Complex got a chance to catch up with Jason Mayden, Senior Footwear Designer for the Jordan Brand. This guy is awesome. He's essentially been a Jordan nut since 4th grade, calculating every step of his life to get to this point: designing the new Jordan sneaker. We sat down with the new shoe, the Jordan 2009, and Jason talked us through the whole thing.
It's a long interview, but we're pretty sure we hit on every piece of the design behind the shoe. Check the full Q&A below (broken down in categories if you want to jump around). The Jordan 2009 LE (black/gold) drops January 31st, the General release (white/black) drops All-Star Weekend, February 14th...
Interview by Bradley Carbone
Complex: So Jason. Where do we start? Why you? How do you get to be the next guy to do a Jordan snaker?
Jason Mayden: Well, I'll give you the abridged version, so I don't have to go into the long story where we cry and everyone comes out and hugs and stuff. Every footwear designer's dream is to do the Air Jordan, so there is a lot of competition to get in there. The place is a proving ground, so I got in there and just started taking all the jobs nobody else wanted to do. I did the grunt work. I started at Jordan as an intern, and my first assignment was to design shoelaces. It was a joke job, but I took it extremely seriously. I did about 30 or 40 pages of different shoelace sketches, like lace tips, different ways you could lace shoes, everything. I did way too much work for the project, but they saw that I took my internship seriously and that I really wanted to be there, so I got an in.
Complex: Your Jordan internship came after design school?
Jason Mayden: Yes, I did the full college design school thing, but everything I've ever done since'I wanna say about 4th grade'has been geared towards designing the Air Jordan. Every single decision, people that I have befriended, shoes that I strategically wore to school to get attention, just all types of things. I grew up in Chicago on the South Side so Jordan, and the Jordan brand, has been a part of my life. It's bigger than me just doing this shoe.
Complex: Wow. That is awesome.
Jason Mayden: Yeah. Growing up I wrote a lot of letters to Nike. I would read names in articles, and then I would just call up the Headquarters over there and pretend that I knew them, just to get in the system any way that I could. This was before the Internet when you could just Google a name or something like that. I'd call and say, "Hey remember me?" They'd say, "No" and would hang up, but I would still get a few minutes just to pick their brain, ask them questions.
Complex: Most people we talk to don't have such raw enthusiasm. We often speak with a lot of "Too cool for school" design folk. It's cool to hear your enthusiasm for the project, and the brand.
Jason Mayden: Well, when I got the internship my main goal was to one day do this shoe. I just got in there and grinded, did the things no one else wanted to do, did the dirty work, and learned everything. All of the side jobs taught me the fundamentals of footwear design. I learned about foot morphology, biomechanics, manufacturing, materials standards, graphic design, package design, footwear design, industrial design, product design. All these different things went into preparing me to design this type of product.
Complex: Can you take us through the shoe itself? What are the key elements? There's a lot of stuff going on with this shoe, but can you can talk us through the obvious visual cues and maybe some things people wouldn't notice at first glance?
Jason Mayden: Aight. I'mma give you my best Vanna White so I'll hold it like this.
Click NEXT to see Jason break down the makeup of the new Jordan
SOLE/HEEL DESIGN AND INSPIRATION
Jason Mayden: One of the key features is definitely the ATP technology, inspired by April Holmes. April Holmes is a brand Jordan track and field athlete who competes with prosthetic legs. The reason that we looked at the technology in her legs in particular is because MJ always talked about turning a weakness into a strength. When you see someone who doesn't have all their limbs and they're still dominating in track and field that's definitely an amazing story, an amazing inspirational story as well as an innovation story.
Complex: Yes, sounds like it.
Jason Mayden: So the way that this heel piece functions is it's an energy return system (loosely based on April's carbon-fiber leg) that propels you forward a little bit during each transition. The heel is split, and we have it constructed in a way that there is a camber to the shape to give extra grip when the athlete cuts back and forth. The camber across the heel allows the footwear to stay in contact with the ground, and helps for fast reaction time. Kind of like how on a skateboard you get up on the edge of your shoe in order to control it? It's the same thing with basketball, you have to be on the edge of the shoe and you have to be able to have proper control to bring the foot back to its correct position when you cut back and forth on court. The camber allows you to do less work to bring the shoe back to its proper position when you're making lateral movements.
