For pro skater Kenny Anderson, skating for Converse is like coming home. First signed to Converse when he was an am in the late '90s, the prodigal son has returned to help head up Converse's latest inroads into skate. We caught up with him at Coastal Carnage in HB (a nagging injury kept him out of the comp) to talk Dr. Js, Jack Purcells, and his latest model, the KA-ONE (available now in either grey or black here). And for a guy who can kill the most makeshift spots, he sure knows his product.
Let’s start with the big one, why Converse?
KENNY: Oh man, that’s a deep one. Some people know, some people don’t, I rode for Converse as an amateur — ’97, ’98, ’99 — I turned pro with them. And the reason why I even rode for ‘em back then, as a kid that’s what I skated in. So when I moved out to California I was skating in Dr. J’s, Chuck Taylors, One Stars. It’s just what I liked. I was kind of a little stubborn kid, too, where I had offers from other shoe companies at the time, just moving on, and I said no. Maybe you could look at it as that could be stupid, but I said no because I could go to this outlet and get two for $20 Chuck Taylors. I’m good — this is what I like to skate in. And this is before they even thought of having a skate team. My roommate, Chany [Jeanguenin], who I lived with, who was kind of helping me out — I lived on their couch and stuff at the time —was the first person to skate for that Converse team at the time, ’97. And he’s like, well, my roommate Kenny is an am, he got me on, to me that was a dream.
So then there was a gap, when Converse did some restructuring — they came back recently —and I got the call, and even at that time my other shoe brand [Adio] was going, and other shoe offers as well, but I really thought about it, and I thought where do I really want to be? Where do I feel like I belong? And it’s like going home. I can finally get back to what I thought, especially as a kid, was what I was about. The whole lifestyle that Converse represents: To me that was just like, yeah, I can wear them outside — it’s not a job, I’m not putting on my shoes just to skate, that’s what I wear all the time. It’s weird to have that towards a brand, but that’s just how it is.
So the whole signature line was a long time coming.
KENNY: I don’t know — I got on, I had some stuff back in the day, but then when I got back on they talked to me right away and I was like, well, let’s do it right. My whole thing with Converse was they’re staple shoes, they’re shoes that are my all-time favorites. I got on a year after they actually revamped the whole CONS program, and I saw what they were doing, and I was like, yeah, the padded Chuck Taylor, yeah, that’s what it’s about. So when I got on they were talking about doing the Star Player Skate, and the Star Player was one of my favorite shoes back in the day — I still have an OG pair on my closet and all that. We turned that into my “inspired by” shoe while we were working on the signature shoe. And that’s how that came about — you take a classic Converse shoe, you make it skatable, and to me that’s the formula. You don’t veer away from what Converse stands for in the shoe industry and what they are as a lifestyle brand. As someone who’s worked in design and all that, that’s the last thing I want to do is veer away from any of that, because that’s my favorite part about Converse
Which led into my [signature] shoe [the KA-ONE] — because I had the Star Player Skate as an Inspired By shoe, I was like OK, that’s almost the perfect vulcanized shoe for me, so I’m like, let’s do something different — let’s do a cupsole shoe. I was doing some research in Converse archives, found the Classic Trainer back in the ‘70s [the orange and blue shoe in the photos above], and that cupsole shoe — I like it aesthetically, the shape of it, the silhouette of it is really awesome, I looked at it as potential, we can change some stuff about it, but let’s base it on that. And I remember that cupsole even. So we sampled the upper on that cupsole, and it was perfect to skate in — perfect to skate in. It skates like a vulc, you get it out of the box and you can skate it right then and there. Usually with a cup, it’s hard to break in. So my whole thing was like OK, let’s do something different, it’s different from what everyone’s doing, like I said, the Star Player I had was vulc, let’s offer something cup, and I’m stoked. Feel like it’s a good mix of what the Classic Trainer is, and turning it a little more skateable, but keeping the classic silhouette of Converse.
That’s funny, because when you were skating Converse in the late ‘90s, that’s when skate shoes were kind of — scary, I guess.
KENNY: Yeeaaaah. And I mean, even our idea back then, they offered me a shoe. At first I said no, and then I realized wait, Converse is offering me a shoe, what am I doing? And then after six months of that, I was like OK, can I do a padded Chuck Taylor? Can I do a Chuck Taylor beefed up, or a Dr. J? And then they’re like no, we already have those. And that’s smart, because they were trying to do what was going on. And they made good shoes — if you’re going on what they were trying to do, the most lightweight, the most durable, they did it. It was different back then. I kind of learned how to adapt to what was going on at the time, but right now it’s a dream. When you’re using the silhouettes of a Chuck Taylor or things like that, it’s so classic — and they’re still innovating within, they’re doing these other premium ones that have the new materials, that have the modern stuff that you can still mess with, but I think for the most part, most of the people, there’s a reason why Converse is Converse and why they’re here, and why they’re relevant.
So you didn’t have to do a lot of explaining to get what you wanted in this shoe?
KENNY: Not really. And the designer, Brandon, he’s just on point, too. He understands. The whole, all the dudes working there are so on point with everything where it’s just boom, boom, boom — next thing you know I had a sample. It was like, OK, shape’s a little off, OK. From this point we did some basics, the basic grey suede, the basic black suede, but we have some premium samples and some other versions that we’re working on for later. We designed it for that purpose, of like, yeah you need the basic suede skatable, and we’re doing a bunch of other variations that we’re stoked on.
What were your favorite shoes to skate growing up?
KENNY: So I mean, Chuck Taylors — I even skated Jack Purcells, you know those soles? And I even loved those. But I was always for some reason, Chuck Taylor, One Stars, Dr. J’s. And I even went from cup to vulc, but it was like, I would just break those in more and all that, you know?
But nothing super-padded sole wise.
KENNY: For me, the most important thing as a skateboarder — I like aesthetics, I like design and trying new things — but when you’re skating in a shoe and it’s a skate shoe, you can have a good balance of aesthetically being what you like, but it has to be skatable. That’s the bottom line, if it’s not skatable, the longevity — for me it’s hard to skate in anything else now.
Is there a key to skatability for you?
It’s all relative to the person. For me it’s about board feel. That’s — I mean of course you can adapt to other things: the shape when you look down, of course that’s important, but the way you feel on your board is eeeeevrything, because that’s where everything stems from. And like I said, Day One with these — and anyone who knows me will tell you, I ride everything until it’s dead. I had holes in my shoes, duct tape on the inside, because I like that comfort. The fact that I can go on tour with a brand-new pair of shoes only, it’s really, really rare.
Guess it’s a tough balance — you want a pair you can wear out of the box, but not a pair you’ll wear out in two days.
KENNY: Yeah, exactly. So it’s a good balance, you know? It really is. Really stoked on that.