Christoph Dyckmans is a student studying industrial engineering, who fashions himself something of a shoe nerd. Ever since he began skateboarding in middle school, Christoph and his brother Clemens Dyckmans felt that the reviews they read in the skateboard magazines or online weren’t cutting it. The reviews resembled product endorsements more than actual critiques of the shoe quality, Clemens felt that he could do better. Drawing inspiration from an online website that provided a very detailed, technical analysis of basketball shoes, Clemens sought to provide skaters the same level of detail and rigor to the products that were hitting the skateboard market.
The challenge was funding this side-passion of his without buy-in from the industry. After all, it would only make sense that brands would be cautious of a passionate shoe fanatic trying to critique and review their new products. “He had to figure everything our step by step,” writes Christoph. Clemens literally wrote his articles in English (his second language), learned how to code websites and made some heavy investment in his project to get the word out about his project. Sure enough, Clemens made some inroads into the industry, and even the biggest brands have been big supporters of what his project “Weartested” is providing skateboarders. Companies such as Lakai, WeSC, Adidas Skateboarding and Nike SB are some of the companies that have given the project support.
Clemens recently left the Weartested project in the hands of his brother Christoph, who was kind enough to sit down and chat with us about the Weartested project and his experience getting the whole thing started with his brother.
What was the original idea behind “Weartested” – why did you think it needed to exist?
There wasn’t a clear idea at the beginning; I think it was more of a process. Back when my brother Clemens and me were both still in middle school we were always skating the shoes that we walked around in for ages and were too trashed for school. However, in the summer this system never fully worked because we went through a pair of shoes within weeks. Money was always a bit tight as skateboarding is a quite expensive hobby, so buying shoes just for skateboarding was a big investment. The worst case was always when the shoes you just bought – often off the sales rack – turned out to be a brick with no grip or the seams blew out and they lasted for less than two weeks.
Clemens became more and more interested in shoes and started to get obsessed with finding as much information as possible about a shoe before he bought them. However, relevant information and reviews were rare at that time and he was never happy with the available information. Most reviews you found online back then were along the lines of “Yo, they skate so sick, plus that red colorway is awesome and Pro XY is rocking them all the time”, not exactly what he was looking for. One day he came to me and told me about his idea of writing a detailed review about the shoes he skated. When he really started doing it I thought he was crazy to cut shoes in half and spending serious amounts of time on writing a shoe review like it’s a school paper. I doubted anyone could be interested in it, but he did it anyway. It turned out to be really in-depth, almost scientific. He wanted the reviews to be as objective as possible, basically performance analyses of skate shoes, including their individual disadvantages. So to sum it up: It all started when my brother Clemens could not find any detailed descriptions or reviews about skate shoes, so he did it by himself. That’s how the idea behind Weartested was born in a nutshell.
What were the first steps to get Weartested started?
Once Clemens had the idea, he basically just went for it. He was skating some Nike SB Dunk Lows, a model he quite liked at that time, but there were also things he found annoying. So he wrote the first review, which compared to how they are done today was amateurish. However, he already established the main categories and we still use most of them today. He set the direction Weartested was going by trying to pay attention to every little detail. Writing in English was a challenge at the beginning as it is not our native language, but he realized that the chances that somebody actually reads it are exponentially higher this way.
For the first review he cut the shoe in half to show the cross section of the sole. I have always found this to be one of the most interesting parts, since it shows what’s inside the shoe. It is also very important that the flaws are mentioned. Everybody can write that a shoe is awesome and it reads like PR, but constructive criticism is the most interesting part in my opinion. In some cases this look inside revealed that some of the self-proclaimed “technologies” are just gimmicks: looks fancy on the outside, but has no function.
After the Dunk Low review was finished, he published it including some amateur-like product pictures on an internet communities focusing on Nike shoes. The feedback he received was great, literally thousands of people viewed the post, asked questions, made recommendations and we realized that this is actually something that a certain group of people is really interested in. Due to this initial review he also got to know a forum member – Tim Weissberg – a native speaker who works as an editor and offered to correct the reviews. They worked together for many years, which helped him to improve the level of English for the reviews.
What were the big challenges that you faced in getting this started?
