In Conversation with Jeff Mikut on the NM808
Finding employment in skateboarding is no easy task. Actively working for three of the industry’s leaders? That requires another level of talent. Luckily, Jeff Mikut is a very talented man. After watching his Via Marina and Wild Power video parts, viewers can see that his prowess on a skateboard is undeniable. Considering that he filmed the latter section as a full-time working professional, most would wonder why he ever sought a desk job in the first place.
The truth is, Mikut’s expertise extends far beyond the board. At a mere twenty years of age, he scored an internship with Vans. Before long, he had a full-time position designing everything from core skate, to a girl’s line, to a snowboard boot. Because of connections he forged as a Crailtap-sponsored skater, he was later hired by Lakai to collaborate on shoe design with Scott Johnston. After honing his skills even more, he was approached by New Balance Numeric, where he was offered a job and has remained for six years.
Today, Mikut has just put the finishing touches on Tiago Lemos’ newest pro model, the NM808. A retro-style cupsole featuring Lemos’ preferred aesthetics and New Balance’s top technologies, it is a shoe that is guaranteed to be enjoyed by skaters worldwide. We were lucky enough to visit Mikut at the Numeric offices, located in Long Beach, California. There, we had a conversation about the design process, the NM808’s product details, and his predictions for the future of skateboarding shoe design.
Text: Elliott Wright
Photos: Studio imagery by Nick Zegel | Tiago Lemos imagery by Jake Darwen
Flatspot: So Jeff, let’s talk about Tiago’s new shoe, the NM808. How did his second shoe come about with the brand?
Jeff Mikut: Tiago is one of the people on our team that deserves a multitude of models. His name, ability, and what he has done for skateboarding definitely has a really large presence.
The original idea was meant to be a price-point model. We started to design it and soon realised that we couldn’t make something that could fit Tiago’s aesthetic, hit a low price-point, and uphold New Balance’s quality standards.
It ended up being a model that can sit beside his first model, the 1010. They are similar in price, but the idea is that they approach footwear from two different ways. The 1010 is late-90’s/early-2000’s styling, but internally it’s a modern basketball-style shoe with the latest tech.
The 808 is a mid-90’s retro, skate-style shoe with legacy tech. Two different lanes, but the aesthetics carry through. For the 808, we went further back in time for inspiration.
Jeff: We start with a conversation about all the shoes that we currently make. What does the skater like and dislike about a particular shoe? The secondary homework for them is to put together ten shoes that they like from other brands as well as different New Balance categories. That helps pull an aesthetic together and then I expand upon that.
I designed four shoes for Tiago, so he had four different directions to curate which way he wanted to go. My gut was going a different direction at first, to be honest. However, it ended up morphing into something that I’m really proud of. I wanted to design four great shoes, because I didn’t want to give him a bad option.
As a designer, you might fall in love with one option and the skater falls in love with another. I'm not a fan of strong-arming people in a particular direction. At the end of the day, their name is on it, not mine.
I hope pro team riders are proud to wear their shoes because they helped make them what they are. My job is just to make it look right, function right, and not give them a dud. When we do pro models, we don’t want them to be in the middle lane. We want them to be something special. Otherwise, why not just make it a team model?
Jeff: If you were to think about how shoes were made in the early-2000s, that was our approach here. However, we looked at the problems with those shoes. They were clunky in the sense that you couldn’t feel your board and the foam that [companies] were using wasn’t functional. They just used whatever materials were available in the factory.
We looked at all the New Balance technical specs, and we built a rubber cupsole with a full-length foam midsole. The foam that we use is called Abzorb, which is unique because it has a blended rubber content. It allows for solid rebound and doesn’t pack out. The Abzorb midsole goes from the heel all the way to the toe, which is rare in a typical, current-day skate shoe.
Another feature we focused on were the TPU-coated ghillies, which is a retro-inspired way of doing the lace system. There are also internal ghillies inside the shoe in case you rip laces a lot–it’s a bit overly built for the secondary lace option. Additionally, the internal collar has extra padding for protecting your heel and Achilles.
The toe cap is reinforced by the vamp which extends all the way down to the sole, giving you two layers of protection. We always talk about using real materials [instead of synthetic] and charging a bit more, because the kid who buys this can have it for an extra four months instead of feeling like they got cheaped out.
Jeff: When we sat down with Tiago and looked at the shoe, he mentioned that the kids who will save money to buy this shoe need it to last. It can't be a short-term thing. At New Balance, we have seen photos of the 1010s that the kids in Brazil skate. They have skated through all of the rubber and are almost through the foam. And they are still wearing them. If the 808 is your first New Balance shoe, it might be the one that you have for a full year.
Jeff: That is Tiago’s most hands-on portion. He really has a strong opinion on what he wants his footwear to look like. I like that he is really involved because it feels more genuine when the shoe comes out. You can see which ones he really likes by the amount of footage he gets in them.
The initial launch of Tiago’s shoe is red, white, and blue. In his introductory advert for New Balance Numeric, he is photographed wearing a red, white, and blue track jacket in the subway. Those have always been iconic skate colours, but there is also a “Made in UK” collection of shoes that had the same colour palettes. We thought that would be a cool way to kick the shoe off.
Jeff: He does have footage. For every colour coming out in the foreseeable future, he will have a clip to come out with each, for sure. So, he has a couple segments coming out, and when those are done it will be a collective video part.
Jeff: The category of Numeric has grown a lot over the last five years. I think we have gained a lot of shelf space. We are on skaters’ feet in a good way, and we have some really rad, well-rounded team riders. Our goal is always to carve out our own space, and design stuff that is more New Balance than not.
I am a big fan of looking internally rather than externally. If you pay attention to the trends that are out there, that’s helpful, but it’s important to interpret it through your brand as opposed to copying another.
It’s nice to see the skate market have a little bit more dynamics to it. I think we are challenging what skate shoes are again; that's why skate shoes became popular in the first place in the late-90s. They were unique and they weren’t all the same style.
We also want to add more technology to the shoes. Whether it's simple or complex, there are some subtle things you can do to the shoes to make them better and make us all skate a little longer.
Finally, we have a couple new pro models coming out, which is great. Pro models are kind of a dying thing, specifically for some of the bigger brands. I’m really proud New Balance is still supporting that. It’s definitely a milestone and accolade that is intrinsic to the skate culture.
Flatspot: Thanks for taking the time Jeff. In some parting words, what advice would you give to the folks out there that might want to try their hand at shoe design?
Jeff: There are a couple of kids that I talk to quite frequently that have been trying to do this. I’ve seen their ups and downs. It’s not necessarily the degree that you have, but the portfolio. And your portfolio doesn’t have to be schoolwork; it can be actual live examples of things that you have created.
I think you have to start making something for yourself and your friends. That’s how I started. I just had a website that I designed, redeveloped, and redesigned every three months. It was just to hone the skill, but I also enjoyed designing it. If you are genuinely into design, and not the money side of it, you will find yourself somewhere pretty healthy down the road.
I think it's important to be open to opportunity as well. I worked in the girl’s skate division at Vans for two years. Did I want to do that? It wasn’t my first pick. But I also learned a lot. It gave me a whole new perspective - I had never looked at a Teen Vogue before that [laughs]. It put me in a totally different box, but it made me realise what I wanted to do.
Definitely work hard to get internships because you will meet people. With anything, it’s always a balance between connections, skill, and luck. Work on mastering your craft; it’s just like skating. You aren’t going to get good at skating if you don’t try.
The New Balance Numeric 808 Tiago Lemos will be available online at Flatspot on Thursday 1st September 2022.
Shop all New Balance Numeric at Flatspot.