If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Reebok Pump inventor Paul Litchfield, you’ll definitely want to catch our Part 3 installment presented below. In this final segment, Paul talks about the Pump’s production, reveals which Pump shoes he likes personally, and shares his thoughts on the Reebok Pump‘s future. Continue reading for the full scoop…
CK: What was production of the Pump like? No one had ever manufactured a shoe like this before and certainly not on a large scale.
Litchfield: The Pump shoe, because it cost so much money, every Pump bladder we made here in Massachusetts at this medical device company. We inspected the Pump twice here in Massachusetts before we shipped it out. We inspected it once when it arrived at the factory, once when it was stitched into the shoe upper, and then once on the finished shoes. So it was inspected five times for at least three hours at a time to make sure it didn’t leak. We were good. I was out there for the first production. We saw the first two days of production. And at the end of the line, all these people are pumping up the shoes to make sure they’re filled up. I flew back from Korea and I was like ’Alright, this is good, I’m okay’ because we got this launch going. About two or three weeks later – because we flew all the shoes in – I get a call from the warehouse. They said ’Hey, the first thousand pair of shoes were okay but these other 6,000 pairs, none of them work.’ I’m like ’What do you mean ‘none of them work‘?’ He goes ’They don’t work!’ I’m like ’You guys are out of your minds.’ So we went down there. They didn’t work. We panicked.
At the end of the line, people had to pump up the basketball. After a couple hours of that, your hands are tired. So they took the needle off of a sewing machine so you had just the guide bar going up and down. Well, what the guide bar did was it went really fast and it bent one of the valves in the Pump ball itself. Nobody knew it because it filled up the shoe but it filled up for the last time. So when they released the air, they’re like ’Okay, Check, they’re all done.’ When they came to the U.S.A., our warehouse goes to inspect them, none of them work. So, all the sudden I’ve got like almost 6,000 pairs of shoes that are pretty much useless. So, we had to go in – me and about six other people – and we literally unstitched the top of the tongue where the Pump ball is. We had to take out the Pump ball, put in a new one, and then stitch it back up without anybody ever knowing it. I don’t think we slept for days, seriously. That’s how smoothly things go sometimes, you know?
CK: There’s been so many shoes with the Pump technology. Do you have a personal favorite or favorites that represent your vision of what a Pump shoe is?
Litchfield: I’m not a designer and I’m not the most fashionable guy going. However, when a good product comes by, I can recognize it. The way I define it for myself is a product that’s elegant, a product that is not over-embellished, fairly simple in its execution, and when people see it they understand it or when they put it on they definitely understand it. I think the first Pump definitely did that with the Pump ball. I thought our VP of Design at the time, Paul Brown, when he did the shoe design that was the drawing for the shoe that launched, the first one with the orange ball, I thought that was brilliant. That was awesome. It captured everything that we needed it to do.
We had set up some parameters. We needed the Pump to be on the tongue, we needed it to be high enough but it wouldn’t be in the way. We gave him a whole bunch of boundaries and he did this design that was ultimately that white and blue shoe that got launched. When I saw it one day, I was like ’That’s the shoe.’ I mean, I didn’t even need to bring it by the marketing people or anything. I just knew that was the shoe. So I’m pretty proud of that shoe. I think that shoe captures a lot. There were some parts of the shoe that I would have changed, looking back on it. We did it with the next one, which was the Twilight Zone. And then we had a shoe called the Pump Omni, which was a great shoe. The Dee Brown shoe [Omni Zone II] is an awesome shoe. The Pump Fury was one that I was really proud of because of the fact that, within our own little group, we were able to kind of redefine what Pump meant at the time. We’ve done some shoes that haven’t even made it to retail that I’m pretty proud of, that I think captured the essence what we were trying to with Pump, even if they didn’t get launched. So, yeah, I’ve got a few shoes that I think are just really cool and kind of my own personal favorites. But it’s funny because every time I bring up a personal favorite, somebody will go ’No, are you kidding me? I like this one better.’ And I’m like ’Alright, whatever.’
CK: What do you remember most from the Pump development process?
Litchfield: I remember everything. We were a pretty small group and we did a bunch of product. I was a product manager, I worked hard. We were really successful – me and a small group of people. The guys out at Design Continuum helped originate the whole thing. There’s a lot of people who got involved and it’s very cool to have been part of that and to be, I hope, an important part of that. It’s great. It’s a great product. The fact is, a lot of people say ’Oh, The Pump was a gimmick, The Pump was this, The Pump was that’ and I’m like ‘Alright, that’s fine.’ But, I’ll tell you, when you put them on, they work. It’s pretty simple. You can disrespect it, you can make fun of it, that stuff doesn’t bother me. I know for a fact that if you put it on and if you inflate the air bladder, it’s going to make the shoe fit better, it’s going to make the shoe more supportive, and it’s going to make the shoe different than any other brand of shoes that you can buy anywhere. So, that’s kind of cool.
CK: How do you see the Pump technology being refined as time continues on?
Litchfield: We’re like Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog. We pop our heads up every now and then and most of the time the business kind of goes along. We work behind the scenes. We’ve been working for a long time at trying to create new opportunities with customizable product using the Pump. I think we’re on the verge of a really great breakthrough, hopefully bringing a new renaissance to the Pump. We haven’t gone away from the Pump in the advanced concept groups, we just have had some successes and a bunch of challenges. That’s the part that brings you back to reality fairly quick.
CK: What is Pump’s legacy?
Litchfield: I’ve got to be really truthful with you. We wanted to make a really great shoe. There are certain aspects of the shoe, particularly the first shoe, that were really good. Certain aspects I didn’t like when we look back on it. It’s a very cool product but I know it’s not perfect. It’s a little humbling when people get enthusiastic about it.
I’m really proud of the Pump. I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’m really proud to have been a part of it. We didn’t start out trying to do this, like this. We just tried to make a good product that was different and unique and something that we could own. So, the fact that it’s been sustainable and, hopefully, iconic, that’s awesome.