If you’re like us, seeing the numerical sequence 3-3-20 leaves little to no doubt that it must be some kind of code. Some kind of sign for the initiated.
Probably a date?
Perhaps 3-3-20 stands for March 3, 2020. The day when the mysterious planet Nibiru reenters our solar system, causing a series of cataclysmic events including an all-out war between human-friendly aliens and evil shape-shifting lizard people hell-bent on unleashing the Apocalypse.
But hey, maybe that’s just us…
What we can confirm is that 3-3-20 is also the name of a new, skater-owned footwear company based out of Sweden. Poised for market entry in early 2019, the premium shoe company with strong street inspirations was started by long-time skateboarder and designer Sami Tolppi from a feeling that something is missing in skate and street footwear these days. Having grown up in the late 1980s when skateboarding was a tightly-knit community, he might be right.
Because over the last ten years, the skateboard shoe market has seen somewhat of an Apocalypse of its own. Brought on, not by shape-shifting lizard people, but the mass adoption of major corporate brands into skateboarding’s inner circle. This tectonic shift has pushed core skate shoe companies to the fringes – or into extinction, in some cases – as shoe walls at core skate shops now firmly belong to the Swoosh, the Three Stripes, and the Waffle Sole.
Time to go back to the good old days?
“I think it’s inevitable for us to draw inspiration from the past, there are so many good references and memories, especially from our culture. With that said, I think it’s equally important to evolve and somehow comment on our present and future,” said Sami Tolppi, who grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, and recently spent a prolonged period immersed in the rich street culture of Tokyo, Japan.
The initial 3-3-20 drop features the Index suede sneaker in three colorways with fully-lined cow leather and rubber outsole, designed in Sweden and hand-made in Portugal. Also cotton T-shirts including a 3-3-20 logo pocket shirt and the “Transorbital” mid-weight jersey shirt depicting an icepick lobotomy on a human brain (nothing to see here, just mind-altering surgeries and encrypted numerical messages).
I think it’s inevitable for us to draw inspiration from the past, there are so many good references and memories, especially from our culture. With that said, I think it’s equally important to evolve and somehow comment on our present and future.
We met up with Sami to uncover the Illuminati code behind the 3-3-20 brand name – although the packaging says “It’s just a number” – and get a detailed first look at the new shoes. Burn after reading…
Hi Sami, please tell us a bit about your personal background in skateboarding.
I got my first board in 1987. It was one of those classic ‘80s wide ‘toy’ boards. All my friends grew tired of the latest ‘trend toy’ and moved on to other things, I got hooked and never looked back. By the late nineties, I was on the Swedish team for a shoe company famous for their waffle soles and a clothing brand. I was okay, but never one of the top dudes. So I dropped any dreams of becoming pro fairly quickly. Now in hindsight I think that’s what has kept me rolling for the past 31 years, just the fun of it and being a part of that culture.
And what is your background in shoe design and the skate industry?
I don’t have any formal education in shoe design specifically, but I’ve been working as an art director and graphic designer for well over a decade. My first ever work experience as a kid was at a skate shop called System Ett in Stockholm where I’m from, I must have been around 11 years old.
So when you grew up skateboarding in the 1980s in Sweden, was it hard to get proper skate shoes?
Both yes and no, once I got more into skating I also got more interested in the surrounding gear. I knew about the few skate shops in town, but the gear was always too expensive for me growing up with a single mom. I’d see the black-and-white ads at the back of Thrasher and Transworld and dream about owning a pair of [Airwalk] Enigmas or NTS, anything related to skateboarding really. It didn’t matter. My first-ever skate shoes were a pair of low-top Vision Street Wear in black and red cracked paint pattern with the ollie pad on the side. I thought I was invincible in those, first time I ever felt cool.
Probably all European skateboarders share that experience, myself included. Do you have a ‘grail’ shoe you always wanted when you were growing up but could never have?
Many! A particular one a bit later was the Converse Dr. J in black suede with a white sole. They were impossible to get a hold of in Sweden at the time when I craved them the most. I did find them years later at a kind of outlet store called Crazy Clarks in Australia, however only in navy suede, the next best thing I guess.
This brings us to a hard question: What are your top three skate shoes of all time and why?
I have more than three for sure but I have to go with a few era-defining classics on this one:
- Vans Half Cab – They’re still around for a reason. I’ve had countless pairs and still skate in them to this day.
