Mark your calendars, hit the stores, and light your candles: the Vans Syndicate brand will be shutting down at the end of this year. For those unaware, Syndicate is a specialty label of Vans, launched in 2005 to "push the creativity of Vans without limitations or expectations." It was created by a small group of in-house designers: Berto Liechty, Jon Warren, Tom Cooke, Jay Potocar, and Rian Pozzebon.
According to Pozzebon, who is currently head of design for lifestyle footwear, making Syndicate wasn't always easy, but it was an essential outlet for expression. For the design team, Syndicate was an opportunity to experiment. Encapsulating the raw, restless, and collaborative spirit of mid-1990s skate culture, Syndicate's roster of collaborators reads like a who's who of the scene. (Think guys like seminal punk band Suicidal Tendencies, WTAPS head designer Tetsu Nishiyama, and Stussy founder Shawn Stussy.) With each collaboration, Vans challenges creatives to morph classic shapes into truly personal designs—or new silhouettes altogether. "We've been fortunate that Vans lets us take so many liberties," says head of skate/surf footwear design Neal Shoemaker.
These liberties have included everything from Tyler, the Creator's pink-soled Old Skools, to sophisticated silhouettes like the Seylynn "S," designed by former Supreme creative director Luke Meier. Instead of hard deadlines or sales goals, fun reigned as the creative catalyst at Syndicate. Pozzebon recalls driving around central L.A. eating burgers with artist Alexis Ross as a key part of the creative process. The experience resulted in a laundry bag-inspired version of the Authentic "S," which launched at a laundromat featuring its own Street Fighter II tournament. It seems sad to lose that offbeat spirit, but Pozzebon is also aware that "not all good things last forever."
"Syndicate as it currently stands has done its job," says Shoemaker. "These days, collaborations are everywhere, and available from many other places in Vans, too." True, the landscape has changed, but that doesn't mean Syndicate's synergetic approach will be lost. Take current Vans Vault designer Taka Hayashi, who turned a one-off collaborative role into an ongoing partnership—now 11 seasons in and still going. Elsewhere, Syndicate friend and revered tattoo artist Mister Cartoon has also worked with Vans' more formal OTW line. While Syndicate was grounded in nostalgia and sentimentality, its designers can't afford to live in the past. "I'm excited to see what the younger generation builds in the future" says Pozzebon. "Change is good. Ending Syndicate to build something new is exciting."
Before Syndicate ends, the team has one last trick up its sleeve. Continue on to see Syndicate's last-ever collaboration….