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How NASA and Air Jordans Invigorated the Formation of a New Outdoor Brand

f Jon Tang had it his way, we’d wear his shoes

f Jon Tang had it his way, we’d wear his shoes on Mars , but while the masters of astrophysics devise a method to get us there, he’ll settle for virtually anywhere else. Tang has been designing footwear for roughly ten years and has worked for “every brand under the sun,” according to him. Right now though, the only brand he works for is his own: FRONTEER.

FRONTEER  is small and startup-y. Its commodities, which consist of a handful of footwear silhouettes along with a few hats, are fitted with harmonious inconsistency; their palettes are brilliant and dull, their creations are uncomplicated and complex. They straddle nostalgia and avant-garde, outdoorsy and street — and it’s all by design.

Tang is a mash-up of sorts himself, with unequal parts Texan, New Yorker and Californian. He grew up in the Lone Star State, where he developed an affinity for sneakers as well as a fascination with astronauts and outer space that he picked up during class trip-ups to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Despite his urban upbringing, that amaze extended to the outdoors, for which Tang dedicates a special affinity.

Basketball shoes, NASA, rock climbing — they’re all encompassed by FRONTEER in one way or another. To understand Tang’s brand, it’s best to let him speak to it. Below, he talks soccer cleats, Chuck Taylors, outdoor lifestyle and much more.


What lead you to start FRONTEER?


I grew up in sneakers. I grew up in Michael Jordan Airs and I grew up playing soccer as well and that style, and cleats, is a very different thing. Cleats were actually more expensive than basketball shoes. There’s always this idea of really high-priced conceptual product that always has this story to it.

I grew up in sneakers. I grew up in Michael Jordan Airs and I grew up playing soccer as well and that style, and cleats, is a very different thing. Cleats were actually more expensive than basketball shoes. There’s always this idea of really high-priced conceptual product that always has this story to it.

I grew up in Texas, life before the Internet, and “were in” outside a lot. I enjoyed the stars, the sunsets. NASA is in conformity with Houston, and anyone grown up in Houston as a kid gone on field trips to the Johnson Space Center. I was always interested in and inspired by the Space Center, it gave me this idea of “the beyond.” I adoration things like space dress and all the gear that they’d “re going to have to” put one across for this futuristic passage. I like camping, I like hiking, getting out and clambering. Space is that times a billion. I like the play between the two.

I was designing and working for three different[ footwear] firms, and I would view happenings that I’d be really inspired by and think,” Well that’s pretty cool, but if I had my own firm I would do it like this .” I started to take all these bits of brainstorming and gather them together, and basically ten years on, I had an idea of what the hell is do for a brand. I had pretty much everything thought-out beforehand down to like the company font.

Then in 2015, I wanted to pull the trigger; I was abounding at the seams with ideas and so I started the brand.

I always felt like the outdoor sell had this void, this breach, between concert commodities and lifestyle. Right now a lot of outdoor commodities dive into” Oh, “its all for” climbing Mount Everest .” And it’s great and that produce is amazing and I would definitely wear it to exits do that, but I wanted to do something that was like” Well, I’m inspired by the outdoors but I’m a city guy, ya know ?” I walk around on cement so I can’t have something like a TPU shank or a stiff last-place or hard compound rubber, which are generally you would need to make sure jagged rock-and-rolls don’t go right through your boot . You don’t need that in the city. But I still love what the products represented, what the colors did, the stories, and the iconic styles, and I wanted to be able to wear that every day.


What did the first shoe look like?


The first shoe was the Super Gratton. I dove into climbing because I really liked

The first shoe was the Super Gratton. I dove into climbing because I really liked climbing footwear and I thought that was a missed opportunity — all these climbing shoes are beautifully made, they have such detail, they have such story to them but you can’t walk around in them. When I go out and climb I would wear everyday shoes and then I slip into the climbing shoes and for that moment I’m the climber and I get to be a part of that culture, but I didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t just walk around in them.

The Super Gratton took the very first climbing shoe that was ever stirred, it was also “ve called the” Super Gratton actually, it wasn’t meant for march, but that shoe in itself was inspired by[ Converse] Chuck Taylors. Pierre Alain, a French climber from the sixties, worked with a cobbler to make a climbing shoe based on the Chuck Taylor.

I liked the idea that Alain worked with the cobbler to make a specific shoe for rock climbing and so I wanted to bring it full circle, where I’m taking the rock climbing shoe now, to come back to everyday street. Instead of raw sticky rubber on the bottom, I use compound rubber so you can actually keep walking. I tried to keep as much of the essence of the original Super Gratton.

Q: How did you come across that story? A: I have a lot of these old climbing volumes, a lot of simply tales I read online and in editorials. I try to stay connected to the culture. I just enjoy vintage in general and everything I do connects to the past in some form.

