CounterKicks has exclusively invited Brent James, one of the students accepted into the inaugural PENSOLE footwear design school at the University of Oregon, to share a first hand account of his experience in the program on a daily basis over the next two weeks. PENSOLE is the brainchild of D’Wayne Edwards, Jordan Brand Design Director, who is teaching the studio intensive design course for a group of hand picked designers looking to make the next generational wave in the footwear industry. The course runs from June 21st to July 2nd with an aggressive 9-6PM schedule. Brent James will be here to cover it all each day. If you’re looking to get a glimpse into the molding of the industry’s freshest up and coming talent, look no further then PENSOLE. Continue reading PENSOLE Day 1: Sizing Up The Competition (By Brent James)…
Landing in Portland was kind of a surreal feeling. It was a dream come true in many ways for this aspiring footwear designer, thinking to myself “I made it,” knowing this was only a small step. But the story really starts in a city 3,000 miles away: Philadelphia.
Having just graduated from an Ivy League school – the University of Pennsylvania – with an architecture degree, I did what most graduates do, got a job. Working for a small residential architecture firm just outside the city with an hour and a half commute, I found myself in the middle of the daily grind within a couple months. My release had become jamming to Ne-Yo (yeah, I said it), stuck in rush hour on the way home. This wasn’t the life I had dreamed of as a pimpled 8th grader. Something about my path had gone astray. What was it I really wanted? What happened to the romance? I spent most of my days trying to find it.
What I found was a lost lover? Sneakers. I remembered waiting on each issue of the Eastbay catalog and reading it from cover to cover at a young age. I remembered begging Moms to buy a pair of shoes and looking in the box 30 times before I got home. I remember my Jordan VII’s that I tore the plastic piece in half and almost cried. I remembered making sure I always had the flyest shoes on the court, field, or track. Then I saw that there was a career in designing sneakers. Who would have thunk it? Really? Drawing sneakers all day? (We later find out this is not the case, but I digress.)
So my next step was to find out how to get there. The degree of choice was Product Design and there were many schools to choose from. Undergrad vs. Grad? Radical vs. Practical? The world had once again been opened for me. I choose to pack up and leave for San Francisco, CA and the Academy of Art University. New life, new scenery. I was leaving a lot behind – sorry Liz – but I knew this was my calling. I struggled through my first years, frustrated with how easily sketching came to some, but I knew that I wanted it more. Competition is my favorite food. I remember a quote from a mentor, Jesse Madsen, who had said to me, “Own it!” and three years later I became a leader of my class and found myself on my way back east to intern for Reebok.
I was working with the Basketball and Running categories at the offices in Canton, MA. I was psyched to get started working on my first REAL projects. Problem was there was not much work to be done. I felt like they were holding out on me, so I bugged them for months on any droplet of design. Some colorways and material boards were thrown my way, but much of my work came in the way of “personal projects”. Little did I know, some of my best work would be produced here. The projects taught me all the steps of the process, from napkin to closet (trademark). My ideas were kind of out there, a basketball shoe full of helium and the world’s first running sock, but I was now a footwear designer.
I returned to school with a new frame of reference and the year flew by. I finished up my thesis project, “Abroad: a traveling footwear company“, and simultaneously interned at The North Face. I started to get my hands a little dirtier with tech packs and revisions. This is where you learn you don’t draw shoes all day, haha. In the mean time, I was applying all over the country to secure a gig after graduation and that’s when I found Mesh01.
Footwear design websites have come and gone, but here I found a competition for a footwear design fellowship? Intriguing. So I applied to the No. 2/PENSOLE Competition – a new University of Oregon Footwear Design Course being taught by D’Wayne Edwards, Design Director at Jordan Brand. Soon after The North Face decided to bring me on as a contract designer. Things were good. But one day I got an email of “Congratulations”. I was accepted into the inaugural PENSOLE design class. Should I go? Will The North Face be offended if I ask for the time off? I HAD TO GO!
And here we are, sitting in a room with the largest footwear design talent ever assembled (exaggeration). There are the Uber Talented High Schoolers, Nike All Star Interns, and the N.K.O.T.B. (New Kids On The Block) like me. Everyone seems anxious. Everyone seems eager. We go through our normal introductions and the program directors, D’Wayne Edwards and Matt Rhoades, make sure we know this won’t be a cake walk. I get up to speak, making jokes as I always do – markedly more nervous than usual – but always sizing up the competition.
We go from here straight to the Nike Campus, a journey from downtown Portland to say the least. After stopping at Cafe Yumm! (yeah, weird), we make the trek to campus. As we enter the gates one student whispers, “This is like entering Jurassic Park”, a much more fitting title to me than “Disney World” because there are design MONSTERS who reside here. Photo-ops are continuous through the Portland drizzle, until we enter the holy grail of the sneaker world – The Michael Jordan Building. Here we see things we have only dreamed of and maybe even things we shouldn’t see (sorry D), but everyone, including Jay “The Chaperone” Jordanhead, can only stare with mouths open at the building in all its glory.
Cruising around the campus we are not at all deterred by what I’ve deemed the “Oregon Mist”, taking in every moment, every visual. Everyone still in awe as we exit the gates, the last shot is snapped and we make our way back to the train. Walking along the tracks we begin speaking about how to design shoes to traverse the rock path we are on. Footwear has consumed most of the groups’ lives and we would want it no other way. But always in the back of our minds we are sizing up the competition. So get ready boys and girls. I’m coming for your jobs!
-Written by Brent James
READ PENSOLE DAY 2: ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTWEAR?
Check out the complete “PENSOLE: By Brent James” series:
> PENSOLE Day 1: Sizing Up The Competition
> PENSOLE Day 2: Are You Ready For Some Footwear?
> PENSOLE Day 3: Get Your Feet Dirty
> PENSOLE Day 4: Time To Get Busy
> PENSOLE Day 5: Road Trip!!!
> PENSOLE Day 6: Design Explosion
> PENSOLE Day 7/8: The Weekend
> PENSOLE: Day 9: Design Is How It Works
> PENSOLE Day 10: Life In Technicolor
> PENSOLE Day 11: The Final Push
> PENSOLE Day 12: Taking It All In
> PENSOLE Day 13: It Doesn’t End Here
Brent James will be exclusively penning for CounterKicks a daily recap of his experience in the PENSOLE Footwear Design School being held June 21-July 2, 2010, at the University of Oregon, instructed by D’Wayne Edwards (Design Director at Jordan Brand) and Matt Rhoades (Former Creative Director at Nike). Follow CK on Twitter and Facebook for breaking sneaker news and exclusive info.