When I was student Mr Bailey published (still) awesome sketches from sneaker designers on his blog. It was a huge influence for me to become a Footwear designer myself. I am so grateful for all the motivation and inspiation his blog gave me – and I believe to so many more aspiring designers.
I am very enthusiast to introduce you Mr Bailey in 8 questions! He accepted to share with us his path and obstacles he met to become a footwear designer.
Photography taken by Hannah Miles
#1 How are you doing? You told me on your last email you are pretty busy. May we know on what are you working on these days? (Curiosity)
What’sup Chou-Tac, I’m good thanks mate. Yeah things are pretty nuts at the minute. Right now I’ve got my hands full with a few footwear design/development projects for clients, as well as working on my own collaborations and projects. I’m also prepping for a footwear course I’m hosting with SLEM in Hong Kong on the 13th of this month.
#2 Can you please describe who you are in few words?
I’m a product designer that is currently using footwear as a vessel to execute both myself, and my collaborators, creative visions. I’d like to think I’m a storyteller, a connector and hopefully someone that can spread inspiration to as many people as possible.
#3 When did you know you wanted to become a designer? And what motivated you? Who inspired you?
I think i’ve always just wanted to be involved in the creation of things, no matter what they were. My mum is super artsy, and one of my aunt’s studied architecture. She used to give me these creative problem solving tasks when I was about 6 or 7. That had a pretty big effect on me and I’ve just been drawing and imaging products and concepts ever since.
When I was about 12 or 13, I really got into Basketball. That was pretty much my avenue into the sneaker world. I don’t know a single Basketball player that doesn’t love shoes. It’s just a massive part of the culture. So that’s what really got me into starting to sketch and imagine what my own shoes might look like.
Once I started my degree, I remember trawling sites like Coroflot, seeing what people like Nicolas Bodin were doing, Michael DiTullo, Eric Arlen, all these people were massively inspiring, and I wanted to be at their level.
#4 Was it difficult to become a footwear designer?
It was extremely difficult, and it’s something I’m still working on to this day. After I graduated from University I took an entire year for myself so I could just stay at my place and work on my sketching and rendering skills. That mindset is something I try to maintain to this day. There are so many talented creatives out there, so to try to stay at a competitive level I think you just have to continually learn, and to embrace, share and celebrate others work, talk about about it and see how it can inspire your own.
#5 What was your top 1 obstacle and How did you go through it?
I think the biggest obstacle for me was that I was getting involved in so many areas at once. I was very lucky to have met my business partner and great friend, Omar Bailey. He kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ways of the industry. The design side is just one, very important, but small part of the entire process.
Having to go to factories, learning the development process, the business side of it all, was quite tricky for me. I’m not necessarily the personality type to really care about all that stuff normally, but it’s such an integral part of the business that you’d be silly not to. And honestly now that I know about it, I try to bend and play with the current structures. Altering and adapting current procedures to try and refresh certain parts of an industry that’s really quite traditional and set in it’s ways, particularly in Europe.
#6 A while ago, there was no much courses about footwear design such as Pensole. When I was at Adidas, most of the designers I met came from Product or transport design background.
Even though the footwear industry still hire from different fields, do you think an aspiring footwear designer can succeed with no Design degree?
Absolutely. I would probably even say it helps to have a slightly different background. I think schools like Pensole and SLEM are brilliant, and are a perfect add on to a designer trying to get into the footwear industry.
If you look at some of the most creative and game changing shoes of the past, a lot of them were created by people that didn’t even study product/shoe design.
At the end of the day, what really matters is your mind, your work and portfolio, and not necessarily your degree. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advising people to not go to college and get one however, but what I think is most valuable about attending uni is more about the people you meet, your classmates, teachers, and the time you’re given to work on yourself. The degree at the end of the day means nothing if you still can’t sketch, or don’t have the passion for creation that you need to succeed in this industry. And to that point, if someone doesn’t have a design degree, but their portfolio is amazing, or their passion for this industry is obvious, then they’ll find their place in it.
#7 I follow you on Facebook, seeing that you are currently developing a collaboration with Ekn footwear. I see how you go through the whole chain from the first sketch, sampling, production to the photoshoot, pricing and I believe many more! I believe it might be a thrilling experience! I mean, your job scope is so much wider than any designer who work for any big brand. Can you tell us more about your journey?
Sure. Well, my collaboration with ekn footwear has been a massive learning experience for me. It’s something I’m continuing to learn with the release of every shoe to be honest. The way I see my collab with them is almost like one big school project. A class i’m taking that’s kind of viewable by the public. As you can imagine it can be a little daunting at times, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Noel, the owner of ekn really has a lot of faith in my vision, and I’m hugely grateful to him for allowing me to help take his brand in a new direction.
I’ve never really been that interested in just working for a brand and only being part of one aspect of a much larger picture. I really love seeing how the whole puzzle fits together.
However, that being said, being involved in so aspects can be very tricky to handle, especially when you already have a few other projects you’re working on. I’m lucky that now we have people in place that can help take the load off. Noel and his team handle warehousing and distribution, customer relations, and basically the core of the business on that end, for our collaboration line. That being said, I’m starting to take care of more aspects involved in our collab. The more I see and learn, the more I feel comfortable adding my thoughts and how I would like it to be executed. At the beginning I was really only involved in the design and development of our collaboration shoes, but now i’m starting to take more of an active role in more of the overall execution of the imagery and PR.
We’ve also just started a new project together where I have complete control of a branding and aesthetics of the brand from the ground up. It’s still very early stage but i’m super excited to get that out and see how it’s received.
#8 I saw you organise a Workshop “From Concept to reality: Starting your own footwear brand” from the 13th to 17th June in Hong-Kong. Can you tell us more about it?
Sure, SLEM reached out to me a couple months ago to discuss organising a course in Hong Kong for their master students. We’ve worked together before and I think we both appreciated what we can both bring to the table and offer to students. Basically, they felt that once their students had left their course, they felt incredibly inspired and wanted to actually create their vision, but didn’t necessarily know which direction to turn to. As I said before, the design and the development world are very, very different. Literally just having someone stand in front of you and break the industry down can be massively helpful. So that’s basically what we’ll be doing.
I’ll be taking a group of students through what I do when consulting for a new, or creating my own, brand. From how to create interesting, emotional designs, through to creating samples, and finding the right factories to produce your shoes, even if you’re working on a budget.
Everyone always thinks you need a shit load of money to make a shoe brand, and don’t get me wrong, it’s not cheap, but if you understand how the industry works, you can do it for a lot less than you’d think. You just need the balls to go out there, find these places and make people believe in what you’re doing.
Mr Bailey has just told me there was 2 extra seats available as a couple had to cancel last minute. If you want to register, you can write an email to [email protected] The course will start next week on the 13th June in Hong Kong for 5 days.
In case you want to contact Mr Bailey, say hello in the comments! 🙂