Damian Van Zyll De Jong, formerly of Native Shoes, has the zeal and drive of a recent graduate. The designer is launching People Footwear this spring and is set on pushing the envelope by mixing molded footwear with classic shapes and new technology.
“[Native Shoes was] a great learning experience. I learned a lot about the business and the process of shoemaking. I like to think of that time as my ‘high school of shoe design,’” Van Zyll De Jong said. “With People Footwear, the design has evolved, taking the molded aspect and breeding it into more user-friendly hybrid shoes. We will continue to make fully molded shoes as that’s part of our DNA but also explore cutting edge technology.”
The silhouettes in People Footwear’s first collection maintain a classic, sporty feel, yet beg the question, “This is cool, but something else is happening here. What is it?” In part, the answers are in the brand’s 3D printing and Skylite EVA construction, but Van Zyll De Jong is not one to give away secrets. He only stresses the necessity of staying close to the action as it happens.
“Being on the ground with the manufacturing side is a big part of getting it right,” he said. “Proximity to your production is so important, and it also sparks ideas for future products. I’ve also learned not to try and do everything at once – there is always next season. I like to look at construction, and try to use the newest ways of making shoes, but keep the look easy on the eyes. Subtle and simple is not always easy to achieve.”
It is even harder to recreate simplicity and subtlety in a new and fresh way, as Van Zyll De Jong is doing with People. When Van Zyll De Jong introduced Native’s injection-molded EVA designs, he helped changed the way consumers look at so-called “Crocs-like footwear” with clean and crisp designs, like hole-punched, sneaker-inspired slip-ons. He took it a step further with the lightweight mountaineering-inspired Fitzsimmons hiker lined with neoprene. Van Zyll De Jong said he just wants to keep moving forward.
“Native was something I created that came from the heart, and so is People. It’s really just an evolution from when I started making shoes. The trick is to avoid getting stuck, and keep the brand and momentum moving. With this point of view, you keep it fresh and forward thinking. I always say you can change teams, but your DNA will remain. My style and aesthetic are what they are, and that’s what has made me successful so far. That, and my ability to grow a great team around me. People’s team is top-notch.”
Slated for a Spring drop, there is some mystery surrounding the brand. Apart from an Instagram account, and the beginnings of a website, Van Zyll De Jong hasn’t released a lot of information. Some of the known models are the Phillips (a breathable mesh EVA sneaker), Stanley (a mesh deck shoe), Lennon (a lightweight sandal) and Senna (a molded driving shoe).
The standout Dreamknit collection will unquestionably turn heads with its dual tones of vibrant color. “There is more sophistication with what we’re doing at People, and with a variety of options I feel like we’re opening more doors,” Van Zyll De Jong explained. With a global launch forthcoming, however, he’s staying patient. “I really wanted to have all the little pieces locked down before we hit the street running. Rome was not built in a day, and we want to set the right systems in place to ensure success.”