This month’s issue of Shining the Spotlight presents the co-founders of CHPTR-3, Gabe Gonzalez and Mike Gee. As a creative studio, CHPTR-3 specialises in sneaker customisation, their work covering custom shoes for Justin Bieber to Bronny James. Last year, they presented a case study that pushed the boundaries of sneaker customisation. “Case Study 001: Kobe PG”, covers the realms of performance tuning that is yet to be explored in the conventional sneaker space.

Gabe Gonzalez
Mike Gee

With Gonzalez as the designer and creative director and Gee coming in with a biomechanics degree, this particular case study highlights the dynamic of the duo working together towards a shared goal. Coming from two different backgrounds and experiences, it puts the creative studio in a special position where they are able to design, produce and test for tangible solutions within performance footwear.

“improve a product to our performance needs… and design something with tangible solutions”

The initial idea of “performance tuning” came up when both Gonzalez and Gee played in the Kobe AD Exodus. “It was a great looking shoe aesthetically… But let down by some of the performance aspects” Gonzalez explains. “The grooves and the material choice for the translucent rubber wasn’t right,” Gee adds, “Problem was that it put my foot at a slight tilt. So, the lateral side of my foot was in contact first”. The performance issues with the Kobe AD Exodus laid the groundwork for the case study, building upon the question, “How can we actually improve or tailor a product according to our performance needs as athletes, and design something that addresses the problem with tangible solutions”.

“perfecting the two independent elements to work together as one”

Gonzalez and Gee’s solution to the Kobe AD’s performance issues was to replace the sole. This put forward the case study’s first challenge of finding a replacement sole, which was quickly solved. Both co-founders being “practitioners of the sport”, the “library of possible solutions just from sheer experience from playing on the court” allowed them to arrive at the conclusion of using the PG1 sole. “Everything I was hoping to get out of the Kobe, I knew the PG1 had already” Gonzalez explains, “generally, the Kobe upper and the PG sole fit perfectly but there was room to fine tune for stability and comfort”. Much of the problem solving within the case study would arise from perfecting the two independent elements to work together as one.

Several iterations of the shoe were produced trying to perfect the merger between the Kobe AD upper and the PG1 sole. The initial prototype, using locally sourced contact cement that the studio used for the previous projects, was not quite strong enough for a performance product. Later iterations implemented sports cement for a stronger merger. The last shape also had a crucial role in the merger between the two elements. “Slight shape differences between the last and the sole created tension at the heel, causing the midsole foam to tear” Gonzalez explained, “It was really refining the last to give enough space in the forefoot without compensating lockdown that was the most challenging”. The duo would go through several last shapes, “building the upper on top of the last and perfecting the shape”. 

“balance between a clean product and solving performance needs”

A series of trial and error were implemented to perfect the lockdown of the shoe. “I noticed my foot was swimming around in the first wear” Gee explained, “Anytime I would stop, my foot would keep sliding on the footbed”. In hopes of improving lockdown, a mid-foot lace loop was added. However, the lace loop dug into the talus (joint where the ankle meets the tibia and fibula) forcing the duo to look for other alternatives. Enhancing the suede panel on the lateral side to an entire full-leather rand on both sides along with an adjusted last solved the whole problem. In addition to masking the deconstructed look of the shoe, the full-leather rand was a solution to finding a balance between a “clean product and solving performance needs”.

“tests for heel to toe transition, vertical jump and lateral shuffle”

After perfecting the prototypes, the studio went through the process of testing the customs against the stock pairs. Led by Gee, the testing consisted of a walking gait test for force produced and 3D motion capture for direction of force. “We did tests for heel to toe transition, vertical jump and lateral shuffle” Gee explains. Through the results it was clear that the test worked. “We saw there was greater sheer braking force with the PG1 sole, that was probably what led to better hip displacement” Gee explained. The PG1 sole was also constructed to keep the foot levelled allowing for a more equal plane of force production. “The walking gait test spoke for itself, we had better Newtons produced though both shoes of the left and right with the new sole as opposed to the ADs” Gee explained, “The PG sole allowed for a smooth rollover effect where I was just able to carry myself through and that was something that was very positive for my testing personally”. As a result, the studio was able to increase the Kobe AD in all performance aspects.

“practitioners of the sport and the culture around it”

Gabe Gonzalez
Mike Gee

Both being practitioners of the sport and the culture around it, this case study comes from a personal space for the co-founders. But it also captures the essence of CHPTR-3 and its vision moving forward. It highlights the duo’s creative problem solving process, their knowledge within the industry and their ability to control and produce tangible results. In an industry that is dominated by giants, CHPTR-3 proves the ability of smaller brands and studios being able to push for innovation and testing what is possible within the sneaker space.

“When it comes to doing something in the future, that’s where the creativity perspective and taste comes in. Because you know what has already been done and tried. Now you don’t have to waste your time trying to go through those ringers. You already know their mistakes so you get to make your own new mistakes that no one has done before. That’s where real innovation lies, that is where we’re most excited to help and continue to do these kinds of things. Performance is amazing, just making sneakers is amazing to be in this space. I knew a lot about sneakers but not to the extent of this creation, origination, everything that is able to be encapsulated into the whole creative process and very new to me and I am very blessed to be here now together with Gabe.”

– Mike Gee

We’re both very young in this field, there is a lot of room for learning. Like Mike said, innovating the quality of our ideas and utilising the value we both bring to the table will help us to carve a unique lane for ourselves in the industry. This was one example of how we’ve been able to innovate from an idea perspective, seeking to refine the products we already use on a daily basis. Performance shoes can feel like a lofty goal from the perspective of a small brand stepping into a world of tech giants. It’s difficult to keep up with companies like Nike and Adidas because we don’t have the resources or the reach to execute at the same level. But through case studies like this, we’re able to provide valuable insight that the industry as a whole can benefit from. The hope is that we can inspire others to think outside the box and carve their own lane in whatever they are passionate about.”

– Gabe Gonzalez

Images via Gabe Gonzalez, Mike Gee, CHPTR-3, Spencer Hemann, Jesus Diaz

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