John Paul Rogers is a Jack of many trades. Mental Jimmy's mailorder, Schwinn Team Manager, Faction BMX magazine and pretty much anything in between. With starting Caste Footwear, John Paul has found a new way to "kill some time". We caught up with JP on his new gig; Caste.What made you decide to start a shoe company?
I thought I could pull it off. I have a little bit of a background with different shoe companies.
I was sponsored by Vans a million years ago, and I’d go down there to pick up shoes and kind of nose around a little bit. Then the S&M team all got sponsored by Airwalk when they weren’t completely horrible, and they were interested in rider input and hadn’t gone through repeated ownership changes. Also, a friend of mine Kim Boyle got a job there as Team Manager, so after I was done killing myself flailing around on my bike all squirrelly he’d take me on trips with him and we’d do promotions. Basically, he wanted someone to travel with him and help do odd crap. They paid for all the food and beer, and if I remember correctly I got paid $125 a dayâ€¦to eat and drink beer that they paid for and not do much else. After Airwalk Kim worked for Vans and developed their first line of snowboard boots while we were roommates with McGoo, and an Ad Agency McGoo was working with did all the branding, I paid attention to whatever little bit of the process that I saw.
Jump forward ten years or so and I’m living in Philly and Crazy Little Scary Derek Devil decides to start Orchid, once I saw their first samples, the thought popped into my head that it was possible to develop a shoe myself. When Orchid took off I was pretty confident I could make it a reality. Derek actually emailed me and offered help when he heard I was doing this, which is pretty cool. I was already pretty far along though, but I wouldn’t have even thought about it if I wasn’t in Philly and had been in the habit of hanging out at Trans Am every once in awhile with those dudes. It’s a lot easier when someone else has already paved the way, but I think Caste will be different enough than what’s already out there.
Is it focused on the BMX market or do you also sell to others?
Right now it’s not even feasible to concentrate on any other retail avenue outside of BMX. All of the main U.S. mail-order houses are behind it and will be selling the shoes. We are focusing mainly on those, and foreign distribution, which should be at least 50% of the business. We have Seventies and 1664 as of right now, I’m friends with those guys, and it makes it easier and more comfortable to get started with people you know. The goal is to grow it small, and get a feel for how the shoe business works, and bring on more distributors in the near future.
I think you are doing your company a disservice if you are closed off to other retail avenues, and I don’t think it would adversely affect the numbers that mail-orders would sell. You don’t have to market it as anything other than a BMX shoe company either to expand into cornball mall stores. I don’t have any hard stats in front of me, but I think millions of people buy shoes in mall stores, and thousands buy them through mail-order, and ten buy them at bike shops. I’d love to be on a road trip and pop into a mall and see men, women and children of all ages buying Caste shoes. That night, I’d take the team out for a $900 Sushi dinner on the AmEx Corporate Card to celebrate, afterwards, instead of going to the campground we’d each go back to our own five star hotel room and drop more mad loot on booze, whores and coke.
I’m convinced that there are some skate shops that would sell BMX shoes, also. My buddy manages a shop owned by Kerry Getz in Philly that tried more than once to buy Rooftops and Etnies absolutely would not sell them even one pair. To me, that’s a slap in the face to the rider who is busting his ass promoting not only his own shoe, but the whole brand. Basically, we are going to offer them to stores that want to sell shoes to people with feet, there’s a boat load of them out there. Why limit the amount of money you can bring into BMX and spread it around? First and foremost, we’ll service BMX dealers and distributors and do whatever we can to help them out. The other stuff would be a ways down the road, if ever. Time will tell.
What does it entail starting a shoe company, where do you start?
It starts with a lot of research. I just gave Ride UK long winded answers on how I figured out how to design the shoes, so I won’t get too far into that. Since I’m not an educated industrial designer or textile designer, it was a fun and kooky process of learning to design shoes, like Shoe Design 101 for Morons. I hooked up with qualified designers that showed me how the process worked from a blank page all the way to a finished quality production shoe.