Q: Is that the minds for every portion you design? A: It is. It’s like a good campfire narration. There’s always a story. We as humen are emotionally connected to good storeys and that’s why volumes and movies will always be around. Every year and every commodity plunge I do, there’s always a general topic. I try to find interesting and unique happenings and tell incalculable narrations. It find slightly educational to some extent.

Every time I went to the Johnson Space Center I would find out something new, I find that really inspiring and I’d like the commodity to always be about something you’re find. I want people to come to the label and when they see something they’re detecting , is not simply the produce and its newness, but likewise the narrative that it represents.

Q: Do these narrations look to the past or do you search adjacent in time to happens that are happening now? A: It’s what I call a recontextualization through familiarization. I try to re-contextualize happens through something that’s somewhat familiar already. Take something from the past that you might know familiar and I try to re-contextualize it for today. I like to look one foot in the past but have one paw in the future — toward something different, something that may not exist.


Q: Do you think the outdoor manufacture is more receptive to labels and commodities with a tale than general sportswear brands are? A: Sportswear in general is a much more mature marketplace in that sense — I don’t mean in regards to finances but the mass shoppers of sportswear are much more receptive to very conceptualized storytelling. The outdoor marketplace is a little bit more conservative on the storytelling, but only right now. The customers have been receiving the same various kinds of storytelling for a long time period now and I think they are looking for something different.

Q: What do “youre thinking about” high fashion names borrowing outdoor mode cues? A: I see a lot of these high fashion labels are looking to outdoors as a conceptual brainchild because the outdoors has such good product and stories to tell. I think way firms are looking for the next big-hearted inspiration and a large pool of narratives to tell, the next move of style. The outdoors provides a good pond for them. I hug it, I don’t see it as a hard contender kind of thing and if anything I think it’s good tournament and it builds good produce. It makes people see a little bit more.

Q: Do you think there’s any danger in losing the functions of the fragment? A: That’s a line that I always teeter with. A way brand isn’t rooted and doesn’t have a need to be in the very functional side, and they might lose out on functional require. I think it’s more about embracing what you will be standing for. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with losing out on some of the functions of the necessity as long as you as a label or as a company own up to not taking on those needs.

I would never say to go climbing Everest in FRONTEER because it’s not meant for that. But, I will still give you a Vibram outsole to saunter, even in the city — to go to the bar, to stroll your bird-dog — because I appreciate what Vibram represents and I’m willing to expend more fund on a product because of what it represents. I take as much of the functional want as I can from the outdoors and I applied it into the shoe and as long as you can still keep walking in it every day, I will continue that functional requirement there. I hug the fact that I am a lifestyle corporation, hitherto I will give as much outdoor boasts as I can.

Q: In your opinion, what’s the most important shoe, ever? A: It’s hard to say because footwear is, at the end of the working day, a figure for our feet. And in different instances throughout period and record, footwear has now come mean different things in terms of function, in terms of a general require and in terms of storytelling. A pile of it depends on what you’re focusing on. It’s so contextual.

For me, personally, before the publicity and before anything the Jordan 11 Concord was my favorite shoe because it was the shoe that got away. I grew up poor and my parents couldn’t buy me these expensive, nice shoes all the time. I used to get Eastbay catalogs and cut out shoes from these lists and shed them on my wall. I think it’s what attested me to dive into footwear — I’d just look at these photos down to the last little ink put. I dreamed of having these shoes.

What happened was I used to conjure up an allowance — birthday, Christmas, anything that I could from my parents — and this was like $20 basically and that was a lot. I’d buy shoes off minors’ paws. A spate of the kids around me would get the new shoes every week, and reselling wasn’t a thing back in the day. My classmates, they’d get the brand-new ones the next week and merely throw away the old ones. And I’d be like,’ Hey can I buy the shoes off you? Here’s $ 20.’ And they were like,’ Sure’ — they were going to throw them away anyways.

And so I got into this practice with these teenagers that were the same shoe sizing as me. I got a couple shoes out of that, and then one day the Jordan 11 s “re coming out” and the latter are beautiful, the latter are amazing and I adored them. And I went to the same kid that I had been buying shoes off of and was like,’ Hey, I have $20 can I buy these shoes off you .’ And he for the first time was like,’ No, but how’ bout $50 ?’ And I didn’t have $50, and I couldn’t buy them.

It’s ironic because now on eBay they go for like $500, $600, $1,000 and I couldn’t get them for $50. Luckily, over its first year because I’m in the industry I was able to get a duo. To me, that is the most important duo of shoes because they were the ones that got away. That was in fifth tier. It has everything to do with the story and this emotional connection to these shoes and that’s why that shoe intends so much to me and it still signifies so much better to me.

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