Angel Cabada, KR3W and Supra Founder – A History of Supra Sneakers

Recently it would appear that Supra had just magically exploded onto the sneaker scene and almost single-handedly taken the shoe industry by storm creating a footwear revolution in the process.

For long time skater, Streetwear manufacturer and sneaker buff Angel Cabada, the founder of Supra, the journey has been a long and eventful one with plenty of twists and turns rather than a quick, direct blast to the top of the sneaker game.

Angel started his first company, known as TSA, with some fellow skaters who were mainly into making clothes that they could wear when skating. That was 1991 and it lasted for around ten years until Angel decided to leave so he could do his own thing. The company he founded in 2002 was KR3W, his current apparel brand that he manages along with Supra under the distribution umbrella for the two projects known quite simply and aptly as One Distribution; initially built to cut out the middleman in the European distribution process.

So what did Angel take with him from his TSA experience, well just that…’Experience’. He has described his first project as his ‘Education’ in the business and I’ve heard other entrepreneurs/founders in street and sneaker culture say similar things; such as the lead designer and co-founder of Creative Recreation, the other hot brand in the up market sneaker niche, who commented in a recent video interview that his training ground in the sneaker industry was as a snowboard boot design technician and later sneaker designer for Vans.

After all of his years of learning on the job at Team Santa Ana (TSA) he openly admits he made a million mistakes as a young, creative businessperson attempting to build his first brand. And in fact one thing he insisted he would do when KR3W opened its doors was take all of that experience and apply it effectively so he wouldn’t make the same mistakes all over again.

Since 2002 Angel has been gradually building KR3W based on a solid formula of making simple, effective clothing for skaters, made by skaters; similar to the Team Santa Ana philosophy yet with a more effective company infrastructure and an efficient, productive team of specialists running their particular areas of expertise. KR3W has gradually built a loyal following within the skate community due in part to its durable, stylish designs while the other part of its recipe for success is the development of a team of respected, charismatic, fashion forward and culture and marketing savvy professional skateboarders who are admired by this generation of young skater consumers. The up and coming crop of new boarders admire the pro riders they look up to and learn their skills from yet they themselves are actually the ones who wear the hoodies, jeans and skate shoes every day to really get a feel for their authenticity and how they stand up to daily wear and tear.

Most of this team of professional riders/endorsers are friends of Angel that he’s grown up with in the Orange County skate scene so the people he’s giving product away to are just friends (from the worlds of music and skating) who represent the brand well and enjoy the gear for its comfort, style and functionality as in look, feel and performance. The young people who buy the clothing recognize when the apparel and sneakers are designed by people who know their way around a skatepark and skateboard and can smell a phoney a mile away and in this sense the genuine skate roots of Angel, his associates and their endorsers ring true with consumers; Cabada claims to have a personal bond with every member of his skater endorsement crew and judges each one on the merits of both their character and personality as well as their ability on the board.

So where did Angel get the inspiration for creating the Supra shoe company? I guess you could say that Cabada wanted to go ‘above and beyond’ (the loose translation of ‘Supra’ from Latin) what already existed in the sneaker marketplace at that time when he came up with both the name and concept behind his new shoe line. His motivation was to create some kicks that would be a nice complement to the KR3W clothing line and he wanted to take the sneaker game up a level since in his words most of shoes were a bit ‘chunky’ for his tastes.

Angel has been in the business for 17 years and riding a board for even longer than that so as the skaters grow up why shouldn’t their brand follow suit. This is the vision behind Supra, a brand grounded in skating that also maintains a higher overall sense of fashion awareness and sophistication. You can skate in the Skytop yet also wear it out on the town without hesitation regardless of the occasion. As for what some might say are radical design concepts for their refreshingly innovative models, especially in high cuts, Cabada credits his inspiration to his continuous daydreaming, “I’m a thinker. I think a lot, I daydream a lot, think of ideas, constantly talking to my designers”; like the old acronym goes… All Day I Dream About Supra.

What was the first reaction to the concept for his new line of kicks that combined skate culture with more refined, up market, stylistic sensibilities? At first upon hearing he had dropped $100,000US into research and development of the shoes even his partners thought he was a little crazy and as for the general public a lot of people thought he was completely insane when they took a look at the Skytop prototypes and some even laughed; now Angel claims he’s the one laughing, all the way to the bank.

As for the more fashion forward designs of the NS (Non Skate) line, the creators of the brand had to think outside of the sneaker box in their marketing approach like they had been innovative in designing the product. It was necessary to branch out to the more fashion driven tradeshows at that time and to veer away from traditional athletic/sports-based promotional events because Skytops hadn’t even been embraced by the skate community yet.

Initially Cabada wanted to ensure that although the designs were fresh and innovative that the color schemes were not too over the top to drive away his loyal, hardcore following from KR3W, so he insisted that the Skytops were introduced in classic, simple white and black colorways. In time, however, Supra got edgier with its initial success ensuring cash flow and confidence, and took some chances on bolder, brighter colorways (although still mostly in one or two uniform simple yet classic combinations). Taking some chances paid off in spades especially with the release of the Gold Chad Muska limited edition signature series which originally scared people with its choice of experimental materials and sneaker color scheme. However when it hit shelves it wasn’t long before the buying public snapped them up along with subsequent releases of the Skytop, Vaider and Suprano Hi; thanks in part to the innovative colors, materials and designs and also due to the respect in street culture community for the renowned skater endorsers who represented the brand.

Supra footwear has come a long way in a short time from the designs that people initially laughed at to the models that everyone is copying (and copping) these days; hoping to cash in on proven success rather than focus on innovation like Angel, his lead designer Josh and their creative design team have chosen to do. On the eve of the release of the Terry Kennedy signature shoe as well as the development of the Skytop II and other exciting new design concepts in the works, Cabada is more flattered than angry that competitors both small and large are choosing to copy Supra’s signature lines. The Supra Footwear Founder expects the consumer to have the Skate and Shoe IQ and good sense to know the difference between the imitator and the innovator.