CT Best of the Year: Nike SB Zoom FP Shawn Carboy Q&A

As we said a week or so ago, while the Nike SB Zoom FP might look a little odd off the foot, it comes into its own when it's on. Plus it's made to skate, rather than pose for blogshots. This design is looking to inform the next generation of Nike SB releases (including the much-anticipated Koston 1) and it feels like the sum total of everything the team have been working on up to now. With this, the new Dunk and the aforementioned signature shoe set to drop in 2011, it's a big year for Nike's skateboarding division. The shades of Presto, balance of light weight and resilience, all incorporated in such a minimal package is something worth celebrating. We caught up with the Zoom FP's designer, Shawn Carboy to discuss the model's design process...

What was the Zoom FP's intended position in the SB line?

We wanted the Zoom FP to be a technical shoe, but at the same time be clean and wearable. Allowing the form to be functional, but keeping the shoe simple and to the point. The process starts and ends with a few basic principles: designing a shoe that you barely notice wearing, while still solving the problems of what makes a shoe skate better.

From the URL to E-Cue and the TRE styles, there's always been a sense that the more futuristic looks were a hard sell for's the FP gone down so far?

Mostly, people have been pleasantly surprised when they see the shoe in person...and even more so when they try it on. I know the price is a concern and it's understandable. I'm just stoked to see people actually skating the FP. It was a humbling experience to see everyone at the US and European wear-test sessions skating in it. That's what it was meant for. The more people skate it, the more feedback we get, the better we become as shoe designers.

How long does a project like the FP take to develop? Did the original sketches look like the final article?

We knew there were going to be challenges, so we started a season early-about a year and a half out. The design stayed pretty true to the original design intentions. Since the tooling is an evolution of the Zoom TRE AD tooling, our effort was focused on the construction of the upper, which turned out to be challenging.

The shoe is split into two main parts, the endoskeleton and the exoskeleton. The endoskeleton (the booty) is the internal support structure, which creates the sock-like fit. The exoskeleton (the external shell) supports and protects the booty. The exoskeleton gives you the needed durability without losing board feel or flexibility. Making the shell takes different machines than normal footwear construction. Luckily for us, the Running group have been using this process of flat press (no sew) construction. So once we figured out how to make the shell, then we needed to work out how it would be stitched to the booty with the least amount of hot spots. We went through every stitching path to make sure paths began and ended with no irritation to a person's foot.

I'm pretty psyched on how it turned out, especially when guys like Eric Koston, Ishod Wair, and Daryl Angel can give us the thumbs up after skating in it and shooting ads in the Zoom FP.

Is there a substantial challenge in making that upper as clean, panel and bulk-free as possible but still making it capable of taking the blows of regular skating?

It's in the simplicity in the design that makes the FP what it is. We started by asking ourselves, "Does a shoe need to be bulky in order to be durable?"

Usually technical skate shoes are overbuilt and heavy. The thought behind technical skate shoes is to make them indestructible. The shoe then becomes a protection story: protection from the board, protection from impact, protection from the environment, and so on. And with building a shoe in this manor, you increase the amount of parts that could fail. You also take away the actual experience of skating. It's hard to skate with bricks on your feet. Anyone who skated in the late 90's can attest to that. It seemed like a good idea at the time!

The ultimate goal is to make the protective qualities work for you. By using the no sew/flat pressing process, we can do this. We can retain the protective qualities of a technical skate shoe, but still have board feel, cushioning, fit, durability, et cetera. For example, the FP doesn't look durable, but if you dissected the forefoot, you would see that there's three layers of protection. The top layer is a TPU film, the center is synthetic leather that's the structure of the shoe, and TPU film underlay for that last layer of protection

How useful has Free technology been to the line? Even the Dunk seems to be getting a spot of Free early next year too.

The way I approached the Dunk Pro SB is different than the FP. With the FP, it makes sense to build in a Nike Free flex groove since there is phylon in the forefoot. This allows us to have a vulc-like board feel while retaining the cushioning properties.

In the case of the Dunk Pro SB, we didn't need to incorporate a Free flex groove because you're forefoot is sitting on rubber. We redesigned the tread so that it was specific for skateboarding. The original tread was built for a basketball court. When the shoe got dusty, it didn't work so well on griptape. So by removing some of the rubber, we increased the overall traction while retaining the Dunk's iconic look.

It's a very 21st century thing that our first introduction to a shoe tends to be a camera shot or scan of a lookbook sideview. That's how we first saw the FP and it didn't do it justice at all. Is that a pain after you've put the work in?

Nah, I actually like seeing people write about what we design. It's healthy to have a debate whether a shoe sucks or not. Nobody should have people agree with them all the time. That's the great thing about skateboarding, we're all different and we love to talk trash. If there's constructive criticism, then I'm game to hear anyone out. I knew this was going to be challenging since the FP is a departure from its predecessors and I knew there was going to be criticism.

While it's very modern, the FP seems to have used modernism as an opportunity to strip it down entirely rather than pad it out-is that the key to the shoe's success?

Simplicity allows more opportunity to innovate. Ask yourself, what makes a shoe great to skate? Is it functionality, purely aesthetic, or could it be a blend of both worlds? We wanted to focus on the basic building blocks.

This shoe looks like its had a fair amount of Koston feedback during development-there's a certain connoisseur look to it. Is that the case?

It was great to bounce ideas off Eric. I had already designed the FP by the time Eric was signed to SB, but what's great is his interest and enthusiasm in making the SB product better. He has experience in these matters, so it's always good to have his take on what makes a great shoe.

There's a spot of Huarache in there and plenty of Presto to the minimal look and minimum of pieces- was that an inspiration? It reminds us of the old Dunkesto model in some ways.

We used the Presto as a starting point. The Presto is great for its simplicity, a no-nonsense "less is more" approach. This thinking allows us to stay hyper focused on design intent, which is to strip away anything that's unnecessary while keeping only what you need.

Next to the new P-Rod Hi, it feels like the SB line has honed a mix of basic and forward-thinking this year...has it been a bumpy road to get to this point?

I like to think of it as a learning process. The market right now is pretty stagnant and we need to shake it up a bit. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. As long as we learn from our successes and failures, we can make better and more relevant product.

2010 seemed to be a big year for SB in terms of coverage and exposure for the whole action sports push-does that lead to bigger opportunities for the division? Back in 2002 it was a real outsider wing of Nike...

There's a bunch of cool things coming in 2011. I can't discuss, but hopefully you guys will be psyched!

Are you already looking at where you can take the FP innovations across the SB line?

It's easier for me to think of the Zoom FP as the first installment in a series. This style of thinking creates the potential for tiering innovations throughout the SB product line. The enhanced durability of the FP will hopefully work its way into signature products. The first iterations are in the Koston 1. I'm really excited to see what everyone thinks. Stay tuned.

Posted by, gwar on 3 January 2011