Working For The Weekend: With John Fluevog of Fluevog Shoes

By Maya-Roisin Slater
Photo: Sarah Whitlam

Photo: Sarah Whitlam

VANCOUVER — Fluevog Shoes has been championing the weird and wonderful for more than 40 years now. Bright colours, encouraging messages etched in the soles, that gorgeous new shoe smell, Victorian inspired with enough clunky angles to make them delightfully disgraceful, these shoes are unconventional Vancouver originals. The brand’s namesake, John Fluevog himself, has been in the shoe business since the early 1970s. Collaborating with others in the beginning of his career, Fluevog in its current incarnation is John’s solo company. Having started it independently when Fluevog shops started popping up in the 1980s, it was John’s two hands building every aspect from the ground up. Now with 20 stores all across North America, Fluevog has many helpers to lighten the load. For John, success doesn’t mean taking a back seat, still at the helm of this ship of leather oddities he is steering Fluevog against the current of trends and tendencies and towards much weirder waters. Following the beat of his own drum, John Fluevog is injecting soul into your soles, one square heel or elaborate buckle at a time.

BeatRoute: When you first branched off from Fox and Fluevog to start your own company, what did your day-to-day look like as you built the brand?

John Fluevog: It was like super hectic, full of fear and trepidation. I did everything, all the advertising, I designed the shoes, was doing HR, opening the stores, visiting the stores, handling the cash flow, inventory, everything.

BR: Fast-forwarding to present day, what does a day in the office look like for you?

JF: Well it’s a lot better because I’ve got other people doing stuff. I should have done that way sooner in my life, but there you go. I’ve got other people doing things, so like with the design team I generally set the mood and the themes of the season and I will do the sort of baseline drawings, then they’ll come in and tune them up and show them to me, and it’s great.

BR: What is your favourite part about designing footwear?

JF: Basically I’m in a business to make people feel good. It’s like a musician or something; I feel very much in tune with the art. Hopefully that’s the purpose, at the end of the day you give people some pleasure and make them feel good.

BR: Why do you think nice shoes are important?

JF: Well they make you look cute, right? They make you look cute and they’re what’s between you and the earth. You can spend a lot of money on clothes, on sweet jeans, but if you’ve got a crappy pair of shoes on, it just kills everything. When you put on a nice pair of shoes you can wear the most simple jeans and t-shirts and look great. Maybe it’s the last thing a lot of people consider, but to me being a person that thinks about their footwear, that’s key.

Photo: Sarah Whitlam

Photo: Sarah Whitlam

BR: What is the most challenging part of your job?

JF: People. You know I grew up and I’ve got a company, it’s not huge, it’s still a boutique company, but there’s like a 180 people working in it, and it’s dealing with all these people and how they relate to each other. It’s all about keeping everybody happy, and things can go sideways really quick if you’re not on it. It’s a different skill set I never thought I was going to have to acquire when I got into doing what I do.

BR: Many artists and musicians have been seen sporting Fluevogs over the years, is this a symbiotic relationship? Do art and music heavily influence your designs?

JF: Well I think the thing is that music makes people dream, it makes them step out of themselves. In the same way, I feel that fashion can do that. Also, like musicians, I put a lot of myself into the designs; I put slogans and I put stories and messages on the shoes. I think when you express your humanity in whatever you do it takes on a different depth; a depth of life. I think those are also really important things in music, you need to put your own vibe into it, your own energy.

BR: What’s your favourite music to design to?

JF: Probably the blues, because it’s so simple. It’s simple and it’s predictable, it’s familiar to me. It’s funny that the blues can make you feel good, but the blues makes me feel good if that makes any sense. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the music, maybe it’s the raw lyrics, I love the blues.

BR: What was the last live concert you attended?

JF: Oddly enough on this particular day, it was Prince. It was at the Winery Club in New York, it was maybe a year and a half ago. The Winery is a bar and a club in New York in the Lower West Side, and he came on at two in the morning and played until five. I don’t know if I lasted until 5, but it was a small venue and he was right there, like 50 feet away from me and he sang his heart out. It was awesome; I couldn’t believe I was there. The band was major hot; it was this smoking band. I loved it.

BR: How has shoe culture evolved since you first started designing?

JF: It’s huge. I’ve been doing this for 45 years as my career, my life, it used to be back in the day I could travel, you know go to Europe or the UK and pick up on trends and do versions of them. It’s evolved and sped up so much that now everyone’s doing fashion, so in a sense fashion doesn’t have much glue to it. I’m trying less and less to follow ‘fashion’ or ‘trends.’ There are so many blogs out there, so many people who subscribe to these things, and they’ll tell you what the new colour is going to be, then you go to a store, and you see all the same colours, all the same this and all the same that. It’s like, give me a break, it kind of sucks. So I am attempting to do more my own thing; what else can I do? What else can we do as people? We need to strike out and be ourselves. I’ve spent my career learning about myself and that what I think and what I do is okay, though it seems like kind of a funny comment coming from me. Doing your own thing is the only way to go.

BR: What do you hope to achieve in the next year?

JF: I hope I can let it go more. I think there’s a sense that, as a business grows and becomes bigger it weighs on one more. You’ve got to create and keep the thing going, be responsible for all these jobs. I’m hoping that I can learn to be at peace more, and let it go.

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