Harold Arandia, footwear designer for Onitsuka Tiger, talks about sneaker trends and how he seeks inspiration from cured fish and fried gluten bread for sneaker designs.
How did you come to design for Onitsuka Tiger?
I had a colleague that I used to work with at Adidas in Portland, who was now working at Asics for Onitsuka Tiger. I had been taking a break from footwear for three years but I always kept in touch with her and we reconnected at a good time. I love sneakers and it was just the right time for me to come back after exercising my brain on other creative ventures. Onitsuka Tiger reset the brand in 2011 and they were looking for a footwear designer specifically in their European office in the Netherlands. It was one of those times where the right things came together at the right time. I am the only non-Japanese designer at Onitsuka Tiger. So it’s an honor to me that they have accepted me into the family.
Where do you get the inspiration for your footwear designs?
Our inspiration always comes from our history and what we have done in our past as a starting point. From a silhouette standpoint running is the key style for our brand. We have history with the Tiger Corsair, an iconic runningshoe for us. The Corsair would later emerge in another brand as the start of the Nike Cortez. For summer 2014 we have several concepts like concrete jungle with unique camo influences, where we see a return to nature and materials inspired by our surroundings. I personally think inspiration comes from doing work not sitting around waiting for a lightning bolt to hit you. I travel and do a lot of research on what is modern Japan and what it means to me. But I am only a small part of a bigger, smarter team.
What does this kind of research you are doing look like?
My last trip to Japan took me to a muse- um in midtown Tokyo where they had an amazing exhibit focusing on Japanese handcrafted items. The exhibition dealt with artisan made products from one specific town. It was everything from traditional weaving processes and hand forged products to the process of making traditional Japanese foods like special pickled and cured fishes, fried gluten breads and uniquely packaged sweets.
So this gives you the inspiration for shoe design?
Yes, I love these types of exhibits because they reflect on a certain kind of Japanese artistic care and craft. It is this attention to details that is used in their items around the garden, home, food and even follows through to how it is packaged. This creates a texture of what Japan really is at its core. You have the dichotomy of modern Japan as technology, slicked up computers and then you have this very traditional side, this handcraft, methodical and rooted in history. Japan can be simple and clean vs. highly technological and detailed. All of this goes directly in the shoedesign whether it is the shapes, colors, laces, patterns or materials.
Who is really driving the trends at the moment when it comes to lifestyle sneakers?
As far as trends I think you have brands that are really strong right now like Nike, Adidas even New Balance. Our advantage is we are opening up at the right time. People want an alternative to the established brands and I think we offer something different regarding our product with its unique history. People are always looking for alternatives in everything now; we can see it in everyday items such as food. Everybody knows in America what a hamburger is but now you’re having these new expressions of fusion foods that have created new food items and culture to go along with it. This is happening across different industries and products; this is why I think this is a really good time for us. We are not an unknown brand but in some ways we are new and fresh but still have a very real history. I think this gives us an advantage to bring out our new products and introduce them to people that may not know us yet so they can have a chance to fall in love with our brand.
What kind of target groups do you aim at?
We aim at consumers 15 to 24 years old. But we already have a loyal following and group of customers. With the newer models we are trying to bring in some freshness whether in shapes or colors and expand upon what we have offered before. With some of the new models like the Shaw Runner or the Harandia we are offering something that is going to appeal to younger customers but also appeal to our current loyal consumer by giving them a more running-based lifestyle feel.
There is a really big sneaker hype still going on. Do you have an explanation for that?
I think this kind of interest in sneakers has always been around but definitely right now people want to be more comfortable. Times are different now; we are not dressing the same way that we used to. I don’t have to wear a suit and tie to work; you don’t have to wear a dress all the time. We are able to express lifestyle and ourselves and that trend goes from everything from phones to cars. I think sneakers are just a way of doing that too. People want to be comfortable and fashionable at the same time. Today people wear sneakers and are mixing it up with more formalwear and are having fun blurring the line between formal and casual looks.
So you think the lines between formalwear and streetwear will become increasingly clouded?
Yes, this is already happening and I don’t think this is a trend that is necessarily going to stop. If I look at blogs everywhere people are mixing sportswear with high fashion brands. And I see it when I go to Japan to places like Comme des Garcons. You have fashion labels that are playing around with athletic materials. I think we are in this place where things are not so defined anymore, kind of intermingling or inspired by each other era. Runway is inspired by the street and vise versa and you see that everywhere. In music you have artists like A$AP Rocky that become high fashion icons but in another side he is still an urban street performer. The market is not as defined as it was before.
Is there a sneaker trend to much more simplicity?
There is a trend of going simpler visually but it is also a contrasting technique or trend, because the way you go simpler is by getting more advanced in technology.
How important are function and techniques for Onitsuka Tiger?
We have the advantage that we have a sports heritage, so sports is always something that we are inspired from. That means we are able to use some of the technologies in a more lifestyle interpretation whether from a comfort level or to being able to execute and create a shoe in a different way. A good example of this is when we talk about technologies is the SUV, an off-road vehicle. Coming from LA I know that there are a lot of people that drive SUVs but their car has never seen mud at all, it has rims, leather seats, movie screens, etc. and this is a lifestyle interpretation of what originated as a technical performance off-road vehicle. I think in terms of shoes, people also want these functions but they are adjusted to their lifestyle. People want to have these technical functions but at the same time the lifestyle aspect is very important too.
What other trends will become important for sneakers in 2014?
I think court models are starting to emerge more in the market as well as basketball silhouettes. Right now we see all the heat on running silhouettes. From a technical standpoint it will be bigger silhouettes in general as well as bootinspired sneakers.
Do you also see a certain decade that is coming back?
At the moment everyone is trying to create a history for their brand. You have fashion brands creating fashion-sneaker styles with no real history or heritage behind them. They take inspiration from us or other sneaker brands, so when it comes to decades I think we have an advantage that some models that we have are known for a certain time period but I think it varies as to what is in the “moment” now. I think there is always a certain underlying heritage trend that you will see out in the world.
How many sneakers do you have?
Really I have too many and I am constantly getting rid of shoes.
Are we talking about a couple of hundreds?
I stopped counting. I am a shoe designer I keep the shoes that I have worked on in the past, different versions and prototypes. I like to keep products that inspire me and I can possibly use down the road to express an idea or concept. When I moved to Germany I lived on the fifth floor of the building and had no lift. One of the last things the mover brought up was this old heavy chest I had and after he lugged it up to my new flat he asked if he could see what was inside. I said sure, so he opened it and it filled with shoes. He looked at me and said: “You know we have shoes in Germany?” And I said: “But I am a footwear designer, that’s my nature.”