An interview with

Cubby Golden

Shoe Designer, New Balance

True To Me Too: Did you always want to design shoes?

Cubby Golden: I always did art as a kid.  I was the kid that was always drawing with pencils, pens, rulers, because I wanted to be an architect as a kid, I liked building Lego and Lincoln Logs.  I had no idea about design or what design was and I learned about it by accident.  I was playing basketball, I got injured, and it was the first year the magazine KICKS came out.  It had interviews with Tinker Hatfield, Eric Avar and a whole bunch of other designers, and I was reading it and thought wow people actually get paid to draw shoes.  I loved shoes but I wasn’t really into designing shoes, so I started looking into their backgrounds and Tinker’s background was as an architect, Avar went to engineering and design school.  I thought to myself in my senior year of high school, I love sports, I love drawing, and there’s a way I can combine those two elements and start designing athletic stuff.

I did some more research, looked into all the potential schools, Art Centre, Pratt, you name it, I looked at it and applied to it.  I ended up staying locally and going to the school by my house called California College of the Arts.  That’s where I started studying and realizing what design is.  I got the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects from household goods, cellphones, bags, you name it.  It allowed to explore and create ideas, even though I wanted to do shoes I started loving the design process versus just designing shoes and that kind of opened my mind up to the interaction with people and how when it comes to buying a product there’s a lot more that goes into the design, you’re creating something for a person who has no idea they need it.  I took all those concepts through college and started applying it in hopes of one day working at Nike, which was a dream job of mine.

How did you go about pursuing that dream job?

I was the basketball manager at UC Berkley for a couple years and they were a Jordan Brand sponsored team and every time the Nike reps would come through I’d pull out my sketch book and show them different things and eventually they said “oh that’s cool, here’s my business card give me an email”.  This went on for a couple of years until my last two years of college when I finally got in contact with one of the head reps at Jordan.  He ended up passing my email along to Gentry Humphrey, Gentry passed it along to someone else and it ended up with D’Wayne Edwards who at the time was the creative director at Jordan.  He reached out to me and sat down on the phone to chit chat with me and I said “I’m really interested in designing shoes, I’d love to learn a bit more” cause in design school that’s something they don’t teach you, you don’t do soft goods. He gave me projects to work on and he gave me critiques and I remember the first time he gave me a project I knocked it out in a couple weeks and sent it to him and he came back from Asia and gave me the most harsh feedback.  For me being a design student you have to be able to take criticism.  Pretty much he said “hey it’s a really cool design but I want to see you push it a little bit further”  so I asked what that meant and he said “you don’t have any marketing guides, you don’t have any money, you have no boundaries so show me something that can’t be produced now, push the boundaries”.  That really helped me in my design school life and allowed me to open my mind up and challenge myself to do something that was a bit different.  Even though everything in the world has been tried there are ways to approach it a little differently.  He became my mentor for the last two years of my college career, he guided me and gave me insight, feedback, worked on my portfolio and when I graduated college I ended up getting an internship because of him.  He showed my portfolio to Nike and I ended up leaving California for Oregon and working at Nike for Innovation Kitchen.

How did you work on your portfolio?

For me the one thing I learned a lot was to show your process, your thinking, your storytelling.  When you’re in design school you learn the skills of how to render, how to present, but the one thing that sometimes college students forget is that it’s all about storytelling and solving a problem.  The one thing I learned when I was working on my portfolio was having a solid idea and talking about how you’re going to solve it in three steps, whether it was a house project or a shoe project, I approached it in the same manner, which is solving what’s the biggest problem. For me as a manager for basketball I actually got to interact with a lot of athletes and got to hear feedback about “yah I really don’t like the shoe it does this…” so constantly hearing that over and over allowed me to build a better story so if I’m designing the next team Jordan shoe for Cal how am I going to do that based off the feedback I’m hearing from the players?  They want to be quicker, they want to be lighter, they want to be able to be explosive, and protect their ankles, so let’s solve those problems, work on a project and present it in a way that showcases my inspiration, my consumer, what’s the insight, show my process, my sketching, ideas around how I was thinking to solve those problems so in getting to the final product when you see it and you’ve told your whole story, the person looking at your portfolio who is not there for you to actually talk to them about it, once they see your story and the final product, they’ll get it.  That’s the one thing I always tell kids a lot is make sure you tell your story from start to finish because even though you may make a great rendering or a great looking product if you don’t have that story for someone who is not there for you to tell then it get’s lost in translation and they end up asking more questions and it gets frustrating.  I always recommend that people make sure they have a nice solid foundation and a story to tell about what you’re trying to solve so the outcome of their project makes complete sense and is universal for everyone to understand.

