Not everyone gets a signature shoe. It’s even rarer when a brand releases one with a woman athlete.
Famed skateboarder Alexis Sablone, however, is unlike most athletes today. Sablone, the newest athlete at Converse to receive her own shoe, represented Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What’s more, she is a multidisciplinary artist, having graduated from MIT graduate and making a name for herself as an architect, sculptor, painter and more.
Gender, however, didn’t cross her mind early on when creating her shoe, the Converse AS-1 Pro.
“I’m not thinking about it from a gender perspective. I’m just like, ‘I want to design this.’ These are just things that I want. If I’m going to do a shoe, I want to do it my way,” Sablone told FN. “But taking a step back, not many skaters get to do that — and definitely not many female skaters.”
She continued, “It means a lot for me personally, but also the more visibility the better. Young girls get to see that this is path, this is a possibility. You want to have a shoe and design that shoe, push. It’s possible if you push. The importance of that can’t be understated.”
Although she is just now starting to realize the gravity of the moment, Converse has recognized this as something that should be celebrated from the beginning.
“This is a celebration of what she does for skateboarding, how she does it with energy, enthusiasm and style,” Damion Silver, Converse associate creative director of footwear, told FN. “The shoe is emblematic of what she gives to skateboarding — power, style, goodness.”
Perhaps more importantly than the moment itself is the process of creating the shoe, which was truly collaborative.
“We linked with Alexis early on, she had some rough ideas and then she kind of ghosted us for a hot second. She then came back with quite literally a papier-mâché shoe. She brought it to the table and everybody was taken aback,” Silver said. “I’ve been working in industry a long time and nobody has ever showed up with the thing they wanted, artfully created with attention to detail. She knew what she wanted. I’ve never had that experience.”
Although footwear isn’t her typical discipline, Sablone said her creation process roughly remained the same.
“Whether it’s a shoe or not a shoe, I’m still drawing things on the page and intuitively I’m like, ‘There’s something missing from that’ or ‘I like this’ or ‘It looks too basic.’ The process guides you. This is something that just felt right to me,” Sablone said. “But the challenge was as soon I started I was like, ‘How is this thing made?’ Suddenly I’m like, ‘What is the shape of this piece versus that piece? Where is it sewn together?’ Even just making a model of a shoe, I had to think about all of that. I was guided by necessity, like ‘I need to figure this part out, how do I do that?’ That was a fun challenge. And the difference between this and a larger scale project is I got to get a sample back. It was so cool, but sometimes frustrating when you’re like, ‘No, I want it like this,’ and then you go tweak it by millimeters, tiny amounts.”
Sablone’s signature look was inspired by Converse basketball shoes from the 1980s, and incorporates modern skate innovation.
“It comes truly from the Converse archive,” Silver said of the shoe. “We’re fortunate to have an archivist who holds and celebrates all the shoes, and when we started design processes, we’re able to dig into that. Alexis used that as a base and paid homage to late ’80s and early ’90s basketball and skate shoes.”
He continued, “She came into our archives and saw the beauty and Converse’s history. She was able to carry that forward to make something that I dare say you can’t tell if it’s from the ’90s and you can’t tell if it was made yesterday. It’s like somebody you know who is across the room, like ‘I think I know you, but I don’t know where I know you from.’ We use the term future familiar. It’s engineered and made with today’s processes but it’s got that familiar friendly vibe to it.”
There are, however, atypical elements that make this stand out.
“Things that are different in her silhouette versus what’s in the market includes that forefoot overlay piece with the TPR rubber front, it’s a signature detail to that design,” Silver said. “And there are subtle embossed elements, whether it’s the AS-1 or the embosses on the tongue logos. She could have went so bold to put her name out there and blast it, but she chose to pull it back and let it be a subtle discovery point.”
From a technical standpoint, Silver said the shoe was tailored for the needs of Sablone, but is a solid option for all skateboarders.
“She talked about heal bruising, so there’s some subtle engineering bits and pieces that are inside of it, in the cup sole,” Silver said. “And I feel like she said the word flick million times during our design process. It’s important to her and for her trick selection to have something that stands up to the way that she gets down on the skateboard, so we engineered the forefoot of the shoe with her in mind. I don’t want to call it indestructible, but it was built to handle what she throws at it.”
Also, the shoe features herringbone outsoles that were engineered with Sablone’s feedback with grip between the board and the shoe in mind, as well as CX foam sock liners for impact protection and a rubber lateral sidewall height designed to handle the demands of all types of riders.