There were probably too many to name them all. Since Clemens did this basically all by himself at the beginning, he had to figure out everything step by step. I was not yet involved at that time. I remember there were several big issues and challenges. For example writing these very technical texts in a foreign language it literally took days at the beginning. Looking back I also remember all the issues related to the pictures. It took him so many approaches to take magazine-quality product pictures when he started to write for print magazines. However, with the help from the internet he built up a simple setup with some white cardboard and several desk lambs. Later on we got a DSLR and it became a lot easier, even today I am still taking the pictures this way. As Weartested was completely unknown in the beginning it was also incredibly difficult to get sample pairs for the tests from brands. I was really skeptical whether brands are interested in the reviews and also willing to sending us shoes. Fortunately Clemens has size US 9, which is the common sample size. For me it was and still is harder to get the shoes because I have size US 10.
In general there were definitely fewer possibilities to communicate directly with brands back then, so you really had to investigate who’s in charge at certain brands for such inquiries and their e-mail addresses are typically not handed on a plate to you, too. One day Clemens gave me a call and told me that he just got an answer by e-mail from Kaspar van Lierop, who was the Nike SB Europe team manager at that time, and he offered to send him shoes, the Tre A.D.. At that point I realized that this could actually go somewhere.
Getting the test models in time is still to this day hard because we try to publish the review as close as possible to the release of a new model. Another challenge in the beginning was to build a website. I can remember that it took Clemens days or even weeks and a lot of swearing to get it online and figure out what is the best way to present the reviews to the reader: blog format, pdf or just as a picture? He contacted friends who were studying IT and could actually program websites to help him establish a proper layout for Weartested. A completely different challenge was to balance the Weartested projects with our own studies. Clemens studied Mechanical Engineering and I am studying Industrial Engineering, which both can be very time consuming programs to say the least.
This was also one of the reasons why I got more and more involved over the years. Whenever Clemens was too busy with exams I skated test pairs for him or took the pictures. He also tought me how to transform the observations and criticism into a review text. At the same time a number of courses we did really gave us a better understanding of how a skate shoe works from a technical perspective. Skateboarding is also a great way to clear your mind after a long day of classes and studying, so both definitely benefitted from each other. We also had the luck to be surrounded by really awesome friends regarding this challenge. Especially Stefan Lind and Edan Quian, who help out with the testing, took pictures or had a look at grammar and spelling.
Who were the big players who helped you in this process?
It took a while to overcome the challenges and a lot of e-mails. It is really important to have a network and you cannot build it up within a couple of weeks – it takes years. As already mentioned access to the right people is hard to get. Clemens was lucky that Mark Whiteley, the former editor in Chief of Slap Magazine, contacted him one day and asked if he wants to write online reviews for Slap in addition to the Weartested homepage. Due to his support Weartested got introduced to a broader audience and Mark introduced us to some of the big names in the industry. The good relationship with the guys at Lakai for example is based on his introduction back then.
Next to that visiting the Bright Tradeshow in Germany – which is convenient to visit since we are from Germany – helped a lot. Clemens always kept me updated with whom he is in contact for which shoes and asked for my opinion who to contact next. We were always really stoked when we got an answer or positive feedback. I remember he had already e-mail contact to Pascal Prehn and Holger von Krosigk, two German editors, but meeting them personally was way better to discuss possible projects. They both were the first who offered to publish some kind of review in a print magazine.
Jascha Muller of adidas Skateboarding is also one of the guys who supported us since the early days. In retrospective it was a bold move to send an unreleased sample of the Busenitz Pro two months before its release to a random blogger. But it led to Clemens’ first review that was published in a print magazine.
From there on it developed more and more and we got to know the relevant people. Jürgen Blümlein and Daniel Schmid, the founders of the skateboard museum and authors of the “MADE FOR SKATE” book also took us under their wings. We started working together on writing reviews on a regular basis for the German Place Magazine who is run by Benni Markstein as the editor in chief and learned a lot about how this business works, what people expect from you, how to communicate, manage dead lines and be in general professional. And even though it was sometimes challenging, overall we received great support from the whole skateboarding footwear industry and beyond. Many people in this business are insanely busy on a daily basis, so any e-mail they answered, any trade-show appointment and any sample they organized months before the release was and is highly appreciated.
Basically the Brigth Tradeshow and meeting people there helped us to overcome the main challenges. We are especially thankful for the support of WeSC Germany, to be precise Julian Wenz. We met two years ago at Bright trade show and he likes what we are doing, so he sends us a package with gear now and then, which is really appreciated. I’m really backing WeSC, it’s a great brand with Swedish roots, they have a unique team including Arto Saari and Wieger van Wageningen, but also a lot of photographers and artists. But most importantly: their products are top quality, I’d buy them. If that wasn’t the case I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting their banner on the site.
How does this whole thing work today?
