The Origins of Chunk: Globe's CT-IV
There’s no doubt 2018 will go down in the annals of style as the year of the chunky sneaker trend. From athletic powerhouses to the highest of high fashion labels, every brand is lining up to take a bite of the dad-shoe donut. The quest for mass-bulk has heralded the arrival of Balenciaga’s Triple S and sparked the imagination of ASAP Rocky, who channeled the voluptuous vibe into his Under Armour collaboration. Of course, all this chunk-love had to come from somewhere deeper than a desire to add an element of danger to walking down stairs. When it comes to big-ass sneakers, everything starts in the late-90s.
The skate industry was practically printing money at the end of the 1980s. Peter, Matt and Stephen Hill’s company Hardcore Distribution was at the top of the game until a sideways turn forced them to recalibrate. Armed with inquisitive minds and motivated by a chance encounter with a top-quality manufacturer, the Hill brothers jumped right in the deep-end. Launching Globe in 1994 was a ballsy move.
Thanks to their existing global connections, it didn’t take long to attract the attention of serious players. Having already set up their own distribution channels throughout the USA, Globe gained next-level clout thanks to the signature of Chet Thomas. Shortly afterwards, the legendary Rodney Mullen joined the team, and his inventive skateboarding style had kids all around the world fixated on his teched-out Globe footwear.
By 1997, Globe’s pioneering approach was shaking up the industry. Steering away from the classic cupsole style of construction that had been pushing plywood for decades, Steve Hill dreamed of putting air bubble cushioning inside Globe’s foam sole units. It was an ambitious strategy for a fledgling company, as skaters were generally averse to visible tech. However, the design team persevered and the manufacturing nous was finally perfected. The advantages of cranked-up cushioning were soon recognised by anyone sporting bruised heels from bailing big gaps.
On top of Globe’s trademark sole technology sat the most memorable feature of the brand’s late-90s line-up — their ferociously foam-laden, thick-as-a-brick profile. Prime examples like the Option, Rodney Mullen’s RM3 and the Gershon Mosely pro-model allowed the groms to pad their feet to excess, but nothing said ‘foam-filled and fat’ quite like the Chet Thomas pro-model.
The initial Chet Thomas and CT Tech designs were solid, but as the skater’s signature shoe experienced ascending Roman numerals, the girth inflated exponentially. In 2000, the Chet-IV was released, hitting a hefty high point in collar padding and all-around bulk. Today’s trend is yet to reach the Chet-IV’s level of XXXXL, but you can bet your 50mm wheels the high-water mark is about to be surpassed any day now. Many once-were-skaters will attest to the fact that the no-tongue neoprene sockliner and Nitrocel 4 sole with PU air made this the most comfortable Globe shoe to grace a plank of ply.
Having been one of the reference points for fashion’s revisitation, it was inevitable that the CT-IV would stage a comeback. Sydney-based new-gen fashion stars Double Rainbouu championed Chet with their own colab and the shoe was suddenly appearing in the pages of Vogue, while Sneaker Freaker’s own ‘Unemployable’ Chet-IV has become a unicorn to dedicated heads in the know.
For anyone not quite bold enough to go full-2000s, Globe have also revived heritage models Tilt and Option, redesigning them with some modern-day tweaks to produce their new Evo range.
Today, the industry is churning out slimline vulcanised designs that look more like outdated athletic shoes than high-tech skate heat. So how exactly did the chunkiest skate shoe in the world come into being? We chatted with Chet to find out how it all went down at the turn of the millennium.
Hey, Chet. What was going on for you back in the late 90s?
The late 90s was my ‘golden era’ of skateboarding. I was traveling non-stop filming video parts, shooting photos every weekend, competing both domestically and internationally, working closely with my sponsors, launched Darkstar with my brother, opened a skate shop, and made the move to Globe. My entire life at that time revolved around skateboarding, starting businesses and brands, and setting up for the future.
How did the Globe deal come about?
I just started riding for XYZ/PLATINUM and was spending a good amount of time with some of the Globe riders. Through them I met Gary Valentine during a vert session at the Plan B ramp. He told me about their plans to launch Globe in North America and that I would see the brand in retail pretty soon.
