Jesse La Flair On The LF-1's And Being First

In the world of Parkour, Jesse La Flair is someone who needs no introduction. From breaking onto the scene with his tutorials to competition success and world tours there has rarely been a period in the last decade where Jesse hasn't been working hard and making some noise about it.

His most recent endeavour has been the LF-1, Parkours first signature pro model shoe and also the first high top designed for Parkour.

Jesse was kind enough to send myself, and some of the Motus athletes the LF1's  to test out so we could produce a review. However, before I got stuck into the review I wanted to chat with Jesse to discuss some of the finer design details and hear a little more about what went into making it. 

A quick call turned into a lengthy discussion about the creation of the LF-1's, maybe being too progressive in Parkour & Jesse's upcoming film 'Bound By Movement.'

Check out the interview below.

Giles - So Jesse, the shoe. Hows the process been? 

Jesse - It's been rough.

So regarding this review, is there anything you wanted to get across? From what I gather this thing has been made totally from scratch compared to something like the Farang shoe which has obviously borrowed some elements of the Adidas Essential Refresh. 

Yeah I mean I can't say for certain for the Farang shoe or even the Storror shoe but I think the biggest thing we did is that every piece of this shoe is originally fabricated. It's not even like the NLS. You know that was a nice step into making shoes because we were able to find the mold of the original K-Swiss SI18 which at the time were discontinued. So for us, it was like a nod to what Parkour loved but doing that made the cost way cheaper because the moulds existed. That wasn't the case for the LF1.

Yeah so it was way more expensive right? Going in from the ground up like that, what was the whole process like? How much involvement did you have and how involved were people like Gabe from Tempest? 

I think it all plays into the same Tempest mindset. We've spoken about this before like we are literally just a few dudes still trying to make cool shit happen in a sport that we love right?

The creation of the shoe really didn't stretch far beyond that either because that team of people was essentially four of us. It was me and Gabe, me being the athlete and Gabe being the CEO. Then there was Yannick who has been a childhood friend of Gabe and a supporter of Tempest since day one and helped design the first shoe. He went to design school so he had like the ability to create the tech packs. Then on top of that what we added into the mix was kind of a random sort of magical thing that happened years ago at this point probably fucking five years ago.

I was in an Uber and I got to talking to my Uber driver about parkour and what I do. Then she was like ‘oh that's interesting my boyfriend makes shoes and he was just talking about Parkour. Maybe you should reach out.' So I reached out and he ended up being this guy Robert who's been working in the shoe industry for I don't know 20 fucking 25 years or something. He's helped design pro models for LeBron and he's worked with Shaq and he's worked with Kobe and so all of a sudden we realised that I kind of got connected with this guy who is one of those hard to obtain contacts. Like how did this even happen?

That's crazy!

So Robert connected us to a new factory in China. That's one of the hardest things you can do in making a shoe is trust whoever you're working with to follow through on the things. As a small brand, two thousand pairs of shoes is fucking nothing. If they start working with you they're not working with you because they want the money for two thousand pairs of shoes. They're working with you because they believe in what you're going to do is gonna turn into a bigger thing.

So the beautiful thing was that because he's in and out of China he was able to stop in at the factory and check the process and the samples.

So that was kind of our team. My role was really in the whole design side of things. I came in pretty prepared, like I had photoshopped a Supra and a Nike into a high top functional Parkour shoe with an extended tongue. All the elements that I was dreaming up were already there. 

So I was just a case of taking what you had mocked up and working with the team and the factory to make it a reality?

Yeah so myself and Yannick sat down multiple times to really talk about design because he comes from the sort of L.A. shoe fashion world so he's super connected with the shoe culture out here. It's sick actually. It has been really interesting for me to step into and meet a lot of those guys. So he was able to go ‘what's the story? Why are we choosing these colours? Why are we doing this?' Which in some ways is almost more important than how are we doing this.

Well that's the thing I wanted to ask. What led you to do it in the first place. Like why did you want to do it?

So the real answer behind the why is that Parkour and Freerunning still has no device. We are an un-sponsorable sport outside of athletes & lifestyle products. Our only device right now is our shoes. And technically yes, we don't even need shoes to do what we do. But realistically I think we should try to change that. One, because it's our lifelines. The future of athletes going pro could depend on it as another path to make the sport continue to exist on a monetary level.

