Clarks x Extreme

Manufacturers of your favourite school shoes Clarks have entered the skate shoe market. In what seem like an utterly bizarre collaboration, they have teamed up with “Extreme” (the people behind the TV channel that many skaters my age watched when we were teenagers to get eyes on skate videos) – to create what they call a “multi-sport shoe”. 

For all intents and purposes, this thing is a skate shoe, however. The styling is heavily reminiscent of leading shoe brands like Vans and Lakai. One of the colourways even looks like a straight rip off of Nora Vasconcellos’ Adidas Gazelle Pro shoe. Clarks are not the first high street retailer to blindly wander into the skate shoe space however – shops like New Look and TopShop have been ripping off the look of skate shoes for years (specifically Vans’ signature look). 

This is a logical extension of skateboarding’s increased popularity, and if you were an executive at Clarks, you would look at the skateboarding boom caused by the pandemic, as well as the evergreen popularity of BMX and Scooter riding, and think it was a safe bet to offer a skate shoe. 

Credit where credit is due – rather than just offering a poorly made also-ran that looks like a pair of Vans, they are marketing this as a shoe you can actually skate in. The partnership with Extreme is meant to give legitimacy to the collaboration, like you can trust that this shoe is meant to do what they say it does. However I don’t think Extreme has the same air of legitimacy in skateboarding now that it had back when their TV channel first launched, making this whole thing seem a little hollow.  

There’s also the big question about who is this shoe meant to be for? Actual skateboarders already know what brands they prefer – and it’s a mountain to climb for a British High Street shoe chain to compete with some of the biggest shoe companies on the planet. Not to mention that I’m still pretty convinced that the only people buying Clarks shoes are school kids who need them to go with their uniforms.

As a brand, Clarks still have a lot of work to do to convince the public, let alone skateboarders, that they are more than just the “school shoe shop”. Stranger things have happened, and in 10 years time it would be interesting if Clarks somehow pulled a Dickies and became this brand that increases it’s street cred due to skaters adopting it as part of their wardrobe. Clarks have also become somewhat of a trendy brand for many fashion conscious people, offering previous collaborations with BAPE to appeal to a wider audience – branching out to skateboarding is a logical step for them.

There genuinely are some clever design decisions in this shoe, and their shoe designers clearly know what they are doing. Clarks’ effort looks a lot better than other “skate-adjacent” shoes from their immediate competitors, which shoes they have researched and understood what a skate shoe should look like. Whilst the effort to ape common popular skate shoe designs and fashions has definitely paid off, I’m still sceptical just because of how unfocussed the usage for this shoe appears to be.

The “catch all” approach of the shoe, shown in the advert by its inclusion of a whole host of youth orientated activities, does not fill me with confidence. By advertising this as a “multi sport” shoe, and not focusing in on the different markets they want to capitalise on (e.g. Doing a skateboard only ad, or a BMX only ad, and having focussed “teams” – with more than one rider per discipline – and variants like their competitors have done for decades) it shows a real “throw shit at the wall and see what sticks” attitude. 

The approach seems to be – It doesn’t matter if the skaters don’t like it, because the BMX riders might, and if they don’t the football players might. I think by using this approach, it makes the shoe feel like it’s not the best shoe for any activity on show, only bog standard, or passable at best. No skater I know just wants a passable skate shoe, they want a shoe that doesn’t get in the way of them being able to skate, and the big shoe companies in our industry have spent decades perfecting that, and that puts Clarks and it’s “all in one” approach at a massive disadvantage. 

Kieran Reilly and Antoine Hesse – Two of Clarks’ “Athletes In Partnership” (read: “Team Riders”)

So – that leaves an incredibly small subsection of people who might be interested in this shoe:

  • Parents who might be looking for a cheap, passable alternative to expensive, pro branded skate shoes for their kids. 
  • Adults with utterly no knowledge or concept of good skate shoe brands, but want that style of shoe (which, let’s face it, are just boomers who have never worn Vans or equivalent shoes). 

I honestly don’t think Clarks needed this collaboration to stay afloat. I mean, as I said, I’m pretty sure they are still the de facto school shoe brand for most kids in the UK, and their shoes have a somewhat cult status amongst the more fashion conscious individuals of this country. To me, this comes off as a lazy cash-in, riding on skateboarding, and other youth activities that have massively increased in popularity. The giveaway comes from treating skateboarding, BMXing, football, parkour, etc as one big demographic – when we all know they are all massively different, and therefore have different needs from a shoe.

The timing, with the Olympics and skateboarding’s inaugural inclusion literally months away and the pandemic boom in new skaters, makes me incredibly sceptical, and when the shoe is so derivative of far better real skate shoes, it only makes me wonder who are they trying to fool, because anyone with an iota of knowledge about skateboarding wouldn’t be buying these shoes to actually skate in. Maybe that’s fine for Clarks, but when the shoe is going all in on being the Extreme Sports shoe, it needs to be comparable to the best that space has to offer.

Unfortunately this is all too familiar with skateboarding. Their fresh, expertly produced advert, and collaboration with a company who on the surface has legitimate ties to skateboarding, is meant to instil confidence that this is a shoe for skaters. However, skateboarders are hard to please, and sceptical of outsiders cashing in at the best of times – and this whole thing feels incredibly disingenuous to me. Better stick to the school shoes, Clarks. 

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