The gold standard: Servant Dagon - Anatomy of a vegan skate shoe, Part III

Servant (shoe company) Dagon (name of the shoe)

"Hailing from Sweden, Servant Footwear makes footwear for all preferences but has a huge Vegan following due to their functional synthetic models. Their 4skin technology, (lol) feels and skates exactly like suede. This microfiber formula has been perfected to such an extent that most of their consumers can’t tell the difference between a 4skin covered upper and a suede model. Truthfully, neither could we." Ripped Laces

From the Servant website
  • 4SKIN Microfiber upper, VEGAN
  • Triple-stitch onepiece toe
  • Tongue centering elastic
  • Piped bottom lace saver
  • Microfiber lining in heel
  • EVA Strobel construction
  • Molded dual density footbed, 
  • Artwork by Jakke Ovgren
  • ServantStick dual density cupsole
  • HeelHeaven impact protection
  • Full-length EVA wedge
  • Sidewall stitch

Synthetic upper
The material is very suede-like microfiber. Servant call it “4Skin” - which you can interpret as a Euro mockery of the American circumcision craziness (from our Euro perspective). In central Europe, and more so in Scandinavia (as far as I know, the further you stray, northwards, from the Vatican) human anatomy is nothing to be ashamed of. Good name, I think. 
Anyway, it's highly abrasion resistant microfiber, i.e. very durable vegan suede.

No skate shoe lasts forever. But the Dagon is definitely - and without any doubt - the best vegan skate shoe ever made. 
Servant have claimed that this particular microfiber “suede” (4Skin) is more durable than animal suede. Is this really the case? I would say it seems at least as durable as animal suede.

Rasmus from Servant explained it to me:  
"It depends on how you look at it. The materials are tested for abrasion durability using the Martindale test. That means a metal rod is rubbed against the material in a circle until the material breaks down.
In this test the microfiber scores higher than regular cow suede. For skating, my experience is that the material lasts about the same as regular suede, but looks better as it's breaking down. You just swipe your hand over the worn area and the shoe looks brand new."

I can confirm that last part. The 4Skin material looks (always new) and feels better (softer) than animal suede.

Of course, vegans will wonder: WHY then do Servant also use animal suede (on the Vallely pro model for example)? But that's how vegans think, not most of the rest of the world probably.

Rasmus from Servant explains: 
"Cow suede has been the standard in skate shoes for a long time, and it's where we started. Cow suede is cheaper than the microfiber material we use, and a lot of people do like their shoes to be cheap. Using the 4-SKiN microfiber was a gamble as it was untested in skateboarding. It works great and our vegan and meat-eating customers seem to like it so [we] hope to do broaden the vegan range in the future."

So where does this magic material come from? Why are other skate shoe companies making synthetic shoes from such crappy materials? I asked Rasmus.

Rasmus (Servant): 
"I was doing a lot of work in the outdoor/hiking world a couple of years back and we used a lot of microfiber because it's lightweight, durable and fast drying. I liked the material because of the good properties and dreamed about using it in a good skate shoe, so making it vegan was a bonus! If I were to guess why good quality vegan skate shoes are rare, I believe most brands expect a vegan colorway to be cheaper than a leather shoe, so a cheapo PU material is picked and that's "good enough"."

Breathability + water resistance
The Dagon is breathable and seems to be water resistant (I have hardly tested them in the rain - only cycling home from the skate park in the rain). Synthetic suede - unlike synthetic non-suede leather - doesn’t usually have a breathability problem. But it’s impressive that the Dagon has a rubber cap, is water resistant, durable and breathable all at the same time.

Don’t throw away your destroyed pairs of Dagons! This material is like gold. My red Dagons developed an ollie hole (small toe area) all the way through which I easily fixed with some super glue and a piece of microfiber from my old black Dagons (I took the piece off the tongue). This prolonged the shoes’ life immensely.

Ollie hole fixed with a piece of 4Skin from my destroyed black pair of Dagons

I tried to super glue it again, but this time it was too late. Theoretically it could still be fixed with a large piece of 4Skin microfiber (I think). 

With the black ones I wore out the sole, maybe due to newer grip tape (?). I'll test this with my blue ones.

Layers: 4Skin microfiber, rubber, textile

After a few days of skating - almost no wear

The invisible rubber cap underneath the 4Skin 

No Cow logo
As vegans we love this, of course. Thank you, Servant. Also interesting to know that suede - at least in skate shoes - usually seems to mean cow suede. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word “suede” comes from the mid 17th century from the French “(gants de) Suède”, “(gloves of) Sweden”.

