Fil-Am footwear pioneer Rich ‘One’ Cofinco: Keeping the vision

Fil-Am footwear pioneer Rich ‘One’ Cofinco:  Keeping the vision

Pursuing the arts is risky business, but Filipino-American artist, designer, and all-around creative, Rich “One” Cofinco made it his business and has been holding it down for over ten years.

At the Skyline Room at the Cerritos Library in Cerritos, California  where Cofinco spent much of his younger years, fans came to listen to his story.  The Asian Journal caught up with him sometime after.

From his beginnings as a respected street artist, to building a name in the footwear industry, Cofinco has proven to be an unstoppable, freewheeling creative.

Already famous for his street art and being the founder of graffiti crew No Art Remains After (NASA) — which to this day remains legendary among street art followers — Cofinco found himself landing commercial jobs in the action sports industry due to his dynamic art style.  It was during his early days working at skate and street style company Vision Street Wear that Cofinco was challenged to transfer his talents onto products like t-shirts and skateboards, and eventually onto snowboard boots and skate shoes.

Cofinco was immediately hooked and soon his new passion brought him to the iconic skate shoe company Vans, where he further developed a knack for shoe designing.  This then led to his first brand 4ce Footwear and his first taste of industry success.

The company blew up between 2000 and 2001, and the Vans’ COO at the time eventually joined the team full-time.  Unfortunately, 4ce Footwear later found out that person had been embezzling money from Vans to invest in their brand.

Already feeling stuck and wanting to create different products, Cofinco took the opportunity to pursue something new, and left.

Creative Recreation

With experience, a young entrepreneur spirit, and a clean slate, Cofinco decided again to disrupt the footwear industry.  In 2002, he and longtime friend Robert Nand, founded Creative Recreation, a company with plans of merging the gap between casual and formal footwear.  “We wanted to create something you could wear to work, then to the bar, and then to your workout,” Cofinco shared with the audience in the Skyline Room.

The company’s shoes quickly gained attention from celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin, Robert Downey Jr., and Ryan Seacrest, among many others, and were featured in magazines like GQ, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and Men’s Vogue.

Musician, entrepreneur, and now clothing and shoe designer Kanye West, was among the first to be spotted in Creative Recreations.  Among the many of West’s greatest sneaker moments was the brand’s staple shoe, the Cesario, which had all the makings of a basketball shoe.  Dressed with a unique and simple toe strap over the forefoot, it became a statement piece easily adaptable to different environments.

Creative Recreation’s winged logo soon became established, with people heading to a wide range of stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom, and Journeys for pairs of their own.

The success of the company wasn’t something Cofinco really expected.  He said, “Even to this day, I look back and can’t believe something like that happened.”

Cofinco’s vision for Creative Recreation had been coming to fruition, and after the company’s five-year mark, he was finally starting to realize just how game changing it was becoming.

“That’s when I noticed what we were doing was finally getting accepted as a legitimate category that nobody had done before,” Cofinco told the Asian Journal.

But as the company grew, Cofinco found it harder and harder to retain its original vision as the push for volume and money became precedence.

In 2012, Cofinco decided to leave Creative Recreation to pursue other artistic endeavors.  The company sold two years later for $11 million to Rocky Brands, a leading footwear company that started off specializing in Western, hiking, and working boots.

But in a quick turn of events, Creative Recreation asked Cofinco to come back and become the company’s creative director to help reignite its spark.  Knowing the company’s original DNA, Cofinco accepted and focused on a Creative Re-Creation campaign with plans to push for newness and reinventing the brand from its historic roots.

With an emphasis on the “re,” it was all about recreating, re-innovating, re-styling, and re-doing everything while still staying true to the brand’s original vision.

New technology like Vibram outsoles was added, as were new styles like the Scopo crosstrainer, the Nittie court shoe, and brand’s first chukka boot, the Dragna.

In a story by Footwear News, the company’s CEO David Sharp at the time expressed growth as a result of the campaign, stating that there was “an energy there that wasn’t there before.”

But again, visions began to clash as the company found his ideas a bit too advanced.  Cofinco decided it was best to leave for good.

As Seen in the Future

As expected, Cofinco was in no way finished with the industry.  In 2014, Cofinco and business partner Nate “Res” Harvey created their current company, As Seen in the Future, or ASIF.

“Your blueprint is your sole — no pun intended — of your shoe,” said Cofinco to a laughing audience.

As a big part of Cofinco’s artistic “sole/soul” revolves around utility, it is, of course, evident in his new brand.  The difference lies in when the products would be useful.

With ASIF, Cofinco still wanted to create utilitarian products, but ones that would still serve its wearers well way into the future.

“The irony is that we don’t know what the future has in store for us, but we can prepare ourselves for future survival,” said Cofinco.

“The future is an open book for anyone to interpret.  It can be futuristic or apocalyptic, good or bad, technologically advanced or back to basics.  But if we’re prepared, it won’t matter what the future has in store for us.”

The brand’s futuristic and sleek aesthetics have already caught the attention of “sneakerheads,” posting on blogs and other social media of their ASIF come ups — a favorite being the brand’s IO.

While the shoes can only be purchased online, followers were able to check them out at a pop-up at WCSP on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.  Another pop up at Do Not Enter on the same street will happen in October.

As the event came to a close, many were eager to have Cofinco answer some questions.

One question that stood out was from a childhood friend who came all the way from Victoria, B.C., Canada.  After reminiscing on days they bonded over hip hop and cars, he asked Cofinco the question many artists get — “Who was your biggest influence?”

Cofinco’s response was simple.

“Me.”

“You have to believe in yourself at the end of the day,” explained Cofinco.  “If anyone is a true believer of what you do and has your back, it’s yourself.  Everyone else around here will do that for you as well, but you have to believe in yourself.”

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