Nike Air Huarache Pro Metal 2013

I think a lot of people might have really good ideas but they just aren’t presenting them well.


I’ve always been able to talk to people and tell stories, my dad was a car salesman so I kind of get that thing from him where he can sell anything to anybody.  For most people it’s hard to tell your story, a lot of time designers might have great work but it’s hard to tell your story and articulate it.  I would recommend practicing in front of your peers, in front of a mirror, look at other famous designers or famous people who do public speaking and see how they carry themselves in the room, how they articulate their idea, it’s not easy.  It’s a very nerve-wracking thing to do, to talk in front of 5 people, 2 people, random people, if you keep practicing, present to your peers, let them ask you questions, cause those are the people who will be judging you down the road.  Practice and talk, more and more, look on YouTube, look at other people like old Tinker Hatfield interviews or any famous person you can name, look at how they present, look at how they articulate their ideas, and learn from that.  Take notes.  Not everything works for everybody but you can start learning different skills and different traits that can help you take it and mould it to be so that your still yourself and it allows you to tell those stories through your own lens.

At the end of the day it’s your product so you should have that passion and desire to really tell your story, why it’s the greatest thing or why you think other people should believe in it.  The other thing is having confidence in your work.  If you’re presenting in school or you’re presenting to a client, if you don’t show confidence up front people can sense that and then they won’t really buy into your idea if they sense that you don’t feel confident they won’t feel confident in you.  Carrying confidence, which is once again not easy, but practice, practice, practice, it’s like playing a sport.  Playing a sport if you suck at one thing keep practicing it over and over.  Even for me I’m still practicing ever single day to get better and better. It’s a never ending cycle of getting better at presenting your work.

You mentioned they don’t really teach you how to design soft goods in school and I was wondering if there are any programs that deal exclusively with soft good design?

I would not recommend anyone to a school strictly geared towards soft goods.  The reason I say that is because you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself as a designer.  A lot of kids that come talk to me or I work with or mentor say they want to work at Nike or design shoes and my philosophy is always to learn about design as a whole, learn about graphic design, learn about architecture, learn about furniture, learn about design as a whole because it makes you more of a universal person.  The one thing is that if you have a goal or a dream of becoming say a shoe designer and you put all your eggs in one basket and you get there and you realize it’s actually not what you thought it was.  So once you’re done with that you’re stuck behind saying “what am I going to do now?” because you don’t have any other skills or trades because all you know is one thing.  Same thing for me with how I pushed myself in school, even though I wanted to do shoes or athletic stuff, I still approached every project that was not related to sports the same because that’s what was going to make me a better designer overall. I know down the road I may not be a shoe designer my whole life so if I decide to leave shoes I can go on to something different and know I can carryover my skills and the things I’ve learned and apply them to my next field.

I want to encourage people to not pigeonhole themselves into one thing, it’s good to have a blue sky to start, but make sure you learn all the different trades because that’s what a lot of people are hiring people off of. How well do you know design? How well do you know storytelling? How well do you know how to share and articulate your ideas?  You have to remember too that if you’re a kid and you’re applying to Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and all your portfolio is is shoes, those people see shoes everyday.  The stuff that catches their eye and their approval could be a watch, an interface, pants, those are the things that show you’re able to think and articulate other ideas you can bring to their industry to help them because they hire people to bring in new thoughts and new ideas and new insights to something a lot of people have been doing for a long time.  Always explore different avenues of design, don’t be just one path your whole life.

