I read somewhere of your Native American heritage - you mentioned that it influences your design. Could you explain?
As a small boy growing up, my grandfather Quince would pick me up every Saturday and tell me stories about him as a young man growing up on an Indian reservation close to Woodruff, Arizona. From his stories I gained a great interest in Indian tribes’ arts & crafts and their unique patterns. I have a rich American family history from miners, loggers, and forest rangers, to immigrant farmers. The whole Americana style influences me but nothing greater than my grandpa’s family heritage. Not everything I do has a direct or literal influence in work, but maybe the thought of detail, color or maybe even just feeling…
Did you always know you would be involved in design?
I grew up with a really close-knit group of friends whose lives all revolved around skateboarding. In high school I realized that I had a natural talent for drawing and elements of design, but after graduating I never really followed it. Following graduation, I attended junior college - taking classes here and there. Feeling like serving tables was going to be the end of me, I dropped out of school. My Dad soon after offered me a job, so off I went into construction. My friends and I all kept in touch, but one stayed within in the [skate] industry following in his brother’s path. He became a footwear designer [Josh Brubaker] after his brother [Brandon Brubaker]. Josh told me to go back to school and study in design. He told me that after I was done with school, that he or his brother would help to get me in the industry after graduation. A few years later, Brandon got me a job working for Converse. The people I live my life with always influence and play important roles in design or my career path. My Dad being a key role; love you, Pop.
Where do you draw some of your aesthetic references from?
OTW footwear line is a balance of staying true to Vans classic heritage and modern trends and lifestyles. Vans’ DNA with a modern day look and feel is what I’m going for. I want to push the idea and image of what people see Vans as. I know the style and work done on OTW only will complement and give growth to Vans image. Every design and style in the footwear line serves a purpose.
Did you attend school for design?
Yes, I went to RCC [Riverside Community College], then following to F.I.D.M [Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising], graduating in Graphic Design.
What are your thoughts on art education? Is it more about experience or trial and error?
I think an art education of some sort is very important for designers’ careers. School helps shape and refine your skills. Education helps a designer be better and puts him or her on a fast track toward their career. Not everyone can learn how to do design - just learn to understand it. School can weed out the weak. Education is experience: trial and error for designers. This business is tough and is getting tougher. Friends and family only get you so far, and then you need to perform.
How do you begin the design process, mentally?
First, I think of aesthetic references that the [shoe] line is missing and what or where we can fit it in the line. The concept, shape, fit, out-sole, function, use of color, and materials all play a part in the mental process. Then I’ll start sketching on the pattern and out-sole. Vans has a few categories I work on. Some are more challenging and demanding than others. OTW comes more naturally to me. I like designing in many different medias. For OTW shoes, it’s all about,“Would the team or would I wear this product?”
What are some of your favorite artists, musicians, and designers?
Artists, musicians and designers change for me through my life. One minute I’m into rock - the next hip-hop. It depends on where and what I’m doing at the moment. I’ll always be changing and moving forward. I hold onto what I like. I embrace new things as well, “Forever Young” - Jay-Z. I would rather not go to my personal taste with art, music, and lifestyle. I feel that gives people a preconceived thought on the product or work that I do. I want a person look at the work I do and have unbiased opinion. To just have them think,“Do I like it or not?”
Tell me about Vans. What is the creative environment like?
Keeping an open mind is all I want. [Laughs] I think it’s a nice office, but not a very creative environment. I feel having a fun, creative lifestyle is important in a designer’s career so that you can bring that creative energy into your work environment. Vans gives us a travel budget throughout the year so we can get inspired where we feel is necessary.
What was your philosophy when it came to designing the OTW brand? What types of ideals did you have in creating some of the new models?
Since I started at Vans four years ago, I was always pushing designs that were different. I didn’t look or feel right for a category. OTW was an organic creation. It just happens that I was in the right place at the right time. People felt my work and lifestyle was a fit. I feel lucky to be part of the team that helped develop, design, and market OTW. OTW is a category where modern design meets our classics. Vans embraces ‘new’ and what is right for the growth of the brand.
The timeline I work on for OTW is two years out so we already have new styles ready. We’re going to be dropping off some older looks to make room for fresh styles. We are also going to be updating some existing shoe styles. The new styles are really going to change the way people look at Vans footwear product. I only wish I could put more styles in the line and hit all the looks I’m feeling, but we’re trying to keeping the line small and clean. I’m super stoked.
When it comes to design, a longstanding debate beckons as another sports company begins to design for casual lifestyle. Where do you see Vans and OTW in this regard?
The forever-changing retail environment for OTW makes the category special. It allows OTW to be the voice of the people. The product is going to walk the line between both lifestyles and blend them together making the category a truly unique story. OTW is the first footwear line by Vans to ever take-on, hire, promote, and tell the story of an individual’s creative lifestyle. Thanks to the people at Vans and our advocates OTW is going to be a force to be felt.
Interview by Rickey Kim. For more on Quince Ruark visit www.quincejoseph.com