A few weeks went by from that first meeting with Gary. I was on my way home from checking out my sample model at Sole Tech and decided to stop by Huntington Surf & Sport to pick up bearings and grip for a new set-up. I walked in and who do I see? Gary Valentine and their So Cal rep GT! They were stocking the shelves with Globe shoes. I looked at Gary and was like, ‘Damn! Stocking shoes already!’
We bullshitted for a few minutes, then he looked at my feet. ‘What are you wearing?’ ‘My first Emerica sample,’ I said. He asked me a few questions about my deal with Sole Tech. I honestly couldn't answer any of the questions. I wasn’t sure when they were coming out, what my royalty would be, how often I would be paid, or even when I would sign a contract. All I knew is that they had made me a sample. As I was leaving Gary said, ‘Look, if you are interested in making a move, come talk to me. I can put everything in writing for you and let you know exactly what we will commit to!’ I went back to Sole Tech and asked them the same questions. Guess what? They couldn't answer them either! Shortly after that I signed a contract with Globe and the rest is history.
The Chet-IV has made a lot of memories. How do you feel about your old shoe looking back on the design?
The CT-IV is a shoe I'm really proud of. There are only a small handful of shoes from that era that stood out from the pack and are remembered by the industry, skateboarders and emulators. The CT-IV is one of them. It was one of those shoes where all the stars aligned: the right brand, the right design and the right time. To this day, I still look back at the shoe as one of the best design accomplishments of my professional skateboarding career.
Did you get involved personally in the design process?
Yes, painstakingly so. I'm sure that Derek — the main designer I worked with on the CT-IV — would tell you I didn't let anything slip by in regards to the design, function, fit, durability and cosmetic details. From drawing the initial sketch, meticulously testing and improving samples at each stage, to dialling in the correct padding and fit, I was heavily involved in it all. My name was going on the product and I wouldn't have it any other way! In the end, all of our hard work paid off. The CT-IV is considered a classic.
They were definitely built to withstand serious punishment. Was that durability an important consideration for you?
Yes. Honestly, it was one of the most important considerations besides comfort. I owned a retail store at the time and often heard parents complaining about how fast their kid's shoes wore out and how much they cost. It was also a pet peeve of mine, even though I got my shoes for free. So, one of my goals with the CT-IV was that it would get better and better the more you skated and would last way longer than other shoes. I was able to skate the same pair of CT-IVs for a few months while shoes I skated previously would last a few weeks at the most. The durability goal was definitely achieved.
How did you manage to be so good with big bricks on your feet?
Yeah, it's funny how trends and product features that kids are looking for change over time. The challenge was getting the shoe broken in and to the point where flex and board feel where not an issue. I would end up just chilling in a pair as my ‘after-skate’ shoes. By the time the pair I was skating in wore out, the other pair would be broken in just enough so that after a few short sessions, there were no issues. I could not imagine jumping down the shit that I did in a vulcanized shoe with no support. Yes, board feel is great, but cushioning, support, and durability are non-existent in vulcanised shoes.
Did your tastes start to evolve away from that look at some point? What do you think it was that put an end to that era?
My tastes definitely evolved away from that look around 2005. I wasn't jumping down huge gaps anymore and didn't have the need for such a structured shoe. But, I still never gravitated to vulcanised. The last shoe that I had my name on was the Fuse. It was slimmer than the CT-IV, but still had a good amount of padding, support, and an EVA midsole. I think as the apparel trend transitioned to skinny jeans, the slimmer vulcanised shoes killed the chunky technical look.
Do you see yourself as a fashion visionary?
I don't consider myself a fashion visionary, that's for sure. I was just passionate about designing a shoe that was comfortable, durable, and worked best for my skateboarding at the time. When we stopped making the CT-IV, we knew that it would just be a matter of time before trends swung back towards the chunky look. Everything always seems to come full circle in skateboarding, so it's not a big surprise that the classic CT-IV has been re-issued and the chunky look is re-emerging.