What Did I Design
by Jeffrey Henderson·
If you see the 400 followers I have on social media you’ll see that I’m not doing it right. Or at least I’m not doing it for the internet fame.
My primary reasons for using social media are to let my friends know I haven’t disappeared and to share any droplets of wisdom I may have with those that are interested in what I do. These are mostly folks in the industry or trying to get into the industry.
Truth be told, it’s my public diary so my kids know why I’m awkward without having to ask me why I’m awkward.
But every now and again something I post gets attention regarding ownership. While this could be a hairy conversation I typically have zero problem pulling something down or explaining who did what. I think it’s important to keep private what you agreed to keep private but I also think it’s educational to learn how the sausage is made.
One of the many ways to run the business side of sneakers is to reuse old ideas, designs and equipment. One of the most expensive aspects of footwear creation is the tooling costs associated with any molded parts of the shoe. Outsoles and midsoles are difficult to design, engineer and manufacture. Once you get it right, you want to get as much utilization of that equipment as you possibly can. I’ve written before about the Jordan 4 and Flight ‘89.
As a designer in the industry I think half of my paid work involves putting a new upper on an old tooling. Or putting a new upper in a tooling that never went to market. The Air Max+ 2009 was an upper I designed on a bottom that was 90% baked by Steven Smith before I touched it. A year later I was the Design Director in NSW that took Sergio Lozano’s Air Max 95 and put it on that same tooling.
There’s no shortage of remixes here, but the discussion about taking credit around a design can lead to awkward conversations before you even get to color, materials and storytelling. I’ve laughed hysterically to internet arguments because someone casually discusses how they designed an Air Force 1 when they really meant that their creative contribution was layering color and material to Bruce Kilgore’s design.
Unfortunately there’s no easy hashtag to explain such energy.
That said, Bruce Kilgore would have never executed the suede and gum AF1’s from 2014 that I love love. Therefore the ability to remix and remaster is a creative skill that shouldn’t be diminished or overlooked. Hip-hop culture is defined by taking something — good or bad — and making it fresh. From Dapper Dan to Sean Combs, these are powerful skills.
How I use these projects in my portfolio and on social media is difficult when folks simply scroll for 2-seconds.
Using references to build new ideas is pretty standard in every industry. Dylan Raasch’s Roshe Run and my Lunargrand began with understanding the fit and form of industry leaders. That sounds all academic but it just means that I took some old shoes and drew over them until I got a new shoe.
The awkward conversation here is that there’s usually a consumer that appreciates every derivation between the original and the new.
My intern was struggling with finding new language for product we were developing so I had him to cut and paste hits until he saw shapes that were interesting. The exercise brought about some true gems, but the ideation sketches themselves would probably be sell.
Again, these are collages of someone else’s work, but this isn’t easy to do well.
Because folks on IG were complaining about pictures of my kids when they only followed to see kicks, I created a separate account to post work and answer questions. I gave another intern a thumb drive of work and asked him to put it into some fancy software to post one per day.
Then one day I get this DM.
This lawyer wasn’t in place when I was working on Yeezy, so we never met. I’d made it a point to not show anything that hadn’t gone to market but for years I wasn’t shy about showing or sharing the process as it pertained to my work. I was only posting 2% of the work that I’d done and most of that was engineering related — I’m big on STEAM. While that engineering process is what’s needed to rebuild the shoe, factories need only grab the actual model to recreate a knockoff.
And I’d argue that because of the limited availability of Yeezy product it has been the most knocked-off shoe in history. Yeezy fakes are big business and none of my posts made that happen.
Again, I took down my posts because I understand that me having my work out there encourages other designers to put their private work out there and it becomes difficult to police. I respect the reasons and how his lawyer approached the request for me to take the images down. I’m not sharing it here to start a debate, I just want to continue sharing how this world works.
But I am happy when the shots from the Calabasas studio get shared in Fast Company.
The thousands of hours of work on these projects are difficult to explain to folks, so I’m excited when any of it sees the light of day. Not all of it is my work, but there’s a good chunk in there for future clients to understand my value.
That being said, I find it amusing that my janky sketches and engineering drawings get legal attention, but amazing fan fiction from Australian design student Otto Palmer-Fuog gets to shine.
And I laughed harder when this is shared with me a month later.
My comfort level with lawyers comes from my belief in diversity and inclusion. Despite all of the demeaning lawyer jokes out there, I’ve got a couple of good friends that are or were lawyers. Watching them answer simple Yes/No questions is painful, but educational.
Irv Smalls at FC Harlem is juggling the rules and guidelines of from FIFA, the English Premier League, the NCAA, the MLS, the NYC DOE, the Harlem Community Board, Nike and every other sponsor imaginable. All of the branding elements were trademarked years ago. Designing websites and jerseys and merchandise requires his years of legal and football background. Some days my value is simply: can we make the logo smaller?
I Don’t Even Remember
One of my most influential mentors is Mike Aveni. He did one of my favorite shoes — the Dunk. At some point early in my career Jesse Leyva asked me to do a mid.
I was confused.
There was no mid at the time and that shocked me. So I worked with Todd Carlson and/or Derek Yep to lower the collar and add a Velcro strap. We had to shift some proportions on the swoosh and vamp and blah blah blah engineering. Ultimately we made a shoe that is quite inconsequential in the history of sneakers.
Every now and again it reappears. Just another project I worked on.
So I can say I designed the Dunk.
The part that is painful is that I’ve reached an age where the people who might ask me if I designed the Dunk or AF1 or the Chuck Taylor would believe me if I told them I did.
Did I Do That
Fortunately for writers that cover creative industries, the battle between the newness of originality and the warm feeling of a revamped sequel never ends. A new Yeezy or Air Max versus Virgil’s Ten or an updated Stan Smith — What should be praised and what should be shunned?
That’s not for me to decide, even though various industry group chats want nothing more than proclamations of originality and fraud. I think it takes a certain skill for Dwayne Edwards to design a Jordan and a different, certain skill for Virgil Abloh to design a Jordan.
I just want to make good things and show others how they can make good things.
A superb written painting that tells the story and honest journey of how design, credibility, age and network can inform a valuable outlook on creativity and business. These words hit home for myself as a virgin creative, experimenting in a world where the wall isn’t just high, but invisible.
Industries so drawn out and interest so highly curated through social media, the path of my own creative field may seem impossible.
However your insight into an earnt career shares semblance to my own anxieties for how the design and business world can turn passion and years of thought into nothing but what you personally learnt. This piece leaves you hopeful whether you’re a veteran engineer or a young artist starting out. I look forward to what GoodThin.gs this will bring.