Your job is very technical in terms of design but you have to have a lot of other skills like trend analysis, brand identity, you need to know the popular colours and fabrics, how do you stay on top of everything that’s going on in the industry these days?

Just like anyone else I’m always communicating with everyone in the industry, websites, I go around to different functions in different areas. Learning what the new trends are, what the fashion industry is doing, what the car industry is looking like. I think just looking outside of what I do everyday, whether it’s design, whether it’s something with science, it’s stuff that inspires me to keep looking at different things and kind of pushing the boundaries.  I think brand identity is learning how other corporations or other firms handle themselves and how Coca-Cola, which is a fortune 500 company, how do they keep rethinking their brand and keep pushing the boundaries, and keep bringing new insights for the consumer.  Same thing with Apple.  Constantly looking outside of what you do everyday, challenging yourself, and putting yourself in a position where you have no idea, you’re not the master of it, you’re not the expert at it, but just learning something new and meeting people who are experts at those kinds of things helps you build yourself as a designer and learn different things.

I’m constantly working with our mill designers, colour designers, engineers, those are the people that are helping make the ideas come to life, it’s not just one person doing everything by himself.  Be able to communicate with different realms of people you’re going to work with and be able to learn their skills and they’ll be able to learn from you and that’s what’s going to make you become a better designer and a better overall person so that you can understand where they’re coming from and they can understand where you’re coming from.  When you’re trying to get to an idea that’s completely crazy and people are afraid of it, you need to make sure that they’re able to come along with you and make them feel comfortable and say I know you’re scared, I know you’re afraid, I am too, but let’s go along this path together, if it fails we fail together, if succeeds we succeed together.  I think that’s what’s going to build the the team and trust that you need to build within yourself as well as with others.

Nike Superbad Lunar Cleat

How do you approach collaborations because it sounds like you’re working and collaborating with a lot of different types of people in a variety of positions?

It’s a challenging thing.  I think for any industry, whether you’re a marketing guy, business guy,  even a guy that works at Best Buy or Radio Shack, getting people on board and working on a collaboration project is very tough.  It’s all up to you when you’re presenting ideas getting people involved and making them a part of it, not just saying “hey this is my idea I want you guys to roll with it”.  For me it’s being able to sit down with a group of people and say “hey this is an idea I’m thinking about, let’s brainstorm” so we can go down a path and get to a better happy ground so we can keep pushing it forward.  Open the floor to everyone and make them feel like they have a share hold in the idea will make the project a lot smoother.

Working with marketing people, you’re always going to butt heads no matter what, that’s the reality of any industry but there comes a time when you can make someone feel comfortable and get to a happy medium and make them feel they are as important to the project as you are.  Just really push the boundaries and learn when to speak your mind about different things as well as listening to other people.  That’s the one thing they don’t teach you in school, learning to listen, learn to apply, sometimes your idea isn’t the greatest idea and you need to be able to take that criticism and go back to the drawing board and think that idea over again.

What’s the collaboration process like with athletes?

It’s really good.  The one thing I love about working with athletes is that I always approach it in a way that’s not about design, it’s about getting to know who they are as a person, their lifestyle, what they’re into, what they do in their day to day life, because these people are also asked millions of questions, people are always asking them for something.  So you have to make them feel comfortable in the first place so that they feel comfortable around you and can share and express who they are.  You have to be able to say you’re Michael Jordan the athlete but I want to talk to Michael Jordan the person, the body, the human being, besides basketball what else are you into in life.  If you look at the process when some of the Jordan stuff came out a lot of inspiration came from not design, it came from just Jordan’s lifestyle.  One thing I’ve learned about collaborating with athletes is what’s their lifestyle?  What do they see trending?  What’s the value they want to push?  What do they want to bring to the table?  It’s my job to articulate that idea and really bring it forth and make them see something completely different or rethink their idea to like “holy shit, you really took what I said and thought and just pushed it further”.  So for me collaborating with athletes that’s the best thing is getting that love, you’ve sat down you’re listening to them not just because they are so and so the athlete and whatever they say is the coolest thing but I can say “that’s cool but let’s rethink that” or “that sounds cool to you but what do you feel a better idea for a person who’s going to buy your shoe?”  They’ll start to rethink it because there’s certain questions you ask them that most people don’t ask them because they’re used to getting the same thing over and over.