After we got to the point where the designs were ready to be developed, we needed to find a trading agent. As with developing bikes in Asia, or anything else I guess, you need a reputable trade agency that knows their shit, or you are fucked. This is by far the most ridiculous part of Caste becoming a reality. Once again, I can’t stress how important your trade agency is. Somehow I was able to get connected with an agency that has worked with large brands, and even developed skate shoes before, total windfall on my end.
I contacted the guy, and by sheer luck he was going to be in Northern Jersey within two weeks, and I set up a meeting near his U.S. home where his family lives, he’s only there five weeks out of the year. The day of the meeting arrives, and I’m totally prepared, the only thing I left to chance; my wheels, a 1972 VW Fastback isn’t the most reliable car, especially in winter. About forty-five minutes into the drive from Philly, the V-Dub starts sputtering. It was 33 degrees out, so it wasn’t snowing, just cold enough to frost the entire interior. When I wasn’t on the side of the road cursing the world, I was poking along at a snail’s pace on the shoulder cursing VW loving hippies while inching closer to the most important meeting of my life. Right as our meeting time passed, I called him up and told him I was driving a vintage car I was restoring and I was having mechanical difficulties, and would be a little late.
I ended up meeting up with him at a McDonald’s at some random Garden State Parkway exit near his house about two hours late. I was so cold and frozen, and reeking of gasoline, luckily it took him a half an hour to get there and I thawed out and fumigated myself. I had a wild five year business plan, the meeting went surprisingly well, and we were on our way to becoming a reality from there.
Where are the shoes manufactured?
China. The quality of the shoes is really good, couldn’t be more stoked on the factory that made them.
How difficult is it to figure out what models, colours and sizes you need to order?
The sizing isn’t difficult. Everyone offers the same sizing options. The models and colors were the hard part. We designed the outsole first and then settled on three models that are all based on that same outsole. After each model was refined, we started going through different material and color options. The goal was to mix up the colors and materials throughout the line so there’s something in there for a wide range of tastes. It’s a pretty long process. We took our time and paid attention to the details as closely as possible.
Do you do pre-ordering with Caste?
We are mainly doing pre-booking, there’s not a whole lot of working capital to sit on inventory. That’s a plus with dealing with mail-orders and foreign distributors mainly, it’s all pre-booking.
How do you plan on promoting the shoe company?
Advertising, commercials, videos, the normal stuff, and whatever idiotic ideas that we can conjure up. The possibilities are endless, I’m not afraid to push the envelope.
What riders will be on Caste for 2006?Tom White, Paul Horan, Chase DeHart, George Ramirez, Chad Shackelford, Derrick Girard and Chase Hawk. I think that’s a good crew to start with. There’s a lot going on with those guys, exactly what, no clue, we’ll find out in the near future.
Who has been helping you out with the company or is it a one-man show?Ralph Stollenwerk helped me with the design of the shoes, he made the Illustrator files, and he’s does the graphic design, Leland Thurman is the Team Manager and Mike McHue is going to be doing sales. Everything else will be on me, scary shit.
Where is it based out of?
Austin, Texas, not a bad place to be at all. You can hide out or you can run around getting loose with a diversified group of kooks. I’ve only been living here for a few months pretty much hibernating, but I plan on staying for a while. I live a few blocks from T-1 and Empire is here, it’s nice to have other people in the Industry nearby to help out, I need all I can get.
Where can people get in contact with Caste?
You can get information and see the shoes on our site. We put up a quick simple site so the dealers have a visual reference for pre-booking, which is what we are doing right now. I had to sell all of my camera shit to help pay for developing the shoes, so the pictures are mediocre, but I showed all of the dealers in Vegas, so they saw the line in person, they all seem pretty stoked on how they looked. We’ll get a complete site soon with quality photos of the shoes. I hope it works out, otherwise there are going to be some pissed off Asians hunting me down for an insane amount of money that I owe them. Peep the shoes at www.castefootwear.com