.
Yeah, I agree, but being copied like that would still piss me right off. I also wanted to ask you about the NS range. It was pretty experimental with all the buckles and shit. Can you explain a little about the range?
That was just something we added on top of what we wanted to release, but it was hard to drop it in a skate store, because skate was barely embracing Skytops at the time. So we wanted to take it to more fashion driven trade shows. We did everything in black and white during the time that everyone was doing fruit colors, camouflages, astro turf, tennis balls, basketball material etc. We just tried to stay away from all that stuff.
Well, it’s out there and it works.
They’re retailing at 200 bucks! People aren’t flinching, the numbers have quadrupled since the first delivery and we have a whole new NS line coming out for spring, so look out, we’ve got some heat coming. We’ve got a Skytop 2 coming out, Terry Kennedy’s shoe and new designs, there’s nothing like them and they’re not a knock off, they’re original Supra material.
Aside from the way they look, the thing about Supra that immediately impressed me is the quality in the manufacturing and the materials... they just look tight.
Thank you. Josh and I go to the factory four times a year to see the samples. My team goes there to double-check on everything and make sure things are on point.
Will you stick to black and white for NS?
We got some more patents and some foiling. I guess I could tell you about them, the catalogue’s already out. We have a burgundy patent leather and a grey suede, I won’t tell you exactly what suede, but it’s gonna be hot.
I just saw the first Supra Tuf model as well. Is that a new type of material you’re using?
Yeah, the leather we have is custom made for us and outlasts normal suede by ten times. Your bottoms will wear out before you wear that leather! I can’t explain the whole terminology, if you want to see it go to supratuf.com and you’ll get the whole story. They’re weather resistant, waterproof, they’re breathable, and it looks good.
You mentioned before that you’ve got a very hands-on role in the company. Can you elaborate on that a bit further?
Are you asking me what I do?
Yeah. I mean in a really practical way, what do you do on a week-to-week basis?
I’m a thinker. I think a lot, I daydream a lot, think of ideas, constantly talking to my designers. I’m a shop-a-holic, I love shopping so I tend to shop for therapy. And I have a dog.
I know... What kind of shopping?
Clothing, shoes, watches, books, art, whatever... anything I can get inspiration from. I get massages, I travel, chill, skateboard, basic stuff everybody does.
So you must work pretty hard as well? (laughs) I think you missed my question before. I’m just wondering what your actual role within the company is?
Well... When people ask me what I do, to be honest, I never tell them anything. I introduce myself as Angel.
Well I think that’s about it Angel. Is there anything you wanted to mention to our readers?
I’m thankful, and I wanna thank everyone out there that’s supporting us and embraced us and thank you for calling me and giving me the opportunity to be in your magazine because I love your magazine.
Hey, thank you. (blushes) I’m looking at shoes all day long and Supra is one thing that I’ve seen coming through that is original, and I appreciate that. It’s not something I could have predicted, but I got to hand it to you. I don’t mean to blow smoke up your ass...
Thank you. I still pinch myself every fucking morning to see if I’m still dreaming! Also can I thank YJ aka Josh, LB, Mama and my pig.
This article appeared in Issue 13 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here