So from a design approach collaborating with athletes it’s best to get them out of their comfort zone and just talk to them and get to know them.  I had a chance to work with Matt Kemp and it was a great experience just sitting down and talking to him, we’re both into basketball so we ended up shooting hoops with each other, texting each other just to say hey what’s the fashion you’re looking at or what’s the latest thing you’ve bought?  Just different things to try to get a better insight into who he is as human being like what’s your relationship with your parents?  What pushes you to your limits? What makes you want to be the greatest in the world? What do you see changing in the game?  Asking him those types of questions because that allows me as a designer to start pushing different ideas and being able to start adding that element to this shoe or I can add this to showcase his emotional connection to the game.  That’s one of the cool things about working with athletes.  I love collaborating with them.

You’ve done baseball, running, football, was that by choice?  Did you want to try working in all these different areas?  What are some of the different challenges or benefits of consistently changing the type of shoes you’re working on?

When I first started interning, I love basketball, don’t get me wrong, I love basketball shoes, I love doing basketball but when I first started interning I actually got the best advice from one of my mentors who said “you love basketball right?  Don’t do it”  I asked why and he said “think about it,  if you were to design basketball shoes you’d be around people who also know basketball, so they’re not going to push you as a designer”.  I didn’t understand that at first but it really hit me and he was right.  Challenge yourself every opportunity you get.  For me when I first got into designing footwear I wanted to do something that I had no idea about.  I always wanted to find something that was new.  When I got into running I didn’t know much about running.  I mean we all jog and do running but I didn’t know about what goes into a running shoe, what makes runners buy running shoes.  For me as an outsider learning different things and learning new skills and the knowledge of running really helped me push my ideas to a new leave because I had never thought that I could do this with a running shoe, or I’d never thought about this.  When you bring in a new insight to a group of people who think the same you start bringing something that isn’t common they start thinking of ideas that they had no idea about before or bringing up ideas that had always been at the back of their mind but they thought was impossible. I always wanted to find categories and do things I had no connection to or do things I had no idea I wanted to do.

Right now at New Balance I’m doing baseball and lacrosse, never played lacrosse, but I’m learning all kinds of new things about lacrosse, the culture, what goes into a lacrosse cleat, what makes lacrosse players different from football players, there’s so much knowledge and history that I had no idea about.  As I learn more it makes me improve my knowledge of the game and respect it so that when I’m talking to them, even though I don’t play, they can can at least respect that I understand why they’re doing what they do and what they need in a cleat.  Always do things that you’re not used to.  It’s okay to go out of your comfort zone and do something you’re not used to.  One day I might do basketball, maybe not, but I know all the stuff I’ve done, all the categories and projects I’ve worked on, they have all made me a better designer, every shoe that I’ve worked on makes me a better designer overall.

You work with a lot of  new technology, some of the fabrics you use have been developed specifically for your shoes, what’s the process of working with engineers and taking these completely new technologies and working them into a design?

It’s challenging because a lot of it is based off timing, production, and manufacturing.  That’s the cool thing about working on innovation stuff is that you have a team of engineers and developers whose task is to think about the next 5 years.  Working with Asia is a challenging experience, but it’s also a learning experience, and a very time consuming.  It’s one of those things where even though it’s not ready to go within the next year, knowing that in the next couple years as technology advances you’ll be working with this group of people to help push your manufacturing partners, your marketing partners, making sure people are on board with the idea, so that you’re capable of pushing it further and further out.  Everything is based off technology, how much is it going to cost?  Can you afford it right now?  It’s always a hit and miss and it’s challenging working with different new ideas for cushioning systems, fit systems, it takes time in development to fine tune what your concept is.  It goes back again to I want to solve these three problems with this project how can we can get it?  Who do we need to talk to? How will we approach it?

What’s a typical day like for you?

