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Interview with Pierre-Andre Senizergues, founder and CEO of Sole Technology (etnies)
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate" - Carl Jung
Some people live unconscious lives. Like jetsam on the ocean of society they go with the flow without regard for self authenticity. Founder and CEO of Sole Technology, etnies parent company, Pierre-Andre Senizergues is not one of those people. He lives an authentic life as one of those rare people that make their own wake; determined to leave the world better than he found it. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him on his company's 25th anniversary, his motivations and his plans for the future. Here is what I learned.
Gonzalez: For the new action sports fans please explain the history of the etnies brands as it relates to skateboarding and action sports in general?
Senizergues: Established in 1986, etnies is the first skateboarder-owned and operated global action sports footwear and apparel company. In the early days in France, the skate community was very small and we were like a tribe that skated together. The name etnies comes from the word "ethnic" which was inspired by skateboarding as a tribe.
From the beginning, etnies approached things from a skate perspective as we were the only footwear company that came from skateboarders for skateboarders. We created the first pro model skate shoe, and we've pioneered technological advances that have changed the face of skateboard footwear forever.
In the early half of the millennium, we took that commitment for technological innovation a step further by creating the Sole Technology Institute, which is the first and only biomechanics lab dedicated to studying the impacts of skateboarding on the body.
Today, we remain a leading action sports company committed to creating products that provide the most style, comfort and protection possible. etnies stays true to who we are by sponsoring world class skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, moto x, BMX and auto teams and we continue to remain dedicated by giving back to each of these communities.
Gonzalez: The Skate Study House, Sole Technology Institute, a carbon neutral sneaker collection and now the PAS House. Clearly you are a man who is as passionate about environmental sustainability issues as much as you are about skateboarding. Please share with me how these two passions started and merged into one.
Senizergues: To do what we love to do, we need clean air to skate, clean water to surf and we need snow to snowboard. It's natural that the passion that I have for action sports would drive my passion to protect our planet as it is our only playground. The first half of etnies' existence, I was busy skating and building a company. Over 10 years ago, I had a few very impactful moments where I realized that with the success of etnies, I was also simultaneously creating a very large footprint on the environment. I knew I needed to make a change. There's no magic formula as to how you arrive to where we're at today with having a goal to become carbon neutral as a company by 2020, you just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep true to a vision.
Gonzalez: I also understand that you are passionate about humanitarian issues such as combating homelessness. Are you currently working on any humanitarian related projects and if so would you share with us what they are?
Senizergues: We've been working with the Los Angeles Mission for over 13 years giving out more than 30,000 shoes to the homeless. We also are involved in disaster relief as things like the Japan Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters impact people. However, our biggest social cause right now is our efforts to help reforest the world.
For us, there's no better way to celebrate the future than by planting a rainforest in Costa Rica through etnies' new Buy a Shoe, Plant a Tree project. For every pair of Jameson 2 Eco shoes sold, etnies will plant one tree in what will become the new rainforest. We're on track to plant 35,000 trees on the Maleku reserve in northern Costa Rica this year.
The Maleku are an indigenous tribe with a way of life that revolves around the forest, and they are rightfully known as the guardians of the forest. For more than 150 years, the Maleku have had to fight for their trees that were depleted due to cattle farming and a horrible rubber-tree war, which led to a massacre, and nearly wiped out their tribe. The United Nations has sanctioned their land as a biological corridor to be restored and the international organization has officially marked 2011 as the "Year of the Forest" globally. The Maleku just need help obtaining the trees to reach their goal of reforesting the lands they live off of. That's where the etnies Buy a Shoe, Plant a Tree project comes in. It's been an exciting project and one that we plan to keep going on for years to come.
Gonzalez: What will become of the PAS House once the anniversary celebrations are over and do you have any plans for building such an incredible, skateable home in any other countries?
Senizergues: We're still in the process of deciding what the next steps will be. There's been quite a bit of interest for it to travel around and so we'll see what the future brings. We're just excited at the response that it is creating.
Gonzalez: How long and difficult a process was it to create the PAS House from conceptualization to realization?
Senizergues: I started on this concept about 10 years ago as I wanted to build an entirely skateable house in a canyon that I have in Malibu. I worked with a few friends on the project, including the current designer, Gil Le Bon Delapointe. We kept running into issues with the Coastal Commission before we could even break ground and if you can believe it, we're still trying to get permits and approval. Finally, when we heard about the La Gaite opportunity, I decided that it was time to bring a smaller version of the bigger concept to life to help inspire people on how skateboarding can influence the future of how we live. The results have been so great and it's been such a fulfilling project!!
Gonzalez: Looking back at the past 25 years how would you say the action sports industry has changed as a whole and what role do you envision for your company and its subsidiaries within it for the next 25?
Senizergues: The most significant change is that it is so much bigger! More and more people are able to enjoy skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, BMX and moto x and with that comes more opportunity. The downside to the growth is that large companies who don't live and breathe what we do have come in from the outside and are taking over big chunks of the market. When no authenticity exists, compromises are made by these players and sometimes in the wrong areas. When I look to how I envision what the next 25 years holds for etnies and the other brands under Sole Technology, I know that our number one goal is to remain true to our roots. We will continue to operate first as skateboarders and with that our decisions will be guided by our passion. Passion is what fuels great innovation. The future truly is about how technology and the environment will impact our world. I'm confident that we'll remain a major part of how this takes shape for the future of action sports.
Gonzalez: Would you be willing to give skateboarding fans a hint of what products they can look forward to your company releasing this summer?
Senizergues: Since we're focusing the entire year on our celebration of the NEXT 25, we've continuing our efforts on two initiatives that represent the future through innovation with technology and the environment. One of the most popular projects this year that I mentioned earlier has been our Buy a Shoe, Plant a Tree project, which is still happening. For every pair of etnies Jameson 2 Eco shoes purchased, one tree will be planted.
The second initiative addresses a combination of both technology and environment. For more than 100 years, vulcanized shoe construction has remained the same—until now. Through our Sole Technology Institute (STI), we set out to break the vulcanized mold and created STI Fusion, a new cold-fusion technology that ultimately produces a better skate shoe: more durable, lighter weight, more comfortable and flexible, better performance and much better for the environment to make. etnies debuted STI Fusion technology in Ryan Sheckler's fifth pro model shoe, the Sheckler 5, released June 2011 and available all throughout the summer and fall.
Gonzalez: What person do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Senizergues: My mom. She's turning 20 X 4 this year!! For being 80 years old, she sure has quite a bit of energy. She and my Dad always taught me how to work hard, follow my dreams, value relationships and be passionate for what I stand for - I owe everything that I've accomplished to her. My family is a source of support and inspiration. I'm one lucky guy!
Gonzalez: If you could only be remembered for one thing what would it be and why?
Senizergues: I would love to be remembered for being a catalyst for bringing people together to make a difference. etnies is about coming together as a tribe of skateboarders to make a difference in skateboarding. With the environment and the projects that I've been involved in, it's been about inspiring people to come together and do something to lighten their footprint on the planet. Both areas are important to me and if am remembered for helping bring more people into these big tribes, then that would mean I've accomplished something important.
My children are skateboarders and I have a history of following the sport.
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