It's no secret that Nike have been on top for a minute now. The now classic Virgil x Nike "The Ten" collection was just the beginning, and since then we've seen Nike collaborations that have ranged from the avant garde (a Tom Sachs shoe inside a Tom Sachs shoe, anybody?) to the runway ready (hello Comme Des Garcons Shox) to the street ready (Carhartt WIP pack).
A big part of Nike's renewed vigour around innovation and collaboration is a new 14-member team operating out of the US. The team, made up of designers from a broad range of design disciplines, have been responsible for many of Nike's most innovative moves over the last 12 months. We spoke to Gerald Sullivan about the team during his short visit to Australia.
Can you tell me about the team you’re a part of at Nike?
We’re a diverse team of 14 people, and it’s our job to energize the brand through innovation. The team is made up of people from so many backgrounds; there are industrial designers, people from fashion, product design, one person who specialised in set design, we come from so many disciplines, but that’s what makes us work so well as a team.
The diversity of the team is definitely our strength; not only in our education but also Reba [Brammer] is from Australia, we have one person on the team from Italy, from the UK, we just have so many different ideas and experiences to draw on, which makes the ideas we have so unique and so strong.
How long has this team been operating?
We’ve been working together for around two years.
What was the first project you worked on?
I think the first project we all worked on together was The Ten. It was an unbelievable experience; the ten silhouettes were conceptualised and produced in eight hours. We’re able to work together so quickly, the conceptual work was done over a series of text messages – Virgil really only communicates via text – then we had our concept sketches done and moved into creating 3D mockups.
Virgil was very hands on with the collection. He’s a designer, he understands the language we speak, it’s almost like he was the 15th member of the team.
Did you notice the impact The Ten had on the sneakers we’ve seen since the collection was released?
Oh definitely, definitely. But you know, it’s not like I see the influence and think ‘oh somebody stole my idea’, I’m just excited to see the impact we’ve had and see the way it’s influenced other people, who then move the concepts further. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just moving the wheels forward, to the next generation, who then move them on forward in their own way.
I remember seeing Tom Sachs talk about the experience of working with Nike – a project you worked on – he said that going back to his first conversations with Mark Parker, his attitude was ‘my strength isn’t in putting different colours on an existing silhouette, I’m here to design’. The whole idea was that he would bring what only he can do, and match it with what only Nike can do. A true 50-50 collaboration.
Yea that’s certainly true of the projects I’ve worked on, it’s been a collaboration between two parties who understand and respect eachother, and the results are always reflective of that. The process is that we will get a brief from the partner, we’ll begin another text chain among the team, and pool these ideas. The whole process is really quick. We can identify what the best path will be going ahead, and whoever feels strongest or most enthusiastic about the project can lead it from there, into the next stage.
There have been situations from that point, where we’re able to quickly get these ideas together and present them back to the brand, and have that brand or partner say ‘yes, that’s exactly what we wanted to see from this collaboration’. That’s what we’re always working toward.
On first impressions, the speed that you guys work at seems overwhelming, but it sounds as though it actually works for you.
Yes, definitely. I think that we’re able to just lay the idea out, pick the strongest themes and ideas and move forward. When you have a long time to work on something, you can start to pick ideas apart and add unnecessary changes.
Going back to Tom Sachs, you worked on the Outer Shoe, which Sachs has said was inspired by the New York winter. You spoke earlier about the way New York influenced the Air Force 1, and then in turn, how the Air Force 1 inspired the city of New York. Do you think Australia will provide some form of inspiration?
We’re going to be visiting the Great Barrier Reef, which is something I’m really looking forward to. Sustainability is such an important initiative and something Nike really believes in. I’m sure seeing the Reef and experiencing it first hand is something that will inspire myself and the team. We’re heading down to Tasmania too, to see MONA, which is something we’re all looking forward to.
I think that the way nature is such an important part of life down here, it’s similar to the way it is in Portland, to be surrounded by it like we are, it’s a constant reminder of the importance of having a positive impact on the environment.