Monday-Friday, 9-5.  Come in check my emails, respond to emails.  Mostly have meetings about projects I’m working on.  Sit down with my developer on some of those projects.  Contact my marketing guys to see what’s new with them.  I’ll do some sketching on different ideas, collaborate with my teammates, sketching, drawing, seeing ideas.  Researching what’s out there, what’s trending what’s the market.  Sometimes I’ll sit at my desk and start building the model with my 3D guy or make my own model at my desk.  That’s usually a typical day for me as a designer.  Meetings about meetings, designing, drawing, researching, sometimes I’ll go on inspiration trips with the design team to get out of the office and see what’s out there.  We go to different places like New York, Florida, L.A., wherever we need to be.  Constantly trying to think of new ideas and see the world and get away from the desk as much as possible.

Sneakers are everywhere these days, how do you feel about the current state of the industry?

I think the industry is changing.  I think it hit a wall for awhile because a lot of things started looking the same.  The more athletes you’re getting now, the Lebrons, Calvin Johnsons, you’re starting to get more highlight players, and it’s bringing back that old essence with the Jordans, the Pippens, the Barry Sanders, the Deion Sanders, bringing back some of those elements is helping the game, especially with the RJIII, I think that’s starting to help the game and get better insight and better stories for pushing the boundaries of products.  Everything has kind of levelled out but I think there will come a change where some brand is going to take a risk and go forth and that will become the new standard for the industry.  Right now everything is based off technology and timing, what’s doable right now, a lot of people are starting to do some different things, as you see with the 3D printing, at New Balance we’re doing stuff with that, Nike’s done some things, you’re starting to see the industry push into local manufacturing and getting to better understand by bringing stuff back to the United States or starting to push the boundaries with geometry that you can do with the 3D printer.  That’s kind of where I see the industry going but once again it’s a very slow paced process to get to the next kind of “holy shit, I never knew you could do that” kind of like how the Jordan 11 was, no one ever did a patent leather shoe and that changed the game and became standard.  It’s going to take awhile to get to that level.

How has 3D printing helped or changed the industry?

It’s still in an immature phase.  It’s starting to grow into what can you do and what can’t you do.  It’s the idea that you can grow something that only lasts for a couple of days versus how do you get to the point where you can make something that becomes the standard in manufacturing parts and pieces.  The local for local idea or the MakerBot’s we can buy for $2,000 you can get people who aren’t designers who can download a cellphone case and create a peer-to-peer sharing system where people can upload their ideas and someone can produce it.  But for the footwear industry it’s going to take awhile to figure out what that niche is that’s going to make it not just a gimmick and not just another tool but something that makes it a standard for every footwear company.  It depends on what company wants to push the boundaries on manufacturing and new ideas and new insights that you never could have imagined could be done with moulding and push it a little bit further. I have high hopes for it but it’s going to come down to what sets it apart from being just a 3D print object.

How did the switch from Nike to New Balance come about?  Did you switch to work on Lacrosse?

It was time for a change.  I wanted a new opportunity, I wanted to be on the east coast, and I wanted to do something more challenging.  I did running, football, baseball, a little bit of training, worked in innovation at Nike, but I thought it was time to move on to something different and try something that I had no idea about.  New Balance was a great opportunity that presented itself, it’s a great group, great team, there is stuff they’ve been working on for the past year and stuff we’re working on now, it’s really starting to change in how we see the footwear industry and changing it to what we want it to be.  I think working on lacrosse is a whole new industry that people know about but people don’t know much about the brand itself of lacrosse.  For me it was a great opportunity to work on it and push myself to learn something different.  I did 5 years at Nike and it was a great learning experience that I’ll never regret, I did a lot of great things at Nike but it was just time for a change and a new chapter in my design career.

Nike Lunarglide+ 2

Lacrosse is huge up here in Canada.

Lacrosse is crazy, just the culture from Canada across the North East, I didn’t know about lacrosse until my senior year of high school, it hadn’t started to make it’s way to the west coast, but being on the east coast now and realizing that lacrosse and hockey are huge, as a kid that’s all you play that’s all you know, you play other sports but lacrosse is relevant.  In Canada too it’s crazy the past that goes into it, the people watching who go to the games, it’s almost like being at a soccer match, but you can check people and hit people.  It’s crazy.  I’m still learning more new things, It’s fun talking to lacrosse guys and the lacrosse consumers, they’re the super bro bros, always down to party, love to party, love to hang out, and they love lacrosse.