Complex: Is this like Shocks?
Jason Mayden: It's totally different from Shocks 'cause the way that this works is these two heel pieces move individually, where as Shocks is a complete system that moves in unison. The energy return system works only in the section that's being activated at any given time. When an athlete cuts on the interior of the heel, that's the part that's being activated, no other part of the shoe. We don't want you to waste energy in other areas of the shoe, which can happen with other types of energy return systems.
Jason Mayden: The heel piece works in conjunction with the carbon fiber plates here in the arch, which helps with torsional rigidity. The carbon plate is something that MJ is really big about. During this process all he talked about was, "Make sure we have carbon fiber in the arch." He feels that that really saved him in his career from a lot of injuries to his feet.
Complex: What exactly does the carbon plate do? Is it for ankle roll prevention, or to keep the shoe solid?
Jason Mayden: The plate keeps the shoe solid and it locks your midfoot in. To cut down on ankle roll we have these Achilles pads. Achilles fit in the heel is a big part of making the shoe fit and promoting the proper fit of the shoe. Ninety percent of ankle injuries in basketball come from landing on top of another person's foot. If you can lock down the heel, that will cut down on a lot of ankle injuries.
Complex: How much of the traction on the bottom of this shoe is aesthetic, and how much is it scientific?
Jason Mayden: Form always follows function. You know, working with MJ, he's performance first. The aesthetic is the last thing we really talk about. I mean, it's a given that the shoe has to look nice but he's a real stickler for making sure that it works and that it's designed for basketball players for the game of basketball.
Complex: How does cushioning fit into the heel piece here?
Jason Mayden: So we have a Zoom Air bag in the sockliner and a Zoom Air bag in the heel. We've figured out that double-stack zoom is really the best, helping with the overall ride and transition of the shoe. The forefoot has a Zoom Air Bag in there as well, but double stack in the heel. From the heel, we get to the midsole chassis.
Click NEXT to hear Jason break down the midsole/chassis and the upper of the sneaker
Jason Mayden: With the Jordan 2009, we have this chassis portion, and we wanted to design it with the idea of the "1 of 1." Consumers, when they buy Jordans, want to have a unique experience. There is a certain quality and a certain luxury that is expected coming from our product. What we wanted to do was give each user a unique detail, so the the TPU is mixed in a way that it mimics blown glass and creates a unique look each time. For the chassis, inspiration comes from Dale Chihuly, the glass artist. We want each consumer to feel unique and feel as if they have their own brand Jordan experience. The chassis works in conjunction with the APT and helps with the heel fit and that midfoot protection that we talked about.
Complex: Why blown glass?
Jason Mayden: Dale Chihuly was one of my inspirations just because of his process of creation. To me, blown glass captures a raw emotion. It's a physical example of capturing time. The TPU is functional, and works in tandem with the carbon plate and the heel piece, but there is an emotional side to it as well. This glass-look is the idea of slowing time down, almost like a frozen moment captured in the shoe. People talk about MJ, saying that he defied the laws of gravity, that he defied the laws of time and space. This is kind of those ideas brought into a physical piece.
Jason Mayden: On the toe cap here, we use a panache leather. It's a polishable dress shoe leather, and again, this is something that ties back to the luxury details in MJ's life and how he carries himself off the court. We wanted a sophisticated, elegant leather, but at the same time this is a durable leather, it's not gonna break down over time. Another key element of the upper is these satin pleats, a design that we kind of took from the sport of fencing.
Jason Mayden: Well, let me take a step back for a second. The Jordan shoes always have these big picture ideas that inspire them. For this shoe, we wanted to do something different, to think of an idea that we hadn't touched on with previous Jordan shoes.
