Swims’ dien nguyen talks brand evolution

by Stephen Garner

Dien Nguyen, the design director of footwear and accessories at Norwegian brand SWIMS, originally studied industrial design at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California with the intention of becoming a furniture designer. That quickly changed when a San Diego-based footwear company recruited him to work on classic men’s dress shoes; from there he developed a newfound passion for footwear which secured him a role in NYC designing shoes for Ralph Lauren. In the decade since, Nguyen has worked for a slew of brands including Cole Haan, Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein, and more.

Having joined SWIMS in 2016, Nguyen has been instrumental in the development and evolution of the brand. Here we chat with Nguyen about how he has moved the brand forward, how the customer is reacting, and how SWIMS is optimizing its loafer and sneaker categories.

Q: What are you most proud of since you’ve been at SWIMS?

A: The evolution of the brand. We work hard to modernize our collections to mesh into the current fashion landscape, while still remaining true to our brand ethos.

Q: How have you driven the brand evolution since you’ve taken the creative helm?

A: It has been an exciting journey. Looking into the brand’s history, I’ve been given the chance to shine a light on what SWIMS stands up for – reinvented classics and embracing the good life. The SWIMS man has evolved since the launch of the brand in 2006, and we need to not only evolve with him but at a faster speed. 

Q: Has your customer evolved? Or do they come back to SWIMS core items season after season?

A: We evolve with our customers, and the customers evolve with the brand. Thus far, the customer stays true to the core SWIMS brand and loves our loafers and sneakers, and comes along on the journey with us as we introduce new colors, material, and visuals to our collections. 

Q: What would you say are the most important items in the SWIMS men’s line and why?

A: The Braided Lace Loafer, the Breeze Tennis Knit and the Classic Galosh. Each style showcases what makes SWIMS, SWIMS – a reinvented classic, all breathable and machine-washable or protective and waterproof.

Q: How are you optimizing the loafer and sneaker categories?

A: Our loafers are at the intersection of both classic and iconic to the brand but also relevant and trendy from a color and material standpoint – such as using the knitting technique. As for the sneakers, we actively update the look visually but want to start to keep the gill language intact. Also, if you haven’t noticed, we aren’t scared of using bold colors at SWIMS, starting from Day 1 with our Classic Galosh.

Q: What are some of the highlights for the spring/summer 2020 collection?

A: Our 2020 footwear collection continues to be a driving force for the brand, showcasing how SWIMS builds out footwear to not only fit the current trend landscape but adhere to our classics reinvented brand ethos. The color palette is exceptionally strong for SS20, with a focus on the gold fusion, Turkish blue, and red alert hues, which you will see pulled throughout the entire spring/summer footwear line.

Q: Any specific inspiration behind the SS20 line?

A:Find your Breeze” is the seasonal narrative for the SS20 line, paying homage to SWIMS collection predecessors, and inspired by the iconic Nordic beach, Hvasser, located south of Oslo (where the season’s campaign was shot). The SS20 line was designed with state-of-the-art SWIMS technology at its core, crafted from a water-resistant material, without lacking breathability or style. SWIMS as a brand is driven by the element of water, which gave us the inspiration for the ‘gill’ component of the footwear; the feature will be debuted in the SS20 line and will be incorporated into subsequent collections to come.

Q: Could you expand on the ‘gill’ concept?

A: The SS20 ‘gill’ language was emanated from SWIMS’ iconic product, the Classic Loafer. Utilizing an introspective viewpoint while in design stages, SWIMS’ brand history led us to the malleable gill. Given gills inherent versatility, we paralleled the SS20 footwear design to boast similar qualities, by mimicking their breathability and flexibility. The gill feature represents SWIMS patented technology, and praises the natural adaptability of the present product line, and alludes to those to come.

Q: What can we look forward to for the fall 2020 collection? Any teasers?

A: We can’t give much away but we are excited to have something in the works that will represent the center of what SWIMS stands for, but what the footwear industry stands for as a whole.

Q: Where do you find your inspirations when you go to design a new collection?

A: Travel, travel, travel.

Q: What has been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A: “Slow and smooth, smooth is fast”. Within context, moving fast (‘rushing’) is considered reckless, and could lead to fatal consequences. Working slowly and deliberately proves beneficial since you’re moving intentionally – allowing for seamless execution.