To commemorate National Sneaker Day, we caught up with the creative minds behind some of the newest sneakers hitting the market. Ilija Nikolic, Yurri Mial and Mattias Borg take us through the ins and outs of sneaker design and how they have developed their craft through their design journey. Though they come from 3 different walks of life, their insightful stories and unusual sources of inspiration make them all game changers in the industry.
1.Tell us your name and a bit about what you do day to day for your job. My name is Ilija Nikolic and I design sneakers. This process is anything from my own research and concept ideation to working on a specific brief which is often a result of the greater brand initiative. I like all parts of the process, but my favourite is usually the early stage where I dig into the archives and sketch. Often those first expressive sketches define the attitude of the shoe and I try to keep that in mind when other ingredients come during the process. In short, I spend a lot of time with my stylus in hand in front of the screen I can draw on, sometime creating mood boards and sometime in the meetings.
2.How long have you been designing sneakers for, and what are some of the most important things you have learnt over that time? I've been designing sneakers since I was a kid, which means from the 80's. Professionally for the last 12 years. I learned that as a designer I have to compromise between the brands needs and my personal design ethics. In the ideal world those two would meet and the result would be a sneaker that I would both love to see on the brand's consumer's and my own feet.
3.Where do you look for inspiration? Is there a source that you always go back to? There is always something in the sneaker archives that inspires me, regardless of the brand. I also like retro-futurism in design, especially concept cars from the 70's and the 80's that are more futuristic and cooler in my opinion than the cars today. Music, art & culture are also my eternal inspiration and it all somehow connects with sneakers. 4.Tell us about 1 sneaker that you are most proud of designing/ or part of designing. Reebok Zig Kinetica Edge is probably a model I am the most proud of. I designed it 2 years ago and it recently came out. It is a dream come true - to design this shoe for a brand that inspired me to draw sneakers since I was a kid. It features many elements I used on variety of footwear types in the past - from trail running features to overall wearability and street fashion. They are part of the Zig franchise that was originally created in the era of Reebok I was not really a fan of (around 2010), therefore I didn't care about the actual zig-zag sole. However, I was assigned to design a model that will feature Zig Kinetica sole. The brief in short was: trail running meets street fashion. The most unique feature on the shoe is the side bumper that I specifically designed to create a visual break of the Zig underneath, so that the shoe can also appeal to those consumers who are not necessarily fans of the Zig franchise and I think it did. It is rugged and protective and this is exactly how it feels when you wear it. I love the versatility of this shoe. The biggest satisfaction for me is getting random compliments on the street, besides running in them with my 4-year-old son in the nature. 5.Aside from designing, why are sneakers important to you? Sneakers to me represent form of freedom. Besides being the most comfortable type of footwear, they are also culturally important. They represent an image of a rebel who refuses to wear dress shoes (and a suit) to accommodate formal society dress codes and prefers to be creator of his/her own destiny.
1.Tell us your name and a bit about what you do day to day for your job. My Name is Yurri Mial. In a nutshell I observe people, culture, trends, and products. An on occasion I utilize all these observations to create shoes that solve problems and/or tell meaningful stories.
2.How long have you been designing sneakers for, and what are some of the most important things you have learnt over that time?
I’ve been in the industry for a little over a decade. I’ve learned so many things, but I think the top 3 would be: Never be afraid to fail. When I first started, I would limit my own creativity because I was fearful of not being able to make my ideas.
Trust your gut. In the product creation cycle there’s a lot of hands involved and even more opinions. It’s always smart to take advice and get as much insight into something as you can but at the end of the day you have to trust that you know what’s best for the project because usually, you’re the one most invested. Make shoes with friends. The past couple years I’ve had the pleasure of working with a group of talented people who I’ve known for as long as I’ve been in the industry. The synergy has been amazing and the things we’ve built together reflected it.
3.Where do you look for inspiration? Is there a source that you always go back to? Everywhere and everything. No way I could ever limit myself to a single source. I find that whenever I travel and see things I haven’t seen before I always come back inspired. Landscapes, Cities, Architecture, Products etc. 4.Tell us about 1 sneaker that you are most proud of designing/ or part of designing. My most recent work, UA Hovr Summit Fat Tire. Mainly because I applied the 3 aforementioned learnings into this project. From the beginning of the process all the way to now it’s just been an amazing experience. 5.Aside from designing, why are sneakers important to you? There’s so much packed into a shoe: Story, Technology, Innovation, Art, etc. You can also tell so much about a person by their shoe preference.
1.Tell us your name and a bit about what you do day to day for your job. Hi, I’m Mattias! I am a Footwear Designer from Sweden and my main focus is sneakers. I follow the process from start to finish. So, starting from trends research through my travels, arts, and materials, to the ideation of the sneakers. I usually put together a mood board, then I start sketching, and once that I have a final sketch I work on materials and colors. My final phase consists of sending to the factory my final shoe to create a prototype and be produced for the stores.
2.How long have you been designing sneakers for, and what are some of the most important things you have learned over that time? It’s been 5 years since I started. In 2016, while I was studying industrial design in Sweden, I got my first opportunity in Puma, I did an internship in the HQ in Germany, where I learned a lot. The most important advice that I have learned over time is, to never really be satisfied with a project (even after it is complete) and always try to analyse what you are doing and why you are doing it in order to do better. I learn to put myself in uncomfortable situations in the design process, challenging myself by making a new project with a different approach than the last one. This method has been rewarding and I think it’s been the best way to progress.
3.Where do you look for inspiration? Is there a source that you always go back to? I have a certain aesthetic that I am personally attracted to which is a mix of minimalism and sci-fi. I love to look at movies for inspiration. When I find a movie that is very inspirational I get obsessed and I watch it over and over. Blade Runner, Arrival, and Akira are a couple of movies that have a huge impact on me and that I would watch over and over. I try to avoid looking at footwear, instead, I look at functional products or objects that I feel could be translated into a shoe, like cars, accessories, or architecture abstract objects. It helps me to have a more organic workflow and also shut your brain off from all new products you see on the market and on Instagram. It’s definitely important to keep trends, marketing, and sales into account, but for me, in the beginning, stage of the process, it works best when I find a balance with everything.
4.Tell us about 1 sneaker that you are most proud of designing/ or part of designing. My favorite project I ever worked on was an innovation project I did for Converse. I re-designed their most iconic shoe, the Chuck Taylor, and made a modernized version. The design team I worked with was amazing and they had really nice input during the process. The result was cool and I’m really happy about it!
5.Aside from designing, why are sneakers important to you? I have always had a very strong connection with sneakers. I have been skateboarding since I was 11 years old. In skateboarding, the only equipment needed is the board and the shoes, and shoes don’t last for so long. Because of the tricks, they tend to break easily. So, since I was a kid, I always dream about the next shoe to try to skate with and save up money to buy. So it has since then that sneakers have been very close to me.