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PENSOLE Day 2: Are You Ready For Some Footwear? (By Brent James)

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Yesterday, Brent James sized up the competition and launched his exclusive two-week daily diary charting his experience in the inaugural PENSOLE footwear design school currently being held at the University of Oregon. The course participants feature some of the brightest up and coming footwear design talent, including previous Future Sole winners, Nike design interns, high school students, college undergrads, and in general very hungry design minds looking to make a huge impact on the footwear industry in the coming decades. Brent gives us a behind-the-scenes Day 2 recap at PENSOLE illustrated by red rubber balls, Air Jordan models, IKEA, and some insights into the footwear design process. Continue reading PENSOLE DAY 2: Are You Ready For Some Footwear? (By Brent James)…


Day No.2 begins with an introduction to Suzette Henri of Brand Jordan. She is the director of materials, in charge of material selection, development, and sourcing. She then lays out the speakers she has lined up to speak with us, from the leader in sustainable leather, SRI, to the leading color designers from around the world. She has worked with DE (D’Wayne Edwards) and his Jordan Brand design team for nearly a decade, and he has nothing but praise for her. I am surely looking forward to learning about the process and making some contacts there.

After a great introduction to the school, next up is Kevin Carroll, a world-renowned speaker and Nike’s former “Katalyst”, a creative position he himself created. He opens speaking of his rough upbringings in Philadelphia (shout out to Philly) beginning with an abandonment by his mother. He and his brothers were left in a random trailer in the middle of nowhere and literally had to find their way. This experience becomes a blessing in disguise because on his journey back he found his calling in a red rubber ball. A theme which rings throughout his life beginning on the fields of play, traveling abroad with the Air Force, and returning here to the USA to work with the 76ers as a trainer and eventually Nike. I feel the reason he is so successful is not only his determination, but his optimistic curiosity. He tells us about his “look up day”, where he once a week looks towards the sky for the entire day, pointing out that most people look only forward and usually down. With his company, Kevin Carroll Katalyst/LLC, he travels the world spreading this message of curiosity. The most powerful part of the story (there are many) comes in the form of a ball.


The red ball he found at the park has become more than just a play toy to Mr. Carroll. He uses it for communication to children around the world, exchanging various red balls for the balls the natives have created. He has accumulated balls made of a great variety of substances, from peeled rubber tires to banana leaves. Commissioning an artist to create an installation, he created a mammoth red ball which he places around the world, evaluating the curiosity of humans in various environments. Ending on a conclusion of guidelines, we all sit in awe of the energy he has maintained for the entire hour. We all clap loudly and feel the emotion of DE as he gives us a piece of his passion realizing that his dream of starting a footwear design school has become a reality. We pack up for lunch curious to see what is up next. Koi Fusion food truck is our stop today for BOMB Korean Tacos. I know what you’re thinking (if you’re not from the left coast), but they are delicious. Never lose your sense of curiosity! Kevin Carroll = One of the greatest speakers I have ever experienced.


During this break, we are assigned into teams of 5, divided by different backgrounds, experience levels, and origins. Watch out for TEAM 3! Then DE leads us through an interesting exercise of assigning individual projects. Some were predetermined due to his goals of the program, but most are a free for all based on who has the fastest hands. Projects range from Jordan Brand lifestyle shoes to shoes inspired by visitors of Disney World. Did you know the average visitor walks 5 miles a day and stays about a week? Yeah, me either. So as he reads off the first project, I quickly raise my hand choosing a project based on IKEA. The projects are designed to be very loose to begin, allowing the student to discover the real meaning. Here is what I received:

Design a house shoe for IKEA. The key is instant comfort.

I will keep you up to date in the days to follow as I start to get a grasp on the design direction. The goal is to complete a design by the end of the two weeks, culminating in a presentation in front of the entire program and select invited guests. Throughout the process the teams are designed to be similar to a studio environment, where you share ideas on each others projects and collaborate to guide each student’s design direction. Matt Rhoades then presents his “Phases of Design” which we will complete over the next two weeks:

Phase 0 = Research
Phase 1 = Ideation
Phase 2 = Refinement
Phase 3 = Execution
Phase 4 = Implementation


If you have ever been to design school, you will know that everyone develops their own version of this process, but this does not stray very far from most industry standards. DE then explains the concept of briefs. These give each project design direction through further defining the user and their needs. This process is typically done by Marketing/Product Line Managers in the corporate world, but within this course it will be our job to develop the brief. D’Wayne gives solid guidelines on what we must define:

– Consumer(s)
– Performance
– Emotion
– Visual

To define these categories we are instructed to gather “moving imagery” in order to convey our thoughts. That imagery is restricted to 3 images per silo (harder than you think), to define the project. To bring this to life, DE breaks out the Air Jordan XXI and walks us through his thought processes. From the improved performance IPS System which became adjustable, to the Bentley visual inspiration influencing the shoe construction. The beauty of many models in the Air Jordan line are the levels of discovery in finding these small stories. Next, we get insights into the Melo 4 aka M4. This shoe is like the vignette (a collection of short stories) of shoes. Every piece seems to have a specific purpose. After being given insights few have heard from the horse’s mouth, we reconvene upstairs in the studio to stake our claims and learn a little bit more about each team member. Now we are ready to get down to business, spitting game about each of the projects and there is a particular buzz in the air. This is the first time I heard some of the students voices. The studio sounded like the little girl’s room at the 8th grade dance (loud), only the subject was shoes not “boys”.


We make our way home and eat a little dinner, but few of us sleep. Research happens deep into the night because no one wants to be left behind. I, myself, only sleep about 4 hours because I am a huge soccer fan and Pacific Time does not vibe well with South African Time – I’ve only missed two games. I finally shut down my computer and then my eyes and ask myself, “Are You Ready for Some Footwear? A Monday Night PARRR…”, oh too much? If you can’t tell, I am pretty excited about this experience. I am not sure all the students realize the opportunity we have been given. When else will you have so many design resources at your finger tips? Never.

-Written by Brent James


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.

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Category : Air Jordan, CounterKicks, Jordan Brand, Nike

Comments (3)

Fantastic play-by-play, Brent. These exclusives really paint a picture of what it’s like to be in the middle of this opportunity. You’re a great writer, too. Can’t wait for the next installment!

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This is beautiful!

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Very wonderful read! Sounds like you’re making the most of your experience.

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