Since Clemens recently got a job at a sports footwear company, I’ve taken Weartested over. As we are doing a monthly column of shoe reviews in Skateboard MSM (www.skateboardmsm.de), our way of working fundamentally changed and requires a big amount of organization and all-around “being professional.” I explicitly write “we”, since it has become a real team effort over the years as you might have noticed. I still do the majority of the work, but Stefan Lind from Austria and a number of other shoe testers skate the shoes in addition to me. Edan Quian from the States is our guy for spell checks and giving the English reviews the necessary flow when needed.
The process starts nowadays typically by attending the Bright Tradeshow in Berlin every half year. It’s the ideal place to see the upcoming releases first hand and talk to the persons in charge behind the brands. I collect the necessary information during those events as well as online and come up with a monthly plan with the shoes we would like to feature in the next five to six print issues. These suggestions are then reviewed by Oliver Tielsch, the Editor in Chief of Skateboard MSM. He’s really open towards my suggestions and easy to work with, so there’s rarely an issue regarding our original plans.
The next step is to approach the brands and ask for the test samples. It has become a lot easier as I know most of them now and worked together on previous reviews, but especially unreleased models can still be tricky to get. However, with a monthly deadline it’s essential for us to get the shoes two or three months ahead, which can be a challenge. Once the shoes arrive, the “before” pictures are taken. I still work with a very basic setup, essentially a beginner’s DSLR, a white sheet of paper and daylight lamps, but with a certain amount of experience you know how to produce pictures that fulfill the high requirements of print magazines. Then, depending on the available size and the schedule of the testers, somebody get’s the shoes to skate in.
Ideally we have several testers per model to get at least two opinions to make the reviews more objective. However, before the release, samples can be very rare and are mostly only available in size US 9. So in some cases I have to wait till size US10 is available and then I have only one pair to test. After 10 hours of skating the shoes are inspected, the pictures are taken and the text is written based on the feedback and by examining the worn shoe. We found that 10 hours is just enough to get a good impression of the performance, even though more would of course be better, especially regarding the wear. But in order to publish monthly, even during winter, it’s a necessary compromise and in most cases the durability can be estimated with a certain amount of experience. Once the German version is published in Skateboard MSM, it is translated in English and spell-checked, which can take quite some time. After a few weeks it is then released in English on Weartested.com.
Where do you see Weartested going? Any big things we can lookout for in the near future?
Everything at Weartested is constantly changing, which I think it is good and we try to keep improving. During the last six months, I already started to get more and more involved, took care of all reviews by myself on my own as Clemens was finishing his final thesis at a sports footwear company and therefore wasn’t able to be involved. Stefan Lind and Edan Quian got more and more responsibilities during this time, which was great and gave some fresh impulses. We also plan to put more effort into our Facebook and Instagram account whenever there’s time. They are great tools to interact with the readers, but can be very time consuming. Same goes for our teaser videos, we would like to do more of these as well.
Additionally, the skate shoe market is getting really interesting again. It seems like design-wise a lot of boundaries are disappearing, innovation and brave designs are appreciated by the customer and more and more technology get’s introduced, not just gimmicks. Personally I never understood why skate shoes have to be so uncomfortable and low-tech, there’s so much potential if you compare to other sports. Of course you have to wrap it in a subtle design, nobody wants the return of the space-ships of the early 2000’s, but many brands nowadays show that it is possible, and not just the big-players.
All in all we will continue to put out quality reviews of the newest models, be critical and do something out of the box now and then, like the deck review we did. Regarding upcoming reviews I don’t want to reveal too much, ideally follow us on Instagram to see the newest boxes coming in. There are a lot of interesting projects in the pipeline and it will be exciting to work on these in the next year.
Lastly, who are the people you want to give recognition?
First of all, of course our readers. Without you we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing and your feedback – good or bad as long as it is constructive – is really appreciated. Then the whole Weartested team: my brother Clemens for starting and growing this project, Stefan and Edan, but also all occasional testers and of course Tim Weissberg for all his work in the early days. Also all editors that we worked with over the years and gave us the opportunity to publish reviews in print magazines.
There are quite a few, but I’d especially like to mention Mark Whiteley, Holger von Krosigk, Benni Markstein and Oliver Tielsch as they were never shy of good advice and we learned a lot from them. Then Jürgen Blümlein and Daniel Schmid of the Skateboard Museum for their support and for being true ambassadors of skateboarding. Of cause also Julian for keeping us warm, dry and well-dressed with the latest WeSC stuff. And lastly all the brands who supported us over the years, even in case we found a flaw here and there with their products. We really appreciate the chance to test the latest skate shoes and provide this service to skateboarders.
Lukasz Kus (Check out his Tumblr Here)