The original colorways of early Air Jordan sneakers, the ones Michael Jordan actually played in, are the ones that drum up nostalgia in people. But over the past few years, the brand's collaborations with streetwear brands such as Supreme and Just Don have been some of its most coveted sneakers. The man behind those projects has been making waves lately, too. Ben Kirschner is the 30-year-old designer at Nike who's responsible for the SF-AF1, the boot-like Air Force 1 that has unexpectedly caught everyone by storm. Before moving over to Nike, Kirschner worked at Jordan Brand, and he was the liaison between the collaborators and the footwear company.

We had the chance to recently speak to Kirschner, as he was getting ready for ComplexCon in Los Angeles, and he told us what goes into these special projects to makes them so, well, special.

Ben Kirschner
Image via Instagram/Ben Kirschner

What did you do at Jordan Brand?
I worked at Jordan for five years. I did all the special projects there. I did the Jordan Future, the Westbrook 0. I worked with Supreme, Don C, anything that came out within five years, I worked on it.

How much do input do the collaborators have on the shoes?
It’s actually a lot. For the Don, we’d come up with ideas and we’d pitch it to him. He’d say, “Nah, that’s not what I’m trying to do.” Then we’d change it a bit and we’d go back and forth. Don came on campus four or five times in the process of the first shoe. We went out to Seattle to visit him. Supreme came out to campus twice, and then we went out to New York to visit them once. Those were some of the more involved individuals with the projects. I worked on some of the Slam Dunk stuff, too. They never came to campus, it was more about sending stuff via email. 

Just Don x Air Jordan II
Image via Nike


What's the collaboration process like?
A lot of the times, they’ll come out to campus and we’ll take them through their archives and it will get stuff rolling. It depends on how much time we have. On average it’s two days, then we’ll brainstorm ideas. Usually guys will come in like, “This is what I want to do.” But then by the end of the first day they’ll throw it out the window, and then we’ll figure something out.

What's it like working with brands like this?
We have a mutual respect for one another. Supreme is Supreme. Don is Don. Early on it’s interesting trying to convince people to do things, because I’m just a designer. Then they realize what I’ve done, and they’re like, “OK, we get it. You know what you’re doing, too.” The majority of the time, it’s not a tug of war at all.