- Etnies (New) Rap – They came at a time when skateboarding was changing a lot, skate shoes before that time had a tendency to look vulgar and they just looked so fresh. Great to skate in as well.
- Duffs KCK’s – Also just such a good looking shoe at the time, it really stood out. I must take my hat off to Tony Ferguson and his brand RONE for recently creating such a great homage to those classic shoes. It’s brilliant in its simplicity.
A manifesto for skate footwear
Speaking of good-looking shoes, let’s talk about 3-3-20. What is the inspiration for the brand?
Without trying to come off as too pretentious the simple answer is freedom. We’ve put in our years working for other people, other brands, trying to convey their vision. We both felt it’s time to do our own thing and we have a naïve vision on how to make a company without following the conventional rules of capitalism, a more honest and open approach to things.
Who is your partner in making 3-3-20 happen?
It’s just myself and my friend Daniel, who is the business guy so to speak. Daniel is left-handed and plays guitar. We both love the Beatles and we’ve worked together for many years through thick and thin. We’ve had enough of dealing with suits and venture capitalists and that sort so we figured it’s time to try to do something for ourselves for a change. We hope someone will like what we do.
It is not ours really, and neither is the brand. It’s yours! We’re just caretakers.
You are also spreading the word with the “Manifesto” Zine published by 3-3-20. What’s the story?
I think the zine itself is a good format to present your ideas, not just soulless products. It also has such strong cultural connotations. We thought it’d be a fun thing to start off with, who knows, it might spin off into something else, we’re already open to outside contributors and ad placements or whatever, the 3-3-20 “Manifesto” (download the PDF here) as we call it is not ours really, and neither is the brand. It’s yours! We’re just caretakers.
Let’s talk specifics. What kind of products are you offering and what are the price points?
Right now we have our first shoe called the “Index” along with some tees in really nice quality. These are all custom made for us by a small factory in Portugal. It’s so fun to hear people’s comments about the shoe. Many people ask if it’s a skate shoe and I usually say “it can be if you want, might be a bit expensive ollies though”. That’s kind of the core of our design philosophy, to create some products that people can re-appropriate or re-imagine to suit their own needs, just the same way we did with the adidas Campus or Puma Clyde back in the day. Value is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.
The shoe will be around €250, it’s all suede and fully leather lined so quite premium, worth every penny. The tees are made in two different weights, one super heavy 320g and the other a bit lighter at 190g for €50 retail.
That sounds exclusive. Please walk us through the Index shoe model and the inspiration and details.
We wanted to make a staple shoe that would stand the test of time, hence the good materials. The panels are really simple but a lot of effort went into getting the dimensions and the details just right. ‘Intention to detail’ is one of our mantras.
The shoes are rather understated in an age where TECH is really coming back. What is your take on the current shoe game and what kind of commentary are you making with 3-3-20?
First off, thank you! Our initial thought with 3-3-20 has always been to act kind of parallel to hype, trend and all that stuff, but at the end it’s our customer who will do the commentary, the labelling, the statements and so forth. We can only give clues and context. Some might see it the way we do and others won’t which is great!
Intention to Detail is one of our mantras.
Where can people buy and see your gear?
We’re launching the brand in Tokyo this fall so hopefully at some good retailers over there in the beginning of 2019. Otherwise it will soon be online at www.3-3-20.com
On that note, do you live in Tokyo now full time? What is your connection?
I’m back in Sweden now, we lived there for a year recently. I was fortunate enough to be able to move and work from there. I went to Japan on a business trip around 2012 and just fell in love. The culture, the people, nature. It’s all amazing. We had a baby daughter four months ago, her middle name is “Jima” which means Island in Japanese.
You are a truly global citizen, Sami. What is the story behind the 3-3-20 globe logo? Are you out for world domination?
Haha, I initially called it ‘First Look’ but now it’s called ‘World Premier’ with the eyes peeking out from behind the globe. World domination would be horrible, our dream is to keep it small as much as possible. We’re just two people trying to make ends meet that’s all.
I still think you guys are up to something. Thanks for the interview, Sami.
3-3-20’s Tips for a Happy Life
Download 3-3-20’s official ‘Zine “Manifesto” for free right here:
Check out the 3-3-20 website
For dealer inquiries and wholesale orders of 3-3-20 footwear’s collection, send Sami Tolppi an email.