Jason Mayden: Two years ago, when we sat down with MJ, he talked about doing something different. He wanted to give the consumer something that they didn't expect. A lot of times people say that what MJ did with the ball made him who he was. In Micheal's mind though, what he did without the ball had as much to do with it as what he had to do with it. MJ was a tenacious defender, and he always talks about using his defense to get his offense going.
Jason Mayden: So when we came to the table, the first thing we looked at were sports that were based in defense. Most of the defensive sports are the martial arts and sports like boxing, fencing, etc. These sports all focus on defense as the tactic as opposed to the attack being the tactic. A lot of the time when you look at basketball, or when you look at football, there are all of these accolades for people who score points. But for MJ, his biggest accomplishment was when they said he can shut down anyone on the court and then going on to score 63 points. So trying to take that defensive mindset and apply it to the shoe, we wanted to get some context. That's where we got the fencing idea from.
Fencing makes sense as an inspiration for a basketball shoe, and specifically for MJ's shoe because MJ always talks about his footwork. Michael worked countless hours on his footwork, always trying to manipulate the distance between himself and an opponent. The whole shoe itself is based on defense and deception, from MJ's standpoint.
So to bring it back around to fencing, when you look at the sport of fencing and the way that those athletes use footwork and use certain tactics and strategies, it's similar to the way basketball players have to understand where their opponent is in space. The fencing idea was an easy marriage.
Complex: I don't know a lot about fencing, is the satin part of the uniforms?
Jason Mayden: Well the satin pleats is a nod to the clean visual aesthetic of fencing. Coupled with the panache leather, we tie the shoe to the sophistication of the sport of fencing.
Complex: Is there any performance element to these pleats, or is it strictly aesthetic?
Jason Mayden: What happens with pleats is that when you pleat an object or pleat a material it cuts down on the amount of material you have to use to get support. What we did was we created an upper that forms to the shape of your foot both internally and externally. When you lace this pleated upper together, it actually cinches your foot down in the shoe so you're not moving around and slipping as much inside.
A lot of time you'll hear basketball players talk about movement creating foot injury, 'cause the shoe is too loose. The pleats in conjunction with the Achilles pads in the heel give a really tight, solid fit. So the pleats cut down on overall weight, because we are using less material, and they help get a snug fit through the way the upper gets laced up.
Complex: What about these mesh pieces here in the upper?
Jason Mayden: The metal mesh? This is an MJ detail. When we broke down the defensive story we were thinking about how we might talk about his defensive aspect and his idea was this screen, this mask idea. If you've ever seen a fencing mask, you know that you can see their face but you can't see everything. These monofilament mesh hits complete the fencing story, and also add a little ventilation for the shoe. The mesh is part of that defensive, deception story.
Jason Mayden: There's one more element of the upper that I want to show you. On the back we added these injection PU dots for grip. Most traditional basketball shoes use a heel tab or some sort of an overlay for a person to get grip when they pull their shoe up. But what we wanted to do was integrate it and simplify it. This simultaneously makes the shoe lighter (for speed) and it also makes it look more sophisticated.
Click NEXT for the special details of the Jordan 2009
Complex: The whole shoe is kind of special, but I see that there are some specifically aesthetic hits, like the hologram and the logo here on the toe. Can you talk about that?
Jason Mayden: The hologram is again that luxury element for the Jordan brand. When you make an investment in this shoe, we want you to be excited about it, and for you to know that you are getting an authentic product. We've done holograms with Jordan before, and it's just about being authentic.
Jason Mayden: On the heel, there is this microscreen print that pays homage to MJ's career. See it? It says, "The best that ever was, the best that ever will be." It's something that when you see it at first glance you don't really recognize what the screenprint says but when you get up close, you know it's the detail that identifies the quality of the shoe. The other element is the way that we chose to logo the Jordan 2009. If you look at the toe here, we created an ambigram logo.
Complex: Not sure what... Oh, OK, it's the same from both ways. That's awesome.
