Last week, at the unveiling of the updated Supra Skytop III CD, I got to sit down and talk with one of the coolest people I’ve met in sneakers to date: Robert Cape Capener.
Cape Capener is incredibly tall, super California (he’s from Del Mar, like Tony Hawk), and easygoing with a friendly smile. When he walked into the flagship Supra shop in Soho he immediately put his backpack on the counter because he brought goodies: out of the pack came four then-unseen samples of what Supra has cooking for its tenth anniversary. The store employees know him by name and he knows them too — refreshing to see for a brand president.
This was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of doing. Cape discussed the future of Supra, what the brand has in store for 2017, what goes into creating a new silhouette, and how a brand gets to know its consumer. Enjoy, and share your thoughts down below.
Noah Goldowitz for WearTesters.com: You’ve been with Supra and Krew a little over a year now but you have been in the footwear and apparel industries for 20 years, almost 30 years.
Cape Capener: [chuckles] Wow…
NG: I’m not trying to age you! You were the global director of Reebok during some of its greatest years, you founded Above the Rim, you were with adidas basketball. Where to even start? I’m wondering what brought you to Supra and Krew?
Cape Capener: Look, there are always similarities when it comes to street culture within the sneaker game. Having been in basketball I always drew comparisons to skateboarding, as far as the mashable concepts of art, music, fashion, sport, and how those inspire kids and youth culture. When the opportunity came to take over and create the future of Supra and Krew I jumped on it. I felt that they had such a great run for so many years but over the last few years just gotten a little bit…quiet. I thought that by jumping in and putting some new innovation into the mix that there’s gonna be quite a future.
NG: So what’s your vision for the future of Supra?
Cape Capener: You’re going to see it soon. Ultimately we have six brand new styles for Q1 2017; they’re coming to retail and won’t be in-store until ’17. We’ve created this strategy where we take skateable mids and highs, a signature of Supra, and draft them down into training silhouettes – like how the Skytop III drafts down into the Scissor, which is a running silhouette, but it has the same upper pattern so it has the same design thread that makes sense. Obviously, you’re gonna skate in one shoe but to run you want something more comfortable and light. So that strategy will continue – the dual-focus, not only to address lifestyle but address skate as well.
NG: So are you planning new technologies? SUPRAFOAM has been around ten years now, we know that it’s mostly EVA. Is anything else coming?
Cape Capener: Yeah!
NG: Because cushioning is the name of the game right now.
Cape Capener: No question. And board feel – it’s always a big part of skate. You don’t want to have too much EVA –
NG: Just like in basketball.
Cape Capener: Exactly, you need the right amount of EVA for cushioning and energy absorption. We work with our team riders everyday; we’re getting feedback from weartesting product. “How does that feel?” or “Is it snug – or too loose?” “How’s the cushioning?” “When you hit do you think that has a tendency to heel bruise on a strike that is awkward?” Obviously, these guys are at the top of their game when it comes to skating and we want them to have the best product so that they feel comfortable and confident as they try never-been-dones because they throw down.
NG: It’s very interesting, seeing how Supra has evolved, because I was there at the beginning. If I’m allowed to be critical – because I love the brand and I’ve worn it for so many years – I’ve seen line extension. You’re bringing six new silhouettes next year. How will you handle the vastness of each line? Will some models be phased out?
Cape Capener: We’ve always been a very efficient brand when it comes to SKU count. We’re very focused on the consumer and I mentioned the team riders – we’re not going to do anything that’s corny or fake. We’re going to stay focused on what our consumer needs. We’ll develop products we know the consumer wants because we’ve done our research and we know our consumer intimately. Three million Facebook likes, 700,000 Instagram followers, in addition to a very robust flow team of guys that work in skate shops and ride for us for swag and free product. We have a clear bullshit detector of what’s fake and what’s corny and we won’t cross that line.
NG: I’ve noticed that with the collabs Supra has done in the past – they’ve always been tasteful. I can’t think of a collab the brand did just for the collab. Now that collabs are the thing, every brand is doing collabs with every other brand – Dreamworks is collaborating with Diadora now which doesn’t make any sense – it’s refreshing seeing a brand that has stayed focused on its original vision. And it will be your job to carry that vision through for the next however many years you stay with the brand.
Cape Capener: When we see our vision too we see that 85% of our business is male. We think that there’s a huge opportunity for us to do some product line extensions into women’s – and certainly kid’s has been a strong, small, but strong portion of our business –
NG: Both literally and figuratively small –
Cape Capener: [chuckles] Right, and we can expand there. We have an exciting initiative that we’re launching in Q1 ‘17 which is our apparel line. It was designed by this cat AY, Anthony Yamamoto, who has a long history in the market with some really, really cool lines under his belt. We’re excited for what he’s put together and we’re launching that for Q1 ’17.
NG: Would you say that Supra is an experienced brand in terms of management, designers, creative directors? When I see some of the new silhouettes coming out, whoever’s designing this stuff is really allowed to be creative – and there was a long time in Supra’s first five years where things looked kind of the same – and now you’ve got a lot of wild silhouettes coming out. There obviously must be someone with the power of the pen, literally, to be able to design things that look really freakin’ cool. I’m wondering, are most of the people at Supra a little older with more experience in the industry? Or is it a mix?
Cape Capener: It’s a mix. We’ve got some very talented designers – one dude, who is very strong, Adam Contreras, really strong designer. We have a new VP of Footwear, who has a long history with the brand, Udi Shiloah, who’s amazing. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to talk to him as well – he’s legit, really really strong in the game.
When it comes to design, we are very maniacal when it comes to doing case studies and building a business case behind every new silhouette. If we go in and create a new design that we think is right, we kinda know it’s right, because we’ve done so much research on it to build the business case.
Toolings are expensive; when you open up bottoms on a new silhouette you’re cutting steel. At that point you’re investing a lot of money so you want to make sure that the bet is a good one. We build a business case for each new style and it’ll go through a vetting process where we do focus groups, then we show it to the team riders, the team riders ride it, they come back with feedback, then we know what we’ve got when it lands in-store.
NG: Well I’m excited for what’s coming. That was so much fun! Thank you.