But two, because if we can get to the point, where we could build in technology, I think it just takes it beyond playing in the playground in a way.  I think if you look at any other action sport in the world you're going to see that right? Anyone can go ride a bike on the boardwalk of the beach. But if you want to do street style BMX you need to have a certain type of bike. It needs to be a lighter frame. You need pegs. Does your sprocket lock in a certain direction or like, what are the tools in which any other action sport has a specific device built into it? And then why did that device continue to evolve into something more extravagant and or specialised right? And I don't know. I honestly don't know the answer to if we need a specialised pair of shoes but I don't think we should not try.

Yeah for sure, I've had similar conversations in the past. It might not be necessary but implementing more technology into shoes to deal with impact could be a cool experiment.

I think the fear is that it goes the wrong direction. We don't want to fucking build in soap grinding plates. But we need to at least push in certain directions to decide whether or not it's the right or wrong direction. If parkour has taught us anything, it's that we will fail and failing is the only way to really help teach you the proper way or the need to do it properly.

So the LF1 is this is a very very subtle attempt at what I would like to at least start to push into the shoe space.

And I think that's fairly evident. The big talking point is obviously that this is the first high top designed for Parkour. The only thing comparable is the Strike Movement shoe but that is much more of a mid top. I'm aware that making a high top was a very conscious decision from the start. Was there a reason behind this more than just aesthetics?

Oh I mean what's the number one injury in Parkour? It's the ankle thing. Sprained ankles from coming up short or twisted ankles. So for me, I think trying to build a functional ankle support strap was super important.

I've injured my ankles multiple times very early on into Parkour. I fucking blew both my ankles out and then I got into this space of like wanting to wear ankle braces. You know like when I go to compete I would be like ‘I know my left ankle is super fucked up. If I put on an ankle brace does that make me more confident on the course or is it just a smarter thing to do so that I don't re-injure it in the moment.' That became such a hassle to try to wear under a sneaker and then usually with the ankle braces it's either on or it's off.

That was the reasoning behind it all. Making it work though, like making the ankle strap functional and actually give you support. We went probably three or four samples back and forth about it.  Like ‘oh this actually digs into your heel and if you strap it really tight that doesn't feel comfortable. How can we pad the inside of the sock liner to counter that?'

Also, I love the way a high top looks. I think what probably kills me the most right now is the naive people. What people keep saying every time they see the high top, is 'oh I'm not comfortable wearing a high top' and then the next question I always give them is like ‘oh have you ever worn a high top?' And it's usually like ‘no.' So you're telling me you're uncomfortable with it because you're you've never worn it?

Fear is a lack of understanding. If you never tried one how will you actually know if it's something you like or don't like? What I'm trying to do is give you something that actually helps you and you're essentially turning it down because no one else is wearing it. People are scared to be different and with Parkour it should be the complete opposite of that.

Yeah of course. So with the high top and functional strap, since you've been wearing them for months and months...

More like years bro!

...Haha, fuck! So through all the sampling did you manage to find the strap and high top actually has been effective in what you were aiming to do?

Yeah, I think so. I think it definitely gives enough. It's not going to be the saving grace of the most gnarly ankle thing ever but it's functional enough. It definitely gives me that feeling like when I'm going for something bigger. I don't even lace them all the way up. I'm assuming if you actually did that and you strapped uptight you would feel very secure and locked in. But for me, I love the fact that I don't have to do that. Most of the time I train to be honest with you. I don't even tie my laces.

Wow! So did you enjoy the sampling process?

The sampling process was probably the most frustrating but also the most beneficial thing in designing the shoe. We sampled for like two fucking years. It was literally over two years from the first sample to 'all right, this is it, let's make them!' That process wasn't because we were being picky. It was because we kept having issues that weren't being solved correctly.

That's just the way it works with factories isn't it?

