Erik Ellington, the Professional Skateboarder Designing Luxury Footwear

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Erik Ellington
Erik EllingtonPhotography by Andrew James Peters

Erik Ellington’s LA-based footwear brand Human Recreational Services draws from the people, places, and experiences his professional skateboarding career introduced him to

  1. Who is it? Human Recreational Services is the fashion label of professional skateboarder Erik Ellington
  2. Why do I want it? Luxury handcrafted shoes that meld utilitarian comfort with an edgy elegance
  3. Where can I find it? At and stockists including Ssense, Level Shoes, The Webster and more

Who is it? A career as a professional skateboarder took Erik Ellington travelling across the globe. With a magpie-like curiosity, he collected souvenirs and stories from the different cultures he encountered along the way. Now, with his label Human Recreational Services, Ellington looks to translate these lived experiences into something tangible and universal through luxury shoe design.

Skateboarding provided a common ground for Ellington’s nomadic childhood, yet as he moved from state to state across the USA, he integrated influences from the various communities into his own personal style. “I pulled from the music I was interested in, metal in Alaska to 90s hip hop that I started to get into in Arizona, as well skateboarders that were icons of the time, like Mark Gonzales,” explains Ellington, who learned how to quickly adapt to each new environment. The transient experience fanned “his desire to really fight and want to make something of what your resources are.”

Even as his skateboarding career took off, Ellington always strove to maintain a close connection with the surrounding communities. “When I do a tour across the US or another country, I like to meet the local kids, to go skateboard,” says the designer, “I love the process of learning about people and what they do in the places I go.” 

In 2017, after 35 years of skateboarding, Ellington founded his label Human Recreational Services, starting with a line of luxury shoes designed for “acts of leisure” that tell the story of the people, places, and experiences his career introduced him to. It is not, however, a skate brand. “The brand itself has almost nothing to do with skateboarding at all, except that it has everything to do with it from the community and foundation of the brand.” 

In 2019, Ellington joined forces with Paris-based designer Vaz Rajan, who helped him to refine his experiences and ideas into functional designs. Although the two share the creative direction and design aspects of the label, Ellington is the “hunter and gatherer, bringing the people and bringing the vision,” whereas Rajan “deciphers and orchestrates how everything comes together.”

Why do I want it? Ellington has no formal education in shoe design, yet he has an unparalleled talent for observing and learning from those around him. His almost unorthodox entry into the world of luxury shoe design has allowed him to eschew convention and conceive styles that blend utilitarian comfort with an edgy elegance. From black-and-white pony hair checked slip-on loafers to buttery leather hi-top trainers, the designs often combine classic forms with lavish materials. In contrast to the skate shoes that Ellington previously used to design, which were disposable by nature, with Human Recreational Services he is concerned with creating shoes that outlast trends and seasons in terms of both style and quality. 

The current collection, entitled Future Primitive, is the latest “chapter” of the label. Whereas the previous collection Midnight Diamond explored the reinvigorated sense of glamour and adventure that came with stepping out of the pandemic, Future Primitive is an ode to the 90s era that Ellington grew up idolising. With this collection, the designer “started to be a bit more liberal with the influences of skateboarding. There are a lot of distressing treatments and different paint applications.” However, the shoes are all made from fine Italian leathers and handcrafted in a small factory in Tuscany – a far cry from the skate parks of Southern California where the designer spent his youth.  

Underpinning Human Recreational Services is Ellington’s sensitive observance of human connection. As the label grows, the designer hopes to continue to leverage his personal experiences to create products, beyond shoes, that connect with and expand his community. “A lot of it is me learning the process along the way, putting it into a distinguished product that can be an example of what I've learned,” reflects the designer. “In a way, to share some of the experiences I’ve had in life through that.” 

Where can I find it? At and stockists including Ssense, Level Shoes, The Webster and more.