Why Would a Skate Company Collaborate on a Lifestyle Shoe?
The Pop Trading Co. might not be a company you’ve heard of before. However, if you live in Belgium, the Netherlands, or Luxembourg, there’s a chance you’ve either purchased or seen some of their stuff. Launching as a distribution company in 2012, Pop came into the market at just the right time, using their connections within the European skate community to secure brands like Palace and Polar for the Benelux market. Establishing these inroads also helped them to fund their own product range.
This year, Pop stunned a few people in the market when they collaborated on a New Balance 1500 rather than something more skate-ready. That seemingly unlikely release inspired us to question why a skate company would colab on a product that is potentially not of interest to their core demographic. So, we spoke to Pop Trading Co. to uncover the thinking behind their link-up with NB.
For our audience that might not know much about Pop Trading Co, can you tell us a little bit about the brand and how it started?
Well, we started as a trading company seven years ago. Wholesaling brands like Palace Skateboards and Polar Skate Co for the Benelux market, but four years ago we decided to make our own apparel. Basically trying to make something more considered, as we are both older skateboarders. Selfishly, something we would be into: a mix between menswear and skateboarding.
Some of the Pop pieces are on the more expensive side for a lot of skater’s wardrobes. Did the brand always have a keen focus on quality?
As we have always been into menswear brands growing up, it just made sense to emulate that when we decided to do our own brand. We really try to keep pricing sharp, but using the materials we use, and manufacturing it in Portugal, doesn’t make things easy. We are not producing price point garments like price point skate brands. We care about what it will do after a few washes. I mean, I want to wear it myself, so you gotta keep a certain standard. We also sell to more menswear-driven accounts like END. and H Beauty&Youth in Japan. For them, we are a very affordable brand.
How did the talks with New Balance came about?
Quality is one thing but, basically, making our own pair of New Balance 1500s was the main thing that inspired us. We got asked by the NB UK team if we would be interested in doing something, because they knew what we were doing, they appreciated our vibe, and they let us do what we wanted. It’s more long-term thinking. It was special that they saw what we were doing, and saw why it would make sense to do something with us.
This was your third footwear collaboration. Did working with Vans and Padmore & Barnes help your creative process, allowing you to articulate your ideas to the New Balance team?
We have a pretty basic approach. The footwear always comes back into our mainline collection, regardless of it’s material or colour. That’s how we went with this collaboration as well. The yellow and off-white come back in our line a lot for this Spring/Summer ’19 range. It just feels like the most genuine thing to do, instead of making it about a certain monument in Amsterdam or basing it on weed or some shit. Keep it simple, let the quality speak, and honour the past. We like to keep it pretty classic and wearable. That was the shoe back in the day for us, the shape is great, and it looked good with our range.
Would you ever grace the Pop branding across the New Balance Numeric range? Was that in the conversation?
For us it was more special to work on a Made in UK product then to do something people might expect from us, which would be Numeric. We actually never had that conversation, we just went straight to Flimby!
In a collaboration, sometimes it’s hard for a brand to let their designers do what they want. How much freedom did New Balance give you?
Apart from doing all over branding or something crazy like that, which isn’t our thing anyway, we were free to work with what we wanted. With a project like this it’s about materials and colours – they change this shoe. It’s a classic, and you don’t want to fuck that up! You wanna respect the shoe as it is.
The official colours were ‘Electric Yellow’ and ‘Seed Pearl’, why did you choose those two colours, and why did each shoe use different types of leathers?
The idea was based on contrast, which is our main point of design when working on collections and collaborations. There is a difference either in material, or style, or colour. For this shoe, we chose to have a more premium leather whisper white shoe versus a more sporty pigskin suede with mesh electric yellow. This also featured some heavy reflective detailing.
Did you go out to the Flimby factory to watch the shoes being made?
We went there before to see the process, and to actually design the shoe, or at least to look at options, materials, and more of that. It was a great experience, and it really gave us a good insight into what was possible.
Was this collaboration about separating yourself a little bit from your skate roots? Or is that still important to the brand?
In a way it was. It’s about showing that we’re more than that. Skateboarding is not that one-sided. It’s very diverse, and I was wearing 1500s when I was 19, no problem. You can easily mix things up, and if people don’t understand that, it’s also fine. It’s very much what we ourselves are into.
Did you have a launch party for this project? Or did the Pop team just celebrate over some beers at the pub?
We had an amazing launch party, if I may say so myself. We did a proper UK-style darts event, and had all the homies play against each other, with the winner eventually going up against Dutch darts legend Co Stompé. We made co-branded Pop x NB pint glasses, and had a massive Pop dartboard wall. It was funny as hell.