During the summer of 2007, I received an Industrial Design internship with Vans Shoes in their equipment group. At the time, I was still in school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. When I heard that I was hired for the job, I embarked on a cross country road trip that I will never forget.
While I worked at Vans, a man named Grant Delgatty was the Design Director. What I learned from Vans, Grant, and Safir (my other boss) has been indispensable in my career. I cannot thank them enough.
I reconnected with Grant several days ago and learned that he is in the process of launching his own footwear brand. I asked him a few questions to learn more about it:
?: What is your background in Product Design and what attracted you to it?
G: I knew I always wanted to be some sort of a designer when I was young. After I graduated from high school, I was accepted into a fairly prestigious graphic design and illustration program at a community college in Vancouver, Canada called Capilano College. Upon graduating from this school, I got a job working as a junior graphic designer at a rather large firm in Vancouver called The Design Works, where much of my time was involved in designing building signage. While I was attending Cap College, though, I knew I had more of a interest in designing three dimensional objects, so I began to entertain the thought of becoming a product designer. It was about a year into working for this design firm, that I realized I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a product designer.
I had heard about an amazing school in Pasadena called Art Center College of Design, so the summer following the year I graduated from Cap College, I took a trip down to LA to check the school out. I instantly fell in love with the school, and the work the students had produced. I applied for the program, and was accepted to begin in the fall of 1992. I graduated three years later in the fall of 1995 with a degree in Industrial Design.
Although I had never thought of being a 'shoe designer', one of the jobs being offered upon graduation, was an entry level designer at K-Swiss. I quickly began to realize that I really enjoyed designing shoes, and this became the start of what has become a 16 year career in footwear design. My employment background had me at K-Swiss for a very short stint, as it was a part time job that paid very little. I then worked for a short time at a product design consultancy called SKD in Marina Del Rey. After SKD, I got a job working for a shoe design consultancy called E-West design, where designed shoes for many different athletic and lifestyle shoe brands including Puma, Converse, Tretorn, Nautica, and Vans. One of the brands we started doing design work for, was a little start-up brand called DVS. As DVS began to grow very quickly, I ended up taking the position of head of design for this company that grew to $40 million in sales in 4 years. After being at DVS / Lakai for almost 4 years, I was recruited by Vans to head up the design department. I left Vans 3 years ago to start on the journey that has now become Urshuz (pronounced 'yer shoes').
?: You were my design director when I worked at Vans shoes and I know your experience in the footwear industry extends well beyond Vans, what frustrations with the footwear industry led you to create your own revolutionary brand?
G: After seeing the growth success of DVS, and then Vans, I felt that I would like to attempt being on the ownership side of things. The one thing I knew, though, was in order to be successful in the ever competitive shoe industry, we would NEED to have a strong point of difference. This was when I came up with the idea for Urshuz.
?: Your upcoming brand, Urshuz, breaks down the conventions of classic and contemporary footwear, could you describe how your shoes are unique?
G: Essentially, Urshuz takes the 'commercial' out of the design process. Many times while I was at Vans and DVS, I had consumers ask me for example, "Can you make this shoe with a 'red' top, and a 'blue' bottom?". The thing is, when you are dealing with a mass market product such as shoes, the decisions you make when it comes to color combinations, have to be made considering how 'commercial' it is, meaning 'which color combination will sell the best?'. I knew there may be an interesting opportunity for a footwear product to essentially allow the actual consumer to become part of the design process, instead of being forced to buy whatever the company felt would be the most commercial.
I also understood that there were already a number of web-based avenues for the consumer to have this same 'customizable' experience , however, I determined a couple drawbacks to these sites. One, it took several weeks to receive the shoes you created, thus taking away from the 'instant gratification' of being able to have your product right away. Two, once you had created this 'custom' shoe, that was it. There would never be another way to switch it out for another combination, except to start from scratch ordering another pair of shoes. Urshuz has a patent pending system that allows the consumer to mechanically attach the upper to the sole. It does so by using a series of elastic 'U' rings attached to the bottom of the uppers, which then feed into channels molded into the outsole. With the use of this system, the consumer is able to easily and quickly attach and detach the uppers from the soles, thus allowing for the never ending ability to change the look of 'Urshuz'.
Urshuz assembly method
?: What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of creating your own brand?
G: Challenging - money, time, and a tremendous learning curve to developing a type of shoe that has NEVER been done before!
Screen capture of the Urshuz website
?: What does the future hold for Urshuz and yourself?
G: It has been said many times to me that we will be the "next crocs". Although I think in most cases this was meant to be a compliment, I am not sure how much association I would like to have with them? I do hope that Urshuz will be able to have the global reach that crocs has (or had), however, it is my desire that we are considered an authentic, youthful, 'cool' brand, that is trend relevant, extremely comfortable, and very environmentally conscious (did I mention, our soles and footbeds are 100% recyclable?). As for me, this thing has been my baby for the last 3 years, so I think the thing I am most looking forward to, is FINALLY having the product hit the stores this spring!
The Urshuz Collection
Look for Urshuz in stores June 2011 and check out the Urshuz website for more information.