It's one thing busting out a few logos on Adobe Illustrator, running off two dozen T-shirts and subsequently counting yourself included in the action sports rag trade. Print up some stickers and trucker caps as well, and you have a whole product line. Welcome to the BMX industry, see you at Interbike next Fall. However, it's an entirely 'nuther ball game breaking into the shoe industry: now, when it comes to making the things we strap on our feet every day, we're talking about serious investment.
Owners: Derek Adams
Based: Collegeville, Pa.
Manufactures: Shoes, softgoods.
Team: Van Homan, Matt Beringer, Brian Wizmerski, Geoff Slattery, Randy Brown, Brian Hunt, Garrett Guilliams, Adam Guilliams, Dan Conway, Dave Krone, Brian Histand, Micky Marshall, Mike Osso, Marky T, Brendon Reith.
"With a name inspired from a Black Sabbath song and a goal of making comfortable riding shoes, Orchid Footwear was born." -Derek Adams
Materials research, 3D CAD designs, sourcing manufacturing from the Far East, having samples made, tearing those apart, going back to the drawing board, sinking a mortgage worth of dough into having all those different size lasts (the casts soles are made with) machined up, team choice, graphics, bringing the whole shooting match to market, convincing dealers your shoes are better than others. Speaking of which, there's the small matter of established legit footwear giants who turn over millions of dollars a day. Fancy jumping into the ring for a little financial mano-a-mano with the likes of Sole Tech, Vans Inc, and those upstarts from Oregon, namely Nike? Please, be my guest.
With this in mind, I wanted to find out more about how the wheels turn within various shoe brands. And who better to start with, than Derek Adams of Orchid Footwear. Many moons ago, Derek started out as a lo-fi outfit printing T-shirts and selling them at BMX jams: and because Derek's head is glued on the right way round, Little Devil took off and was subsequently followed by his shoe company. I remember getting one of the very first pairs of Van Homan signature shoes in the mail, and thinking, "This is going to be GOOD!" Since then, Orchid has become so well founded that he recently closed Little Devil to focus on his kicks, which I have to say was a very bold move. So, to kick this whole series off (no pun intended), let's talk to the man himself about how it all started, how to compete against the big fellas, and plans for the future: here's Orchid Footwear's Derek Adams.
So Derek, how was Little Devil going for you back in the '90s?
In the '90s, Little Devil was still a one-man operation running out of my grandfather's basement. Around 1999, it started to blow up and seemed to double in size every year until around 2005. It was a wild ride and a hell of a lot of work, but in general it was a ton of fun.
What were you doing before Little Devil?
I was a BMX bum living off my parents, going to community college, and trying not to have any responsibilities besides building jumps in the woods. I started Little Devil hoping to beat the system and remain jobless. It worked, kind of.
What were the best times at Little Devil then?
For me the best times had to be when we built the first and second warehouse ramps. I rode almost every day for like seven years straight. Thank you Nate Wessel and crew!
So 2002 rolls along: what first made you want to start a shoe company?
I wanted to make shoes ever since I started Little Devil, but really started to think about it seriously in 2002. Every BMX rider was buying skate shoes and the skate companies were taking the money and running. Even worse, they were using that money to build parks that we weren't allowed to ride. I wish it wasn't like this, but let's face it, most skaters don't care for us, so why are we giving them so much of our money? I thought we stood a chance at making a BMX shoe company work so we decided to go for it. Now I have some friends who buy Orchids because they're good for skating, pretty funny. For the record I think skating is awesome and I actually skate a bit sometimes, but after 20 years of being discriminated against, I'm starting to lose patience with the whole 'no bikes' mentality. You guys are riding a kid's toy too, you're not that cool either.
Did the first shoes come out in 2003?
We did a test run of 500 shoes in late 2003 and gave those shoes away to potential dealers. Our first shoes were available for sale in Spring 2004. The response was almost too good, some shops started ordering crazy quantities that ended up taking them a while to sell. We deal with bike shops, not experienced shoe stores, so there was a bit of a learning curve involved with figuring out the correct quantities to order. Ten models times 15 sizes can be overwhelming. We have it a lot more dialed now though.
So how fast did you learn the ropes of shoe design?
We hired a guy who had designed shoes before, took a trip to Korea, learned a lot from the manufacturer, and then kept making samples until we liked the product we had.
What were the first reactions like to Orchid?
I think people were stoked at first. Nobody knew what to expect, so I'd like to hope that people were pleasantly surprised. Our shoes hold up pretty well compared to most. You can't take that away from us. First and foremost we're committed to making quality shoes that hold up to abuse.
Our shoes hold up pretty well compared to most. You can't take that away from us. First and foremost we're committed to making quality shoes that hold up to abuse.
Who were the first riders on the team back in '04?
Van Homan, Matt Beringer, Wiz, Shawn Arata, Kevin Porter, Corey Martinez, Chris Adamski and Steven Hamilton.
Who did you ask who said "no" to joining the team then?
