Dallas Stokes talks about designing for companies in the shoe biz.
I get asked all the time but today I was asked by my daughter what would happen if I ever worked for Nike? Truth be told I already did. I didn’t work in design, I worked at Niketown Chicago for like a year. I only left because Reebok was doing Shaq with a company out of Denver named Two Hype so they offered me the opportunity to design so I went for it. Any designer worth his salt in this business may lie and tell you that he doesn’t want to be there but in the end they are number one so lets just be honest. What would you do if you worked at Nike? Then comes the question, what would you do if you worked at Reebok or adidas? Been there, done that. And I actually have to say that I don’t know what my life would be like if I still had a nine to five. I mean let’s look at the pros and cons.
When I worked in house I would show up earlier than most and leave with the best of them honestly because unlike most people I realize that if you spend half your day at work it becomes a culture that is part of your life. I had other designers to bounce off at a moments notice and I had the best of ideas at arms reach. I had a steady check coming in and a reliable team around me to make great product. All great things if you are willing to be comfortable with the easier route. It’s a beautiful thing to appreciate if you’re savvy enough to entertain the bigger looming shadow of politics. I just feel like the place that pays your bills should have a relevant stake in your life just out of respect. Also I live, breath, and love this game. Honestly I was never good enough to be a major player at any company I worked at until maturity set in and I was able to understand that a company and its direction needs to be my first priority and design my second as long as I was in meetings. Now to a purist that may seem like selling out but to a business man that means success, security and longevity.
If you want to be in this business you have to understand that at the end of the day you are part of a bigger picture. Love what you do but understand that just like in life if you love something you have to learn that there is only so far you can take something until you have to let it go and be its own thing. Co-exist people, learn to give and you will receive. I can’t tell you to this day how many projects I work on that I wanted to let all hell loose and create a monster the likes of Dr. Frankenstein. However at the end of the day I have to be aware of everything from the economy to trade issues to just plain perception from retail and the consumer and reel it all in. When asked why I don’t work here or there I often find myself coming up with lucid and realistic answers that conflict with my own ego. At this point in my career I can comfortably live with those answers but at the same time I have to realize the game don’t wait for anybody. Learn to check the ego at the pin and win some and lose some. I can’t tell you as I sit at my desk and look over all these resumes and portfolios that come to me how much people don’t understand I give a shit about your ego or your designs I just want to see YOUR talent. At the end of the day we all have to answer to that analytical monster so let me worry about it and just have fun.
Stop sending me a ton of drawings with Swooshes or Vectors on them because I know they were rejected when you sent them off. Send me you. If you had a crazy idea for a shoe made of nothing but FedEx box material and eggshell cartons, cool. I will probably tell you you’re crazy and there’s no way this can be done on my budget but at the same time I respect that you thought outside the box. Companies have budgets and H.R. monitors that hit up your Facebook without asking to see how you fit in their culture so be careful how you are perceived. Talent will always prevail but in the end talent without knowledge and proper foresight is a waste and a pink slip waiting to happen (trust me I know). I wanna see your dreams and ideas, not what you think my logo on a Nike shoe (because I know it was before you sent it to me) looks and feels like. What you have to understand is that due to marketing and costs, big companies have to go a certain way to insure success. Me however, I don’t have most of those kinds of limitations so I can appreciate your work even more. Stop sending portfolios that are confined by procedure and just have a ball.
In the end I guess the point is that not everyone can work for Nike, adidas, Reebok, Pony, Puma, Oakley, Ball’N, Van Grack, Converse, And1, Sketchers, or a few companies that don’t exist anymore but I have and I’m here to tell you it’s cool, however there’s always something else. Don’t limit yourself to working for the best because ask LeBron, that always don’t work but could someday. Get a little Cleveland in first. Open your mind to just shoes and the business and you will probably make it before others. Don’t give up on your dream at all and if you want to work at a certain place and don’t make it keep trying but lose the tunnel vision and think outside the box a little. Hell you gotta go to college for a year before you make the NBA. What would a shoe that I did for Nike look like? The world may never know…Lets see Mr.Owl…one…two…three… sorry old school joke.
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Dallas Stokes is a 20-year footwear industry veteran. His current shoe design projects include BALL’N, Protege, Sean John, Rim Rocka, Van Grack, Militia Project, and The Dallas Stokes Collection. Read his interviews here and here.
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