Jason Mayden: You can see it both ways. So regardless of how you look at it you see MJ, you see Jordan. And that's the same with with MJ's career. No matter how you look at it, there's a certain respect there because of his accomplishments on the court. There's no mistaking this product when you see it.
Complex: So why is this shoe called the Jordan 2009, not the Jordan 24?
Jason Mayden: Well, we wanted to pay homage to MJ. Just as they retired his jersey number, we wanted to do something, to capture the moment in time. We say 1-23 - that's MJ's, that's to honor his career, his legacy. Now, we are starting off in a new direction. We want to give the brand a fresh start and a fresh thought process about how to create for the basketball player of the future. Twenty-three is Michael's number. Now it's time to create a new strategy around how to innovate and push the brand toward the 21st century.
Complex: And who will be wearing the shoe on court?
Jason Mayden: We will have this shoe show up the same way that we have placed traditional Air Jordans before this. We're going to have All Star guys wearing it and all of our athletes who defy expectations on court.
Complex: This shoe, like the Jordan 23, is a Considered product. Can you talk about what makes it Considered and how designing with that as a process affects your design language? What does Considered mean for people that don't know?
Jason Mayden: Considered is a standard for manufacturing that both the Nike and Jordan brands use. It's a standard for material selection, and is basically a design ethos that says, "Create products that make less waste and create products that cut down on environment-harming chemicals." Considered is also about pattern efficiency. If we can cut patterns that cut down on waste, use more of each piece of fabric, then we can cut down on our environmental impact and everyone wins.
Jason Mayden: As far as the design process, I didn't see the Considered principles as a problem. It actually made it more interesting because when you have parameters set up for you to design around it makes you think a lot more and gives the designer a healthy challenge. You can't just go in and just draw anything. It has to be specific to this mission and this goal for this shoe.
Complex: Are there specific things we can talk about on the shoe that make the shoe fit the Considered design parameters?
Jason Mayden: Yeah there are. Starting from the bottom, we didn't use paint on the chassis. We used a high polish on the mold, so by removing paint we cut down on harmful chemicals to the environment, and the TPU used is recyclable. The heel pieces are made from recycled grain rubber, and for the carbon fiber plate we used water-based glues to affix it. Same thing with the mid-sole to the upper: water-based glue. The leather is made at a green tannery so they don't use solvents in their process. The satin material is a recycled material. The laces are recycled. The lining packing is made from bamboo fibers, a sustainable material. Everything on this shoe is either recycled or made from a green vendor. We wanted to attack the issue of waste and the issues of chemicals that are harmful to the environment, but as you see, we were still able to make this shoe luxurious and still fit the Jordan aesthetic.
Complex: What's with the colorway for this shoe? How did you pick it, and what's the LE colorway?
Jason Mayden: Well for the general release we wanted to project a quiet confidence with the shoe. Again, it's that defensive aspect. You never hear Jordan screaming "Yo, I'mma steal the ball from you, I'mma shut you down." That doesn't happen. It's that quiet intensity that MJ had on the court. We wanted the shoe to have that same presence with the general release. For the LE, that's the black/gold, which is a bit more intense, but it's still kind of like a quiet luxury.
The LE version comes out January 31st, and the General colorway comes out on February 14th, for the All-Star Game
Jason Mayden: For the box, we had the box mimic the idea of the agigram that I mentioned earlier, from the toe cap?
Jason Mayden: Regardless of which way you flip it, it's the same shape. I used to work in a shoe store so I know how it is to pack these and unpack them. So the shape itself is designed like the angigram where regardless of which way you flip it, it's still the same exact shape. The designer I worked with, his name is Sean Butterly. He did an excellent job of bringing the details from the pleats and the cleanliness of fencing but at the same time having that deception factor we talked about where no matter how you look at the box it's still the same design from multiple angles.
Complex: Well, very cool. Great job.
Jason Mayden: I appreciate that. Thank you.
Complex: Are you doing the next one?
Jason Mayden: Haha. Wait and see. You'll have to wait and see.