Before Van committed to riding for Orchid, we were talking to Mike Aitken. He's one of my favorite riders, and I'm so glad to see him recovering from that gnarly crash. But at the time we only had enough money to pay one big-time check, and I had to go with my boy Vandever when he became available. It seems like Mikey has a pretty good deal going with Lotek though, so I'm glad things worked out well for him too.
So who's on Orchid now?
Van Homan, Randy Brown, Matt Beringer, Geoff Slattery, Wiz, and Brian Hunt are the 'pros' and we're flowing shoes to a bunch of newbs like Micky Marshall, Mike Osso, Dave Krone, Brian Histand, Dan Conway, Marky T and the Flying Ginch Brothers. Together they make up the best flatland unicycle team in the business. Shout out to Niki Croft, Owain Clegg and our UK team too. Those guys kill it.
How do you figure out who does what on the team -- in terms of pros and signature shoes and who gets what when?
Squeaky wheel gets the grease? Just kidding. We're trying to do a shoe for everyone on the pro team this year. We'll see how that pans out.
How do you go about designing a new shoe? Do you start with a blank sheet of paper, a round of coffees with the guy who's getting the shoe, and a couple of pencils?
It normally starts with a shopping trip to Philly where we discuss what we like and don't like about some shoes. Then I'll do some drawings, convert them to Illustrator to do colorways and fine-tuning. Then we have a few rounds of samples made until they look and feel right.
How often do you release new shoes?
Two to three times a year. We always do Spring and Fall, with the occasional holiday release.
How do you compete against the small-fry such as Nike and co?
Honestly there's no way we can compete against Nike's buying power. They'll always have more money to buy ads, events, riders, media coverage, etc. That's a fact. So we have to be more guerilla about our promotion, and try to do as good of a job promoting BMX at a fraction of their budget. And honestly I think we're doing a good job with our minimal budget. We're producing a lot more BMX content than Nike out of genuine love for the sport. This isn't just a scheme to get your money to us, we really love what we do and we're trying to give back by keeping it real. I think that shows, and I think a small group of BMXers gets it. That's enough to keep us afloat, but I wish more riders understood the economics of BMX a little better. Until Nike is paying Garrett Reynolds the same amount as Tiger Woods, we're not giving up. At least make that kid a millionaire, he's the Tiger Woods of BMX! With that said, Mark Losey (Nike TM) is my good friend and I know people have to eat, so I'm not hating. I even got a Freestylin' book, so maybe I should just stop talking now.
Let's talk marketing. How do you guys go about it -- Web site stuff, any print content? And what about team videos?
We are all about the Internet self-promotion these days. We try to do daily blogs and monthly videos on orchidfootwear.com. I enjoy doing it too, blogging is fun. I'm also into Web sites like bmxfeed.com where you can see what's happening in BMX daily. Their Google Reader feature is the future, why isn't everybody using it? Stop living in 2006. We also just started advertising and contributing to leastmost.com, a new BMX Web site. It's going to be rad and I'm excited to see where that goes this year. We don't do print ads anymore. I love magazines, but they're too expensive. It seems like an outdated form of communication in 2010. I still love them though, I have a huge BMX magazine collection. I remember getting the issue of Go magazine in the mail where Mat Hoffman did the first flip fakie on vert, eight feet out! I called my friend and was like, "You're not going to believe this!" I'll never forget it. But unfortunately, I can see a day in the near future when magazines don't exist and every person has an Apple Tablet or something like it. I could be wrong though, but even my morning bathroom reading ritual has been all about the iPhone lately, so it doesn't look good for the mags.
It's been a while since Step On It came out -- any chance of a new full team video any time soon?
Yeah, we're planning an East Coast version of Step On It for this summer. Web vids are fun to make and I don't think they get enough credit, but I'd like to sink my teeth into another big project. It's been long enough that I've forgotten how much work it is.
What's on the Orchid to-do list right now?
Fall 2009 shoes, new T-shirts, finishing a Van Homan article and some other things for leastmost.com, Florida trip, repaint the sunset on the Little Devil bowl, 100th shoe release party, etc.
What is your plan for the next 12 months?
Well the plan is to kick major a** in 2010. The last couple of years we've been busy reorganizing the company, but we're all set to go crazy for the new year. So let's go crazy!
S&M taking distribution off your hands must be a relief -- what will you do with the extra time on your hands?
We'll still have our hands full. We're still going to be designing the products, working with all the international distributors, and doing the promotion. S&M is helping us reach more shops in the USA and we're really psyched about that. If I have more free time, I'd like to spend it doing more original video, photo, and music projects.
So what now -- where will Orchid be in five years' time?
Two words: global domination. Nah, honestly I'd be happy if we're doing the same thing, maybe just a little more dialed. I'd like to take this chance to thank Mike Clarke for his years of humble service behind-the-scenes. I shouldn't get all the credit here, he does a lot of work. Also thanks to our riders for everything they do, can't forget those guys. Last but not least, thanks to all our of our customers, dealers and distributors for their support. Here's to 2010, let's make it a good one!
To check the latest run of Orchid Footwear, check out http://www.orchidfootwear.com