The six winners of the Nike: On Air contest – hailing from New York City, London, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo – recently flew to Nike World Headquarters to take the next step in their sneaker design journey. At Nike WHQ, each winner had the chance to refine their shoes with a team of footwear designers, materials and color designers, and developers who collectively pored over the designs in individual teams. But before all of that, the moment of truth was revealed in a surprise first-look at their samples.
“When we were first told that our samples were in the next room, my first reaction was, “I’m going to faint,’” joked Gabrielle Serrano, winner of the NYC vote and designer of the Air Max 98 La Mezcla. “But then they led us to our samples, and I saw it for the first time. I felt like my head exploded. What I drew was actually in my hands.”
Months of effort from the winners culminated in the big reveal, and their even bigger reactions. But they quickly discovered that the process behind bringing a shoe to life is bigger still. The On Air winners were able to see firsthand the thorough steps involved in creating a top-flight product, from idea to prototype to completion. The product design workshops earlier this year were only the first step. The next phase included sessions at Nike WHQ with Nike teams in product development, who helped the winners refine their designs to hold up to the practical challenges of everyday wear.
“The shoe-making process is complex, but not in the way people expect,” says Dylan Raasch, Senior Creative Director of Nike Air Max. “Taking a story from 2D to 3D requires a different way of thinking to help the story become fully realized. The On-Air winners had to do this quickly, but each one created a design that brought their authentic stories to life.”
While that creative process will continue for the winners in the months to come as they perfect their shoes, their sample reveal at Nike WHQ showed the sheer scope of the steps involved in crafting their dream into a reality.
“Before this journey, I was not aware of these details behind the design process,” says Yuta Takuman, winner of the Tokyo vote and the designer of the Air Max 1 Tokyo Maze. “But now, I know more about the behind-the-scenes story of what it takes to make just one shoe, and it gives me a new perspective. There are so many different things that you have to think about.”
The inspiration came from both sides. As Nike designers and developers sat down with the winners and tinkered with the samples together, the Nike footwear teams were spurred on by the new creative energy put into the time-tested silhouettes.
“What the design teams and development teams found to be so energizing was the attention to detail that the winners pay to our products,” says Reggie Hunter, Product Line Manager for Nike Air Max. “All of the separate components were considered, from the outsole designs, to what the sockliner looked like. It’s refreshing to see how passionate they are about detail, and you saw it as they looked at their shoes.”
The next phase of the journey will pair the winners with their mentors, along with members from Nike’s marketing team, to uncover the narrative in their designs. For these winners, their On Air paths toward the ultimate goal – a final shoe – are still unfolding.
HERE’S WHAT THE WINNERS HAD TO SAY UPON SEEING THEIR SHOE SAMPLES
“When I saw the sample, I couldn’t believe it. It came out exactly how I imagined it to look.”
“The colors on the sample came out so well from the original design. I was joking that, once I saw the sample, I was ready to take it back with me to Korea. My trip was complete.”
“I kept thinking about how crazy this was. What I’ve literally imagined on paper has come through into what I’m looking at right now. It’s surreal.”
“My first reaction was, ‘Perfect.’ When I walked around the corner and saw my sample on the table, I got goosebumps. I still have them.”
“I didn’t know that we’d get to see the samples. It’s incredible to think that I just designed a shoe for one of the biggest brands in the world. I kept thinking, ‘Is this really happening to me?”
“Walking around the corner and seeing the sample – It was like a dream come true. I was in shock.”
Stay tuned for more details to know when the shoes will be dropping.
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