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How to Become the Designer of a World-Class Shoe

Ed Castellanos

Being the designer of an elite, world-class, tactical shoe isn’t something very many people can say. Aside from knowing what they themselves like, it’s hard to make something a larger community will appreciate and want. I myself have very limited experience in the design of apparel and accessories, aside from the occasional graphic for a tee, and rarely venture into telling others what is in-style or what’s “hot”. Even with this limited background, I can honestly say that I was a key part in designing the exclusive U.S. Elite and Salomon FORCES collaboration project, the Sua Sponte. The great thing is, it's safe to say so were you.

Salomon FORCES Sua Sponte Mark II tactical boot on the ground 

I’m going out on a limb here and assuming that you, yes you, sitting right there reading this post, are a fan of Salomon FORCES footwear. Shoot, you’ve probably bought a pair or two (or four let’s be honest) from U.S. Elite over the last few years. You know a damn good shoe when you wear one. Whether it’s on a critical mission overseas, an assignment here in the United States protecting your fellow man, training at the range, or doing just about anything else you can imagine, you know the most fundamental and key part of your kit is a good shoe. If it doesn’t support you and hinders whatever it is you are trying to do, the shoe just doesn’t work. Aside from this fundamental functionality, you and I both know that it has to look good. It can work like a charm, but if it looks like a pair of those octogenarian orthopedics, you’re probably going to pass on wearing them.

So how did you and I become fashion designers?

Let’s go back a few years to 2017, it was a simpler, COVID-free time.

At this time, U.S. Elite was a year into selling the exclusive Wolf Gray Salomon FORCES shoes, the Sua Sponte (now the MK I). Based off of the at-the-time in-line FORCES XA Pro 3D Mid, Salomon’s best selling platform, these were all gray shoes meant for urban use. The idea seems simple, but it really was ingenious. Combine the best selling tactical shoe in the world with a colorway desired for metropolitan use. One would think that black would be the go-to color, but in reality, many believe that it actually accentuates your silhouette in the urban landscape. Because of this, some agencies and end-users turn to gray as a more desired option. By this time many European agencies had already adopted a grey uniform for use in cities, but it was slow to take hold in the United States. With a limited offering, the gray uniform was not hugely popular with our customers in close-proximity cities (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Newark, just to name a few).

Sua Sponte original model boot comparison to model V2, the Sua Sponte Mark II

Leading up to its release, Steve Keefer had diligently worked with the folks at Salomon in making this idea a realization. He, to this day, still speaks fondly of his meeting with and working with the Salomon designers in Annecy, France. It may have seemed like a crazy idea, but one that in theory should do well. It was going to provide an offering for the tactical community that resolved an issue (however seemingly small) for many professionals.

Steve named this project the ‘Sua Sponte’ meaning “Of Their Own Accord”, which is the motto of the 75th Ranger Regiment. These shoes were U.S. Elite’s answer to a problem some didn’t realize they had.

By this time though, U.S. Elite was running out of stock, and we were looking for another success. Yes, this first generation of Sua Sponte wasn’t the sexiest, just an all gray Gore-Tex shoe, but it had its appeal and was doing well. U.S. Elite alongside personnel from Salomon, began discussing the second generation of Sua Sponte, and what needed to be done to ensure another win across the board. A key part of this success rested on you - the loyal end-user with real-world experience.

Having worked as the Client Care Ninja at this time, I had a great deal of input from folks such as yourself. End-users from a multitude of different backgrounds with distinctive missions needs and expectations. You provided us with invaluable information like where the fail points were, what got dirtiest the quickest, what part of the gray didn’t look right, and of course most importantly, what worked and what didn’t. Acting as a representative of the end-user, I was right there with the designers, discussing what our best options were for the 2nd version. Would we change the shoe, or go with a different model? Had Salomon by this point in time made corrections to the XA MIDs to make them a viable replacement? It was a meeting of the minds to review what made sense, and what didn’t. Which requests worked, and which cancelled out other, more important needs?

 

We made several hard decisions, but ones that in the end U.S. Elite (and Salomon) thought were in the best interest of the role and mission of this shoe. The first such decision was to switch out the Gore-Tex and make this version not waterproof, an alternative to the original which some asked for. Then it was decided to base the boot off of the new and improved XA FORCES Mid which with a more durable build removed some of the previous version's fail points and weaknesses. The Wolf Gray was kept for its tactical use in urban environments, this time adding some black shadows to accentuate the design and give it, as Steve says, the CDI (Chicks Dig It - but let’s be honest, dudes love the look of these things too) factor.

See, that’s the thing. When working with Salomon, everyone gets a seat at the table. We at U.S. Elite are always listening to end user feedback. We track your comments and review on products with the hopes of making them better. All this information is passed along to our brands so that their products really do function as best as possible. You and I became part of the design team on this world-class exclusive shoe, along with the cordial folks at Salomon, the rest of the U.S. Elite Team, and of course every single one of our clients who took the time to tell us what they thought about our product. We designed this incredible world-class shoe together, and paved the way for many more products that truly answer your needs while looking good.

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