Do you have a favourite shoe you’ve worked on or one you’re especially proud of?

I think the LunarGlide+2 was probably my all time favourite shoes because it was raised in a weird way and wasn’t supposed to be what it was.  Actually it was a project that another designer was supposed to work on that he ended up giving to me cause he was overloaded, so I ended up working on the project.  He told me pretty much “hey don’t change much of the shoe, the first one’s doing great” they wanted to keep the same philosophy and apply it to the second shoe.  I had all these other sketches and ideas about what I thought it could be but no one really cared about it because they wanted to stick to what was working at the time, it was still brand new, people were hyped about it, it was the best running shoe, so people said let’s not change much, we’re making money.  I gave them what they wanted, I gave marketing what they wanted at the time, but they said “well it looks almost like the last one” but that’s what they asked for. I went back to the drawing board with my marketing guy to show him my other ideas that no one really cared to look at and asked him what he thought.  I really thought this idea would be great and he decided to go with it, he thought that was the right decision.  Sent it out and it came back from Asia and I put it on the table and everyone fell in love with it.  They were completely caught off guard like “holy shit, that’s brilliant” I kept fine tuning it and fine tuning it and it took off on it’s own and became I think the second highest grossing shoe in Nike’s history next to the Air Force One.  It was one of those shoes that had no history, no recognition, but just became a beast on it’s own and was one big highlight shoe.  When Oprah was having one of her farewell episodes and Phil Knight (co-founder of Nike) was on it out of all the running shoes to give to Oprah he gave her the LunarGlide+2′s that she wanted, they made a custom pair for her and it was an honour to see Oprah with them on national television, everything she touches and puts on a show it’s guaranteed people are going to go buy it, I was sitting there watching like holy shit Oprah is holding the shoe I designed.  That’s crazy.  That’s mind boggling, how many people can say they did that in their life, it was mind boggling.  Biggest shoe of my career that I’ve worked on to this day.

How does it feel wearing your shoes on the street?

It’s funny.  The first shoe I worked on as an intern ended up making it to production and it came out a year later, I had completely forgot about it, I was in Vegas with a couple friends and my one friend said “yo, that guys wearing a shoe you designed” and it’s crazy to think that something you worked on has left your hands and made it to the shelf and someone has taken their hard earned money and said “I need to have that shoe” and bought it and wore it around. It’s crazy to see people walking around in them, I love to see the reaction from people, what they get from buying something you’ve worked on, what makes them want it so much.  It’s crazy to see people take their time to buy something and use it and love it.  It’s crazy for me to see in person because as a car designer you design different parts of cars so it’s hard to say, for architects it takes a while to see the building and to see people walking in something you designed, but for footwear you see someone walking in it or you see it online, it’s crazy to see peoples’ reactions and comments.  You kind of forget about it because you worked on it so many years ago but for them it’s brand new, for me it’s old and I’m thinking “it’s okay, I wish I could have changed a little bit more” but its fun and fulfilling to see people wear something you’ve worked on.  It’s a cool thing.

There are tons of sites dedicated to shoes and you can pretty much instantly get feedback on your designs from people around the world?  Do you read any of the comments?

I was one of those people who back in the day when NikeTalk first started out, and all those different websites, I used to post some designs so I’m used to comments because it was an open forum.  If I see something online I like to read some stuff here and there because I like to see some peoples opinions.  If they love it they love it, if they hate it they hate it, but you know what, it’s out of my hands.  As a designer I know I put my best effort into it, if they don’t like it it’s cool, you can’t please everybody.  You can’t design something that pleases everyone in the world.  I don’t go on the blogs that much or read comments.  Sometimes they’re funny, like outrageously funny, and I like reading those, some people should just be comedy writers.  It doesn’t ruin my day, it doesn’t make me feel hurt about it, it’s just opinions.  I have opinions about stuff I see so it’s no different.

