Meet Jon Tang a Texas native, Creative director and designer of Fronteer. Growing up in Texas he was an outdoor kid, mainly why it was easy for him to create a brand so revolutionary and ahead of the sneaker game. Jon sat with us to discuss in depth about his brand, some wise words on starting a new company and more. Its very interesting as an entrepreneur to listen to others speak on the difficulty of raising a brand but yet understand the passion behind it that makes it more interesting and much worth the while of putting something so amazing together. It was a pleasure speaking to Jon and loved the look and image of his brand when i first met him at capsule show NYC. Enjoy our chat! And make sure to follow and like his page on instagram if you like what you read.
A: Talk to us about Fronteer? What is it? How did it start?
Jon Tang: Fronteer is essentially a lifestyle concept outdoor brand. It tells stories of the outdoor, that are usually untold. I wanted to take something that is geeky and scientific and present it in an artful tactful way. For example, my first shoe design was the Super Gratton and the design was basically a history lesson in 1960’s rock climbing shoes with a modern redesign. It mixes worlds of, geology, astrology, space, science, physics, chemistry all these things but done in a creative voice and is presented in a different kind of way other than a textbook. I’m very much like a scientist, even though I am a designer. I think things through science, so I wanted to bring that science to the lifestyle, tell that kind of very deep rooted outdoor nature inspired stories.
A: Describe your creative process, and your work environment?
Jon Tang: I’m a hand drawer by trade for starters, I always draw and sketch. Everything is done visually through me. All of my processes comes from a visualness. What kind of visuals speaks on what I want to tell. With design, there is always a process of like what is the subject and what is the objective. It’s always about taking that objective and making sure it’s done through the right kind of medium. With Fronteer it’s very much the same fashion which I view it, I put it in what I’m trying to say.
A: How difficult is it to be the designer and creative director for fronteer?
Jon Tang : It’s hard because not only do you have to focus, down to the nitty gritty and make sure you’re doing all the little things correctly, and be able to have a singular voice for which that you’re creating. But also making sure on a larger front, to know that there’s a larger strategy at hand. So this kind of back and forth being at the micro level and at the macro level, it’s tough. To be always thinking at the ground level, and understanding what is needed at the ground level. But stepping back from a very large perspective and figuring out what is the future, vision, does it stay in line. I have to be my own boss. I’m keeping myself in line.
A: As difficult as it can be, I’m sure you enjoy doing this, instead of having an actual creative director.
Jon Tang: I love it!! I mean it’s because I’m able to execute the process. And because I am both the creative director and the designer, it allows me to enjoy the design, but also be able to execute every bit of that process into a larger which I can permeate that through into marketing. All the little breadcrumbs of beautiful designs that I can, you know, put into the little things for that one specific product as a designer, reinterpret through the marketing lens. So that’s so much more synergy as a whole. In larger companies, a designer is so individually focused on the project, that it’s hard for them to connect with the rest of the team members from marketing. There is such a separation, it’s one of the biggest flaws for big corporation. Product and marketing don’t talk, and you see so much disconnect in that.
A: How would you compare your designs to other brands?
Jon Tang: To be honest, I thought about this a lot, Fronteer is not really a brand that looks like any other, nor are there any other that compares with it. I wanted to build something that nobody has ever seen before so it’s totally unexpected and different. And it’s because I saw this void in the market, and I wanted to make that. Now I don’t know if it’s going to be successful. I don’t know if the market is ready for it. I just know for me, I need to make this and I need to make it now. I’m 32, and like this is probably the right time to make this brand. I’m old enough to start it, but young enough to start. I don’t think about if it’s going to hit or not, I wanted to make something that no one has seen before, so it’s just so unique and different.
A: What excites you about the style of the sneaker culture today?
Jon Tang: Evolution is a big part. I’ve worked a number of styles now, as I continue to grow and advance. The best way to describe it is, Fronteer always pulls from the past but looks to the future. It’s an idea of modern heritage. You’re going to see something that’s familiar but different. I use Vibram bottoms because they are super comfortable, tried and true for the outdoors. Also, I use premium materials for the upper because I want to make sure that the precedent for the quality is really, really high. Because I’m a shoe designer by trade, I make sure I don’t cut corners, and I don’t price it to make a load of money. I want to make sure it’s priced competitively, where I put in so much into the product. It’s not just the product but the packaging, tissue paper, and tag. The more you dissect this product in every facet you’re going to find things.
A: Can people go out and purchase your product?
A: Are there any brands or sneaker designers you would like to collaborate with.
Jon Tang: Yes. one hand on the fashion side I would like to work with Japanese brands. On the other side of me is the super geeky and I would love to collaborate with 3M, random super sciencey stuff. Even a cartographer, things like that. Again my brand is about this idea of discovery, it is still a lifestyle brand but there is that part of me that’s wanting to work with fashion brands and still push for things that are totally unexpected.
A: What advice would you have for any designers thinking about living in / selling products in NYC?
Jon Tang: I mean it’s not easy, I just want to throw that out there. And it’s hard to find that line of exactly what you want, but you have to root it down to that. Are you trying to start a brand because you want to make money? Or are you starting a brand because you just want to start a brand? That’s usually the first initial fork in the road because there are very specific actions you take depending on what you want. The number one advice that I always give to anyone, “What do you really want the most? Do you want a brand that lasts? Do you want a brand gives you a short-term return?”. This is why I don’t do investors right now because I want to be able to make the brand exactly how I want it. For now, I want to make this brand as organic and natural as possible. Let it be pure, and be a brand that takes the risk.
A: What else do you have going on this year for your brand? Are you doing capsule show again?
Jon Tang: I’m doing capsule again. I’m slowly growing my team, I have a sales guy now that helps. And I’m also slowly expanding into regions that I haven’t been before looking into Japan, the UK things like that, So that helps. I’m about to release a collaboration with Manastash, that’s going to come out in a couple weeks. And then we will probably continue that because the collaboration with them has been really amazing. I’m looking into more collaborations, so I mean it’s growing, and I’m seeing so much potential with it more than I had ever seen before. It also helps that the market is moving towards much more risk taking and is not so conservative.
A: What’s your favorite pair of FRONTEERS?
Jon Tang: Now that’s difficult, it’s like saying which child is your favorite. At the moment right now. I have a new one coming out, it’s called the Aqua Solo, it’s a laceless one with straps. It’s inspired by deep water soloing, where climbers, climb over water and when they slip and fall, or when they finish their route, they fall into the water. There is no harness, kinda like the most extreme rock climbing. I use that as a source of inspiration, the nature of rock and water together. So the Aqua Solo is basically a mix between water shoes and climbing shoes together. To me, it’s like the most conceptional shoe right now that I have and at this point of the brand, I wanted to do something that different from what I have done before and I think that’s why I like it the most right now.
photos by @dalealgo