Yeah because you're not the number 1 client. You go back and forth and then the process takes three months to make another sample. But through that sampling process is where we really discovered a lot of cool things. The lace pockets on the side where you tuck your extra laces in... That was something that came out of the fact that during one of the samples they didn't finish the stitching on the side. Then on the next sample, they had stitched it u. I was like ‘oh fuck, I was tucking my laces in there just because it was there and then now I can't do it because it's all sealed up.' So it was like 'all right let's leave those open so the laces can go in there.'

What was it you were previously telling me about the fish scale pattern and what you were trying to do there?

So the fish scale material we found initially was at this material trade show and it's a bit like 3m where any light hits it and it turns that 3m colour but instead, if you put the light directly on it, it turned whatever colour you wanted it.

So we were trying to just add a little extra sauce to our shoes by going ‘all right let's do it in a fish scale because the goldfish is kind of our recurrent theme that we keep pushing through and then let's have it be purple underneath.' We were able to get the exact purple but then had some supplier issues and all of a sudden we ended up with a different material that was way more affected when it was lit up by the sun. You were just walking around with this bright purple/pink heel cup and it kind of looked cool but I don't think it was something that the Parkour space would be excited to wear.

We ended up getting the correct material but then we found out when you heat treat the stamping process of the fish gills onto them the material turned to grey. We wanted a true black base but all of a sudden now the shoe is not a black shoe its a grey and black shoe which wasn't what we wanted.

It seems there's always a bit of compromise with these things right? Regarding the colour purple. I know some people have been wary of wearing a purple shoe but in person, when worn the colour is actually pretty subtle as it's on the inside. How much thought went into the colour of the LF1.

So firstly, for me, I didn't want an all black shoe. I love the white EVA we have on there. I want people to wear them. I don't want people to be afraid of them. 

Tempest loves to be loud as fuck right? 'We Are The Loud Ones' is like that statement. And I wanted the design and the high top and all that stuff to be the loud part of it. Not the fact that you had to be someone that was willing to wear a purple shoe. So for me, to incorporate that colour it was all about having it on the inside.

Black and purple is something I really liked together kind of ever since I was a kid. There was a rollercoaster in the New Jersey Six Flags that had that sort of purple on it. I've always just been like that's dope colour way.

What's funny is that this was all decided before Black Panther came out and then all of a sudden, the film comes out and then you had all these fucking companies like Under Armour using black and purple on all their shit. So I'm like 'Oh My God' stressing because I was like now people are thinking we're copying shit.

Oh yeah shit, I never made that connection so I don't think you need to worry. So tell me about the EVA.

The EVA is the True Foam Technology which is foam that we worked on to be both cushioning and responsive. It's not your hard ass cheap rubbery foam that I think a lot of other shoes are probably going to just get given out of a factory because it's cost effective. 

That was one of the things that Robert was really able to bring to the table as he understood the chemistry behind the foam and behind the rubber. That was one of my favourite parts about having him involved was being able to end up with a rubber that I believe in. We actually own the rights to True Foam Technology so it's like a patented technology.

That's awesome. So what's your personal favourite part of the shoe?

I mean I think that the two biggest compliments we get is when Parkour people pick them up they go ‘holy shit these are light' because people think they're going to be heavy because they're a high top. We really strived to make them as light as possible.

Everyone has this preconceived notion of what the shoe is going to be and when they realise how light they are there's this shift that happens like ‘Woah that was different to what I expected. What else is different about this shoe that my expectations might be wrong about?'

Then the other thing is that they're fucking comfortable. Anyone buying them, even if they're not doing Parkour is saying that they're like the most comfortable fucking shoes they've ever worn.

Oh yeah they're super comfortable. I love the bobbles on the insole!

Jesse - Yeah like we knew that the price of the shoe wasn't gonna be cheap so we wanted to make sure that whatever we added, even if it cost us another two or three dollars, added quality. We just wanted them to be something that when people put them on they feel like every aspect of it is like a new discovery or a new feature and something that has value right. That's what we wanted to build.

Yeah and it screams quality. I love the packaging as well. I know you had bigger plans for the box but the actual the bag inside and the wrapping before you even get to the shoe, it just feels like a shoe that is not a Parkour shoe in terms of quality and that, for an outsider to see is fucking important I think.