Microfiber heel area
With many shoes when you first wear them you end up with chafed, bleeding heels (Achilles tendon area). The microfiber in this area effectively prevents this from happening. My heels thank you, Servant.

The insoles are very good and durable. Don’t throw these away either. They will survive the shoes and can be used for other shoes.
Artwork on insoles by Jacob (Jakke) Ovgren.

Heel heaven
Heel heaven is a padding cushion incorporated into the sole of the shoe underneath your heel. It’s good. I could lift up the yellow "CUSH STROBEL" layer only because there was some missing stitching on the side of this yellow insole part. But because the Dagons are designed that well, it seems, this bit of missing stitching (in this particular pair I have) doesn't make the shoe any less stable.

In my red Dagons the yellow inner sole layer broke, but this didn't reduce the shoes' stability at all. I never noticed this - only now while inspecting the destroyed shoes. 
Note that the heel microfiber lining has a "rough looking" spot in this photo - that's because in a case of emergency I bought a pair of Vans all canvas Era on sale, and they made my heels bleed.

Servant logo eyelets

Lace savers
The lace savers are nicely incorporated into the design of the shoe. Even the cool kids won’t complain. And they work well. My first pair of skate shoes were Vic Airwalk with exaggerated lace savers covering all laces - this is lacer saver evolution. 

Peeling back the foreskin of liberty

Crosses logo
The space in between the two crosses forms the letter “S”. It took me three pairs of Dagons to realize that. “S” as in Servant. “S” as in Sweden, with the crosses reminiscent of Scandinavian flags - probably they didn’t intend this, but you can be romantic about it. At the beginning I was not a fan of the crosses. I saw them more as an acceptable fault. Now I think they are kind of cool.
Someone at the skate park assumed my Dagons were HUF shoes (someone who rides for HUF). Many of the kids are asking me what brand my shoes are. 
Many middle-aged punks will associate the two crosses with the DC hardcore band Void: “Live for now, live for now, don’t tell me about tomorrow”. 
When you google Servant Footwear you’ll see that people are searching whether Servant (despite one upside down cross) is a Christian company. You probably have to be a Christian to assume this (wishful thinking of finding more of your own flock, vegans often show a similar pattern of thinking). On Facebook you can see their “pagan bonfire” ad. 

I might be the only person who always completely destroys the ankle area of his shoes. Note the part that immediately (after 20 heel flips) rips open is not the canvas part around the ankle, but the seam at the very top (mesh inner lining). I put a bit of super glue on the seam on my current pair of Dagons to test if that prevents further progress of destruction in that area - and it seems to work. Anyway, normal people won't have this problem.

Tongue straps

General design of the shoe
Apart from the super strong, almost perfect microfiber suede upper the Dagon is just designed really well. It has everything a good skate shoe should have and it has nothing it shouldn’t have. Whoever designed this shoe should get a statue made of him/her, and have a statue put up not just in Malmö, but in any town that Dagons are skated in. 

Use the size finder on the Servant website. Don’t measure your foot directly by standing on the ruler, but draw the outline of your foot on a piece of paper – as indicated by Servant.  
Sizing always slightly varies even within the same brand and within the same shoe style. I find the Dagon and the Barnyard Loiter fit the same. Servant shoes (at least these two styles) seem to fit about a size larger than Emerica (Tempster, Transist) or Vans Era (all canvas). So the size finder might (!) point you towards a size that is smaller than what you usually wear (in skate shoes).
I would recommend not to (at any cost) go smaller than what the size finder indicates. If you’re in between two sizes go with the bigger size. If your foot length directly matches a shoe size on the size finder, go with that size.

Wide feet
I have very wide feet, and a lot of skateboarders seem to have (?). If your shoes arrive and lengthwise they seem fine, but they are so narrow that you can almost not squeeze your feet in, loosen the laces completely to get your feet in. The material will stretch a little. When I get a new pair they feel much too tight at the beginning but the length is perfect, and after a few hours of wearing them they fit almost perfectly. 
100% perfect shoe sizing is overrated, even for skating. My first pair was clearly too big (long), and I could skate them without any problems. The Dagon really moulds to your feet. They’re not loose and you don’t slip around inside the shoe.

