“I know how much I like the feeling of wearing shoes that no one else has,” says former Native Shoes creative head Mark Gainor who launched his own premium sneaker label No.One in April 2017. And that is exactly what he offers with the line. “If I spend a thousand dollars on my shoes I better not see anyone else in them,” he says. His guideposts are tradition, craftsmanship, heart, passion and most importantly, customization. Anyone can come into the studio and custom design their own pair. Due to the handmade manufacturing of every pair and the handpicked materials the label creates only 12 pairs per styles. “So you can see even in our ‘big drops’ you’re still likely going to be the only person in your city with the shoes,” Gainor says. Prizes ranges from $575 to $675 and bespoke starts at $1000. You can get them at Union Los Angeles or at www.no-one.la. Here Gainor talks about what he felt when touching the first pony hair speckled upper and what a perfect sneaker needs.
What fascinates you today about creating sneakers?
I like solving problems and hand-making small runs of sneakers is one continuous flow of problems. It’s an endless source of fascination and frustration. I love it.
After spending years working for other parties, why did you start your own business at the beginning of 2017? Was this a long-cherished dream that you had pre-planned?
Yes, a lifelong dream. I was kicked out of every school I went to and fired from every job I had so it was clear to me at a young age that I was going to have work for myself because I do not work well in other systems. They bring out the worst in me, so we had to build our own system that we could build up and destroy as we see fit.
Why do you think the world needs another sneaker label?
Lets be honest, this world does not need another sneaker label. Period. But inside the microcosm of sneakers I believe we offer something unique.
What distinguishes No.One from other brands?
No.One cares about details that no one else in the world cares about. That's what makes us different.
Because we own every aspect of our production, because we are such a small tight team we can obsess about and have the means to execute on the tiniest details in every facet of our brand and product, because we deal with a limited few we are able to move and speak with them as we please. We are beholden to no one.
The ability to exist in this space where we have freedom from the demands of the mass market and have the means to control and execute on this freedom at a high level puts us in a very rare space.
What makes your shoes so special?
We simply use materials and process that no one else in the world uses for sneakers.
The Bravo for example is 100% hand-lasted. The lasting process is identical to what John Lobb or any high-end shoemaker would do, we wet mold the leather lasting board to the last and then stretch and hammer the upper and lining around the last the same way bespoke shoes have been made for hundreds of years. To use that process on a sneaker is very rare.
We also use the best leathers and that’s not empty marketing rhetoric. We really do seek out the very best tanneries for each of the specific articles. Another example: the lining of all our shoes is Plongé Lambskin from a Chanel owned tannery in Levroux France which is a small town that is known for its goat cheese. Because of that existing agricultural industry they started a tannery in 1860 that specialized in tanning goat- and lambskin. They have spent over a hundred years perfecting that process and article.
They are the best at making that very specific hide–it’s what Chanel uses to line their handbags. But we wrap it around your sweaty foot.
We are obsessive nerds who want to find the very best of everything. I could ramble on about the virtues of every single component we use. No one in the world wants to hear me geek out about the rigidity of the weaving process used on our waxed laces so I will stop now.
How much time do you invest in sourcing?
Sourcing is a huge part of the process; we have spent the last few years building relationships with tanneries and vendors. All of the tanneries we work with specialize in a specific article. We get hearty British hunting suede from Leeds, Vachetta from Tuscany, Baby Bull from the South of France. All of those tanneries are generational family businesses.
It’s a pleasure to deal with them because they create these beautiful, niche articles and by nature are passionate, small detail-oriented business like us. They all feel like natural partners. It’s reassuring to deal with them and see them existing in this fast moving, gigantic, generic marketplace.
What did you feel when you had the first pair of shoes you created in your hands?
Ha! An overwhelming sense of failure. But a glimmer of pride and belief that the next pair would be better. I am very critical of myself, all I see in my work are the mistakes, but I learn from those mistakes and rarely repeat them.
What can you remember about touching the pony hair speckled upper for the first time?
I love this question. That particular Pony Hair was really special to me because I had learned about that from working with Greg (Lucci), Greg (Johnson) and Jon (Buscemi) at Gourmet–those three have been great teachers and friends. When I felt the first pony hair Bravo it felt like it was a natural progression forward from what I had learned from them.
That idea of honoring the people who taught you by pushing things forward is so important to me. I really don't care what most people think about me or this brand. There are a handful of people in this world that I hope we do right by and when I think we have been able to please them it’s very satisfying.
With No.One you give people the chance for customizing. Why do you think this attracts customers and hits the current zeitgeist?
People dropping a rack at the mall on “luxury” sneakers blows my mind. Spending that kind of money to look exactly like the person next to you, I just can't understand that. If I spend a thousand dollars on my shoes I better not see anyone else in them.
You can see the big luxury brands returning to customization as a way to give their clientele a way to stand apart, this seems like the logical path to define themselves in this homogenous market. Fast fashion and the biter brands are going to steal your silhouettes and jock your style but customization is that last area they can’t duplicate... yet.
What makes the perfect sneaker in terms of silhouette, shapes, material, stitching, etc. for you?
I like a sleek silhouette with a clear purpose. Like the Flyknit racer, that thing was born to run. I will never run in them but you can see it has a purpose. I feel the same way about all the early iconic sneakers from Chuck Taylors and Vans to AF1s and Air Max they have some utility to them. That’s appealing to me; I don't like useless forms.
So we like to take those classic utilitarian forms and create interest by using elegant stitching, construction and unexpected beautiful materials. That’s the sweet spot for me.
And what does a sneaker absolutely need?
Just some interesting feet. Sneakers are inanimate objects, they need humans with perspective, skills and beliefs to make them interesting or look good.
How many pairs of sneakers do you personally own?
Too many. It’s embarrassing. It really is. I aspire to have less.
Would you say the new brand is more about a philosophy and passion than earning money?
Yes. But this is not an art project; it’s a business. Having a profitable, sustainable business model is a critical component of good design; this is an important factor to us. But it does not dictate our actions and direction.
In a GQ interview you said “I think it’s funny when people say they like sneakers in 2017.” Can you explain what’s so funny? After all, the sneaker market is very profitable…
That statement was about how different it is to be into sneakers these days. For example, to wear Airmax 97s in 1997 was amazing; people would stop you on the street and laugh at you. I remember feeling like they were some sort of glimpse of a super fresh future (which never happened). To wear them in 2007 was less interesting but still had some sense of community or like-mindedness among the people who would wear or recognize them. In 2017 it means you went to the mall.
Yes it is very profitable industry but it used to be a small part of a larger subculture and I think that has disappeared.
So as a person who was drawn into this for it being part of a subculture it’s funny to see it become this staple of generic mass-market culture. (Ha ha. But the joke is probably on me because the big brands are laughing all the way to the bank.)