As the driving force behind Vans' line of snowboard boots and MTE footwear, Matt Patti knows what it's like to take some laps in others' boots.
words: Ally Watson
There’s a type of snowboarder who acquires their set-up as is and never changes it. Rivaling this, is a snowboarder who tinkers with their gear as if it is a paid gig. Matt Patti is one of the latter. Matt occupies a space that exists deeply behind the scenes of Vans Snow under the moniker of global category manager. In professional terms, his key responsibilities are to drive the direction of Vans Snow forward through the products that Vans offers. What does that mean for the rest of us? He is the creative mind that builds the framework for what we see on the shelves of our local shops. Sounds vague, I know, but with the expanse of what Vans has put forth, Matt’s role holds plenty of space for exploration.
Some might remember a time where Vans boots quite literally disappeared off the shelves. With a halt in production, Vans Snow dissolved from retail stores, gear guides, and ads, among other things. Matt boarded the Vans ship as it was undergoing a critical rebuild phase which, in his opinion, was perfect timing. He came in with fresh eyes to find a new direction and figure out how to execute it. “I brought a different philosophy, one that I had started working with and building when I was with Arbor,” he says.
He’s a self-proclaimed gear nerd that ostensibly never stops thinking about it. Growing up in small town Ohio, at a young age Matt worked at Alpine Valley, a quaint resort built on the guts of an old landfill. He realized he had an affinity for gear early on, when he would find himself heading to the local shop just to stare at the walls, nerding out over what was new and what had changed.
“Gear is the reason,” Matt says. “I didn’t just want to be around the gear, I wanted to be at the origin. I wanted to be a part of it in a different way.” After relocating to California as a teenager, Matt eventually got a job at the Arbor warehouse and worked his way up before joining Vans. His career path with Arbor wasn’t linear, however. Despite having his foot in the door, Matt left to attend university, ending up at Humboldt State. He showed up to campus to get away from Southern California and be somewhere different, only to fumble over what major to settle on. As a lover of reading and writing, he ended up studying history and didn’t spare a second thinking about a career in his field.
Matt left Humboldt craving the snowboard industry and dove right back into a position at Arbor. Without hesitation, he says that the research component of his degree has been the most important skill he has implanted into his career in snowboarding. He knows how to search for things, find answers, collaborate, and explore trajectories in abstract ways. His love for history translates into his daily life as what he describes as “a student of snowboard history.” Like many, Matt is a collector of snowboard time pieces and holds on to valuable elements of cultural record.
There was a “right place, right time” moment where Matt really dug his heels in to the industry. After returning to the Arbor warehouse, he worked from the ground up, slowly chiming in with graphics, design, and other goings-on, which turned into eleven years with the brand. He is a tried-and-true example that a dedication to the craft can lead to a long line of propulsion within the industry. The way Matt talks about gear makes any listener tune in with a true sense of zeal.
With a buzzing mind churning with inspiration, it’s not just snowboarding that propels Matt in conceptualizing what’s next for Vans Snow. He presents his multi-dimensional approach to product development with full transparency of where his inspiration and research come from. Matt takes note from transnational corporate giants like Apple, Toyota, and even Ducati. He takes simple, streamlined samples from proprietors in their respective fields and translates that into snowboarding. When in California, Matt spends most of his time in Venice Beach, thriving on a synthesis of bipolarity. As many unique and provocative corners of the world he has traveled to, Matt says that it all comes back to him in Venice, and what becomes a driving point of inspiration for him is a cumulation of all the textured elements that make Venice what it is. Venice provides plenty of unique exposure for Matt; everything from the locals to the architecture to the street performers adds up to create some sense of balance on the pendulum that feeds his work.
What is most prominent in the witch’s brew of influence for Matt is a personally deep parallel between his love of snowboarding and his love of motorcycles. Beginning with street and dirt bikes, Matt’s affinity for gear led him on a path toward adventure bikes. He has found a strong intersection between bikes and boards; both bring him to a place of solitude, where things begin to produce a sustained sense of simplicity. It’s deep and far into the mountains where Matt wants to be, and there is a harmony between snowboards and motorcycles that takes him there.
Product on the other hand, doesn’t vibrate on the same frequency for Matt. He expresses it as being constantly omnipresent. It’s something that feels truly holistic to him working from top to bottom, thinking of new opportunities. The steadfast humming of what’s next is what seems to be Matt’s unrivaled gift to Vans. The brand’s biggest ask is to be a leader and do it the right way while continuing to pay homage to its iconic heritage. In Matt’s words, “The ask on the snowboard boot category is just to be a leader in our community. They don’t ask us for lofty growth expectations or high margin expectations or to be the biggest or compete with this or that brand.”
With a focus on maintaining the Vans heritage and keeping the timeless Vans style we all know and love alive, Matt has managed to juxtapose a vast amount of inspiration, experience, and exploration and place it into the clear, concise, and classic product line that is what Vans Snow is today. As someone who rode Vans boots as his go-to long before working with the brand, Matt was swapping out components and customizing his own boots around the time Vans was out of production. His deep affinity for gear and all aspects of how it comes to be was integral in the rebirth of Vans Snow. Tinkering with boots on his personal time ultimately led to the adaptable array of footbed and liner materials that grows through the line under the ethos of “elevated comfort equals elevated performance,” which Matt further explains with a sense of thrill as “whether you are trying to win contests, win the day with your homies, or just show up for your kids all day—whatever your performance is, we felt like we could improve that.”
In 2022, we see this ethos truly brought to life in this season’s rendition of what Matt calls “The One and Done Series” in the Baldface boot. Touted as one of Matt’s favorite places to ride, Vans was able to work alongside Baldface Lodge’s owner Jeff Pensiero and the guiding team to create a boot outside of the standard catalog, specifically to meet the needs of backcountry riders while paying homage to the iconic lodge, nestled in the mountains outside of Nelson, BC. When Matt talks about this project, you get a sense of the emotion that went into it. Everything from the toe cap to the laces not only presents a unique purpose and design process, but a feeling directly linked to the end result and what it represents for Vans and Baldface together.
Matt upholds a vehement interest in the small things. It is the layers and connections that are pulled from various influences that drive him to see out a final product. Product to him is ubiquitous in the sense that it never stops circulating in his mind. Call it meditation, nerding out, or mad science, but there’s a reason he is behind the scenes, and for Matt, it all comes down to when “you feel like you have a legacy to uphold, you feel the weight of the Vans brand, and you want to do it right.”