Do you have a dream project?

I’d like to open up my own firm one day to work on stuff for movies.  I’ve always been fascinated about set design, Back To the Future, Blade Runner, all those different types of movies.  Having that ability to design what you envision the future to look like, there’s no right or wrong, you can follow what’s trending, what might happen, but to design what you envision 3030 to look like would be a dream project to work on.  It’s not just shoe related but design as a whole, to design the environment, the culture, the way people interact with each other, the objects that are used, the cars, the way energy is produced.  If Steven Spielberg called me today and said “I want you to work on the next Back to the Future movie with me and I want you to envision what 3030 looks like, would you be down with that?” I would say “Hell yes!” I would drop everything I’m doing right now and work with him day and night.  As a designer it’s your task to think about the future, you get paid to think about the future, but you know the reality is never going to catch up to your ideas.  To be able to make something and produce something in a movie setting that allows the viewer to think “wow I never thought the future could be like that” or “I never knew anything could feel like that”.   When I saw Back to the Future, those Back to the Future kicks blew my mind, self lacing shoes?  I never thought about that.  Self drying jacket, the hover board, never would have thought of that.  How could you have thought that a DeLorean car, which in the 80s was of its time period, and make it so futuristic.  I want to be able to make a product that gives people the same reaction I felt, to look at it and say “shit how did he do that?”.  That would be my dream project to work with Steven Spielberg or JJ Abrams or Christopher Nolan on a movie set designing for a movie that takes place in the future.  No CGI, I want to do the old style of making the props, I want people to feel and touch and be interactive with the objects.

You collaborate with a lot of different people so can you name a couple jobs that people might not know exist but could be different career opportunities for people looking to get into the shoe industry?

Brand design guys usually take the product you have and they build the whole display, the whole setup.  If you saw some of the Nike NFL setups they literally took the product the design team was doing and built off of what they thought would be the best setting for it.  If you can get into brand design you’re working with every outlet of the industry, whether it’s apparel, graphic, footwear, you’re working with all the elements that have to be sold and put into a display, but you’re creating the display for people to interact with it.  I love collaborating with those people because you’re sharing your idea and you’re developing the idea of why the shoe is the way it is and they just take that and run with it and create a whole crazy functional display case that tells your story.  That’s a cool way to get into the industry because you get to work with everyone within the design realm.  You get to work in different regions, what works in China might not work in the United States, so you get to figure out how to work with international markets.

Do you have any final advice for someone looking to become a shoe designer?

Look at design.  Everything about design, graphic designers, architects, product designers, everything that makes design cool because that’s what footwear designers do, we look at cars, we look at houses, everything, it will make you a great overall designer, period.  If you’re looking at design schools take every single class you can about illustration, architecture, graphic design, even if it’s not your major at least get to interact with those kinds of people because you’ll learn different things about design that you might not learn in your classes.  Be open to being universal and be open to taking risks, be hungry and be humble.  Take a chance and reach out to someone in the industry and see if they get back to you.  Any connections you can make, introduce yourself to people, tell your story, don’t expect much from them but getting your name out there and finding a collaborator or a mentor is a key thing.  I would not be where I’m at today without the mentors I had.  Even though I’m a talented designer sometimes you need people backing you up, you always need people to vouch for you, you need to get your name out there as much as possible.  Go on the blogs, go on the websites, see who’s who, email them.  Get feedback on stuff that you’re working on, they might not offer you a job, but getting feedback from someone in the industry is crucial, it goes a long way because it’s a very rare thing.

If you’re interested in getting into footwear I recommend a program called Pensole Academy, it’s run by my former mentor, D’wayne Edwards, he goes around the country and creates a 3 week seminar that you can attend to learn about the footwear industry.  He has people who are in the industry come in to talk to you about materials, marketing, business, their background, how they got into it, and the path you need to talk for a design career., I think Mike Ditullo is still one of the admins, he’s constantly giving feedback.  If you want to reach out to myself.  The more you can learn about design the better.  You’ll look back at your career and say I’m glad I learned all about design not just one thing about design.

Date: March 28, 2014 • Category:
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