Flexibility/grip of the sole
The soles are cup soles. They seem a little stiff and not that grippy for the first half an hour of skating, but then they’re good. So the sole needs a little (!) breaking in. I haven’t tried walking around in the new shoes before skating in order to “break them in”. The soles are durable and grippy.

See, it's an "S" between the two crosses.

Servant Dagon ads (taken from the Facebook page, with permission. Check it out. They're uploading new ads all the time.)

This man is called Hunter Okano.

First Servant ad in Thrasher

Servant Barnyard Loiter 

Barnyard Loiter vs. Dagon
The Barnyard Loiter is cut like a slip-on. Look closely near the bottom of the tongue, there’s a small “hole”. Also note they only have three eyelets. (Also note that the Loiter LX is not vegan.)
The Dagon is more padded (tongue) and has an invisible rubber toe cap underneath the microfiber “suede”. The Barnyard Loiter doesn't seem to have this rubber cap. The Dagon is overall more rigid (good), and the Barnyard is more flimsy, not loose, but less rigid. The Barnyard Loiter has the same microfiber “suede” material (4Skin). It seems the thickness of the material is the same as in the Dagon. And it has the same sole. 
The Dagon is a hardcore skate shoe. The Barnyard is a summertime-hang-out-and-loiter-at-the-skate-park-but-still-skate-too skate shoe, but it’s probably still a good skate shoe. I haven't tested it! Note that the heel of the Barnyard Loiter is cut lower (more loiter-y) than the Dagon. It might not slip off your feet easily, but a lot easier than the Dagon (I'm assuming).      

Barnyard Loiter graphics
The insoles have the classic World IndustrieMike Vallely Barnyard skateboard graphic (or a part of it) on them (also see my vegetarian skate history post). The cartoon pig face on the tongue is from this same board graphic. The original World Industries skateboard had the words “Please don’t eat my friends” printed on top of the board. Kind of funny (unusual) that the ex-vegan, ex-vegetarian Mike Vallely (Street Plant) and Servant come out with this design now – the Barnyard Loiter is not officially a Mike Vallely pro model but Street Plant is Mike Vallely's company. Street Plant also have a Barnyard graphic T-shirt on which the cow is writing "never comply" (Street Plant's motto) INSTEAD OF "please don't eat my friends" (the original version).
We as vegans can scoff at this all we want. But I appreciate that they made the Barnyard Loiter a vegan shoe. Thanks Mike V and Servant! Also note that Mike V (post vegetarian) in the late 1990s had a hugely popular vegan pro shoe on Etnies. 
-- I'm not going to say that it's maybe time for the Vallely family to go vegan again. I'm not going to say it! 
But as far as I know, part of the reason they stopped being vegan was because of nutritional concerns. Should they still have these concerns, I would be happy to assist them (I have a B.Sc. in nutritional sciences - so far haha). But surely vegan dietitians in the US (with extensive experience and an excellent reputation) would be happy to help, too. Anyway, any bite of vegan food and any skate of vegan shoes can help reduce the number of animals killed. 
The currently "carnivorous" (I'm assuming) Mike V who has his own Servant pro model shoe made from animal suede (cow suede and some pig skin) being involved in bringing out this shoe now, around two decades after his vegan episode, with veganism “booming” in many countries, might in the eyes of some vegans almost (!) look like he is trying to cash in on something he is not a part of and doesn’t stand for. This is how we vegans sometimes think, sorry. However the new barnyard graphic isn't pro-vegetarian anymore and how many middle-aged vegan skateboarders are there really who will remember Vallely’s original pro-vegetarian message included in the barnyard graphic? And the shoe – as far as I’m aware – has never been marketed specifically to vegans by Servant, which might be a mistake (or future potential) because for example the German vegan market - and the US vegan market, of course - might be worth considering for Servant. And a few hundred vegans wearing Servant Dagons would probably not cost them any credibility among non-vegetarian skateboarders.  
(Remember the Etnies commerical on 411 that said Etnies are exclusively available in skate shops? You probably don't. And there's no need to remember it.) 

Servant Barnyard Loiter insoles

Mike Vallely in 1989, the year the World Industries Barnyard deck was released.

Loiters all canvas 
(might not be available anymore - but for the sake of historical documentation)

Mike Vallely writes

Servant EU return policy

Servant customer service
I have asked Servant a few questions (two or three, in English) in the comments section when ordering shoes, but didn't get a reply. I've now asked them on Facebook, and have received a quick, extremely friendly and very informative reply - as you can tell from the text above.