Yeah we had bigger plans for the box. With the entire shoe, we aimed so fucking high that even not getting to the goal is still an achievement. I feel we reached something that was still beyond the level of our sport and I don't know if that's gonna fuck us or reward us in the end. This has been like a personal thing that I've been thinking about a lot lately.

You've been with me now for those two tours and sometimes I feel like 'are we overproducing?' Am I pushing so far on things that it's making it harder for other people in a sport to want to catch up? The same thing with Air Wipp right? It's just ended and it was such a big competition. Is it too big too soon almost?

I don't know. It's a really interesting thought. I think I'd love to do a proper Motus tour one day but the dilemma is we will either have to get an RV and that's a shitload of money or we have to do the exact polar opposite and fucking raw dog it almost so that it can't be compared because now you have set the level so high.

It's almost like Kie's showreel from 2012. There is still shit in that there has not been done to this day and the stuff that has been done has only been done recently. It's going to be one of those things where like in five or ten years time somebody might be at a scale where they do a U.S tour in an RV and only then will it click and they're going to go 'holy shit Jesse did this a decade ago.' So I don't think there's anything wrong with going that big.

I think it goes in either direction and that's the thing I struggle the most with. Like what we do a lot with Tempest is this thing where we almost outperform what we're capable of reproducing.  We did The Takeover 1 and were like ‘OK well we'll try to do Takeover 2' but it still didn't reach that level. But then this is why I struggle because at least we did it, we proved it was possible.

I just heard someone describe the fact that there was a long chunk of time where a sub four-minute mile was not possible. There were these runners that just thought it was impossible and then one dude finally went sub-four. That same year two other people, and now you have high schoolers that are running sub four.

So the hardest thing is to show people that it's possible. Being first out of the gate is absolutely the hardest thing. But what's actually most important is being second out of the gate and showing the rest of the people that it wasn't just a fluke and that other people can do it. 

Yeah but someone has to be first right? 

I think that the one thing that I truly love about Tempest is the fact that we'll always try to fucking do it and we might not always get the credit, especially cause I think a lot of people just say that we're in Hollywood and we were fucking rich or something. But they don't see the hustle and the struggle and us turning down work to continue to do cool shit in this sport that doesn't actually give a lot of love back.

It has not been easy. We will always learn a lot. We've already learned a lot and we're already in talks about making a better version of this shoe.

Amazing. What kind of things can we expect to see in the LF2?

I think rather than an LF2 it will be more of an LF1.5 that just has structural improvements or a slight material shift. We had a sample of a real leather suede version that I still have but they were heavier. So I think what we need to decide for the next version is whether or not we sacrifice the weight with a little bit more strength. Also, we're already obviously talking about just changing the upper and dropping it into a non hightop version. 

I guess it's fairly easy to essentially just remove the top section right? 

Yeah it's pretty simple. But for me, I think that's just appeasing an audience that is uneducated about the shoe that we already have. What I need to see is like how well are people responding to the idea of technology being built into a shoe. Is that something that they're excited about? I think there's space to try things but we aren't able to do it if our two thousand pairs take three years to sell.

Yeah you need that support. 

It's a hard thing to know whether it's going to work or not. I will say, as a cultural brand Tempest is doing a really good job right now at getting them on people. 

James McAvoy, Tye Sheridan, Nicholas Hoult & obviously Kodi Smit-McPhee the guy plays Nightcrawler in Xmen all have some. Drew Barrymore just got a pair from Lucy and on the same day was like ‘oh my god these are dope. Do you mind if I wear them in the next scene of the movie?'

Oh that's sick! Can we talk quickly about the tour & your new film ‘Bound By Movement'? You obviously did the tour and the shoe was meant to be a huge part of that but you had production delays so you shifted some focus onto the film. I've watched the draft you sent me a number of times and it's really held my focus. When can we expect to see that out?

June 14th on all platforms!

You know I didn't realise that even the iTunes approval process, all that shit is kind of gnarly. It's like fucking three thousand dollars for this, then five hundred per language you want to put up. That's just one platform and then we're doing all the platforms! 

If it performs well and people get behind it'll be incredible more because I believe in the story we've told. Not because I'm trying to make money back from it. 

I think it will! I've got good faith in it. I'm excited for it.  

Buy the LF-1s

Bound By Movement

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