Made in China
The Servant shoes or shoe boxes do not state where the shoes are made. But Servant have confirmed that the shoes are made in China.
I have asked Servant whether they have any info on the working conditions where the Servant shoes are manufactured. And they do have this info:

Rasmus (Servant): 
"If we could produce in Sweden we would. I would be in the factory every day if I could. But our industry (athletic shoes, cemented outsoles) was pretty much born in Asia, started in Japan, moved to Korea, then Taiwan, then China, then Vietnam, Indonesia. So we are producing where the technology, knowledge and machinery are. Shoe production is labour intensive. You can pretty accurately say that any pair of shoes have been touched by 100 hands before landing on the shelf of your local shop. So wages is a factor. The standard of living has risen a lot in China and so have the wages. The bigger guys are moving more and more production to Vietnam and Indonesia but getting the cheapest price is not the priority for us. We are paying a very high price already due to the high quality materials used and low quantity produced, so we are staying with people we like and trust. We have a long running working relationship with our production/ export agent in China who was one of the first in the country to get ISO-certified. They have their controllers on site at all factories they work with making sure everything is up to par with quality specifications and making sure the factories operate in accordance with their customers code of conduct documents. You can read ours here: They handle production and export more than 10M pairs/ year for some of the biggest brands in the world, so the production is under total control and 
they are big enough to persuade factories to treat workers right."

Vegan glue

The Servant Footwear soles are glued with a type of heat activated contact cement. It's neither water-based nor animal-based glue. There are no animal products in the glue.  

Conflicts of interest
Note that I’m not paid or sponsored by Servant Footwear, nor did I receive a free pair to review, nor am I a particular fan of the company - I’m a fan of the Dagon though - nor do I know anyone in any way associated with Servant personally. I declare no conflicts of interest.

The vegan perspective
Since 1997 my friends and I have tested (aka worn and skated) quite a few vegan skate shoes (1, 2). Of course, the comparison with animal suede’s durability is tricky because I don’t use animal suede – except once I bought and skated a pair of cheap Vans in a sale that said they were synthetic, but in hindsight I have my suspicions that they might have been non-vegan suede.  
I have worked for a vegan shoe company, vegan shoe mail order and retail store (which shall remain unnamed) in the past. So I have seen quite a few vegan shoes and materials. And I’ve heard and read what customers complain about. And I’ve seen some of the shoes by small vegan shoe companies with big names fall apart. I’ve seen bad materials, bad designs, bad sizing, bad manufacturing, bad marketing, bad customer service (!) and problems with durability, breathability, price, and overly picky whiney customers and their obsession with absolute complete 1000% symmetry of shoes, but at the same time demanding good working conditions in the factories and low prices, too. 
I’ve also seen some really good vegan shoe designs and materials. The Vegetarian Shoes steel toe boots synthetic leather upper is famed for its durability, but it’s quite thick, and I doubt it would work for skate shoes. I doubt it's as resistant to abrasion as Servant's 4Skin microfiber. Durable suede, combined with visible or invisible rubber caps, really seems to be the best material for skate shoes, and the future might see traditional animal suede be replaced by either amazing microfiber, like Servant’s “4Skin Technology” - or maybe by biotech engineered vegan suede.

I have asked Servant if they know if many/mostly vegans buy the Servant Dagon. Rasmus from Servant has replied that he doesn't know at the moment. "We are increasing our vegan following for sure but I have no figures on how many buy them because they are vegan or just a really good long lasting skate shoe." 

The still tiny vegan shoe industry should pay attention and check out this material. 

Skate shoe companies willing to make vegan shoes in the future (thanks!) should check out the 
4Skin material, too. Don't waste your time and money with anymore "synthetic nubuck" that's as durable as baking paper!

Vegan skateboarders of the world, I recommend you try the Servant Dagon.
Non-vegan skateboarders of the world, check out Servant and please try this amazing strong synthetic suede - it's really as good as suede. 
Maybe there'll be a future when we won't slaughter animals anymore to make abrasion resistant skate shoes. It seems like an outdated way of producing shoes to me. 

Servant stickers
(You get a sheet of stickers with every pair of shoes.)

I found this sticker on ebay:

Thanks to Rasmus Åhrberg - head of design and co-founder of Servant - for his long and very helpful replies. Thanks to Vegan Skate Blog for first making me aware of this shoe by blogging about it.