Dylan Raasch Made Billions for Nike. Why Is He Leaving?

Raasch, the designer behind the Roshe Run and Air Max 270, reflects on his portfolio and path forward.

Dylan Raasch Nike
Dylan Raasch announced last month that he was leaving Nike after 14 years. Via Complex
Dylan Raasch Nike

The shoe designer Dylan Raasch, who’s standing now at what looks like a career crossroads, is as calm as ever.

Raasch’s work on wildly popular Nike models like the Roshe Run and Air Max 270 contributed billions to the Oregon sneaker company’s bottom line. The first Roshe, a shoe he started in 2010 on his own in his free time, spawned a whole franchise at Nike, and imitator silhouettes across the industry.

Nike elevated Raasch at the end of the last decade, naming him creative director of the storied Air Max line in 2017. After that, in 2020, Raasch became Nike’s senior design director of footwear for women’s sport style innovation, where he worked on shoes like the V2K and Air Max Furyosa. In April of this year, during Nike’s latest round of a long restructuring, the brand offered him a different gig.

Raasch pondered the position, which would have had him working with outside collaborators, decided it wasn’t him, and split from Nike.

“It didn't feel like the right path forward for me,” Raasch says.

In an Instagram post last month, Raasch announced his departure from Nike, where he’d been since 2009.

Raasch, a bespectacled, measured man, is at peace with the move. It’s a fitting mode for a guy whose most famous sneaker gets its name from the title given to Zen masters and makes music under the moniker Bodhikan.

For the longest time, footwear has been his path. Raasch spent some 10 years of his young life racing motorcycles, and even won an amateur championship, but turned to design once he’d exorcised his adrenaline. (It had to be a welcome change for his parents, whose disapproval of motorcycling meant he had to ride in secret.)

Raasch has worked in sneakers for over 20 years. He was at DC Shoes from 2001 to 2004. After that, he went to Macbeth Footwear, the brand co-founded by Blink 182’s Tom Delonge. Raasch did stints with Osiris, Fallen, and Duffs before landing at Nike. Much of his adult life has been spent in sneakers, but Raasch doesn’t necessarily plan to spend all his time on them in the future.

A few weeks removed from him leaving Nike, Complex spoke to Raasch about his portfolio, the juggernaut sales of the Roshe Run, and what he wants to do next. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

It's only been a couple of weeks, but how does life feel after Nike?
It's been nice. I think coming out of the situation, it was extremely emotional. I think there was a lot of positive feedback from a lot of the sneakerhead community that was overwhelmingly emotional.

I think it was very positive and just seeing that kind of love, it was good to feel and good to hear. And I think it did stir up some stuff, but now it's a little bit of that weight of leaving a job for 14 years, it's kind of lifted off me. So I think there's been a lot of freedom that's come in the past couple of weeks, and it's been a nice reset to think about the future and what's next.

Did those emotional reactions make you second guess yourself at all?
Actually, I think it confirmed that I made the right decision more than anything. It was a little hard, because you’re just like, well, Nike is the number one footwear company. It's like, am I ever going to have the opportunity to create footwear again at that level and that stage?

But I think just seeing that there was a legacy there and people did like some of the work I did, it was just, "OK, that's great," and I'll take that for what it is and not try to be greedy with it and look back, wish I could do more. But I think it's just a good step forward: take this and move on.

Dylan Raasch, seated, gesturing, wearing a black shirt, jeans, and sneakers, in a promotional setting for Air Max

You're fortunate in that you're one of only a handful of sneaker designers who became a household name for collectors, and that doesn't happen a lot at Nike—people really getting to know your body of work and see the things that you made.
Yeah, yeah. I think I had the very, I guess fortunate—I don't know if I want to call it luck or fortunate—experience with the Roshe where I was able to come into the company early. I kind of flew under the radar. I think a lot of people have heard this story, but at the time I just asked my manager, what can I do to create something that's off brief? And he's like, “You do it in your free time.”

I ended up doing that, and I think that ability to go in and do that, it helped me usher through the Nike experience and create that following, which is very lucky, and to do what it did, I think, caught me off guard extremely. So it's just like, to see that response was overwhelming and refreshing just to be like, I was at 10 years of doing sneakers at that point, at smaller skate brands. But to have success is something that does feel validating. It is something nice to be like, “Oh, I finally was able to reach that spot I was shooting for,” of something that people resonated with.

Nike Roshe Run Iguana

And the Roshe was something you just did in your spare time that nobody at Nike had briefed you on?
Correct. Yeah, it was something I was passionate about. I was kind of joking with you earlier. I do a lot of meditation and I'm in that space and I'm like, I just want to do something simple, something that I was looking for. It looked like a complete gap in the market when I came into Nike. I think at that time it was the Skyline or the Air Max Command or something—that was all there was to wear. I was just looking for something more simple, deconstructed. So yeah, I just made that.

Maybe it's easy to reminisce and be nostalgic, but that was such a fun time in sneakers, too. I remember chasing down those first Roshes and that feeling of wearing them. I don't know if you advise with socks or without, but just: college summers, Roshes, no socks. “Calypso,” “Iguana,” all those colorways. That was so much fun.
Yeah, it was, it was a blast. Because the ability to make something, you're like, I want this to just kind of go across the spectrum. I want everyone to be able to afford it. I wasn't even aware of the hype situation then, but it was just something that people could be a part of—anybody. So it was a very fun experience, and I would say the way it went out, it kind of helped it, in the fact that people didn't know what to do with it in terms of retail. So it was on sale at Nordstrom Rack, and then there's lines at 21 Mercer and you're just like, what is going on?

I've heard stories about people previewing the line and retailers just not even being remotely interested in the Roshe.
I mean, that was the same with the PLMs. Some of them were like, “No one wants a deconstructed shoe. That doesn't make sense.” A lot of people didn't really know what to do with it, and I think that's why it did go to places like the Nordstrom Rack. But just that in itself, it made people want to hunt it, and it created all those people looking for it.

Is there a moment where it felt like the Roshe really took off?
Probably the only personal point of view of this is I was over in Vietnam and they were literally building factories to start making the thing. All these buildings are for this shoe.

Factories dedicated to the Nike Roshe run?
Just to the Roshe Run. And I was like, “How many are being made?” And at that point, they're already telling me it was at 40 million. And I'm just like, “Oh my God, this is a huge monster.” And they're like, yes, this thing is, we can't make them fast enough. And that's kind of when it set in and then just, you start traveling and seeing it on every single person's foot. Just kind of tripping out a little bit.

Do you count in your head how many times you see the shoes you've designed out on the streets?
Well, I think working at Nike, you start to lose count. It's just a big company that has the global reach that at that point, it was everywhere. But I think with the 270 and some other—all the Air Max models—it's just you start to see it a lot. It’s a cool feeling to be able to see people are into something.

Nike Roshe FB Yeezy

Did you have any personal reaction or was there a big reaction at Nike when Kanye West came right out and said that they designed the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 at Adidas as a Roshe killer?
A little bit of it was, I guess, a compliment, that he was looking at something in that zone and trying to take over that area. I thought it was a little bit humorous that he was trying to do it for, whatever it was, five times the price point. I'm like, yeah, I don't know if you understood what the point of that was. But I think it was cool that someone at his stature and level was looking at it and trying to riff off of it.

And that idea he had about it being the shoe that you would always see at the airports at the time.
Yeah, it was definitely the airport shoe.

A few years after it came out, perception around the Roshe changed, and it became this memed, misaligned shoe. How did you feel about that? I feel like people forgot what the Roshe was when it first came out.
Yeah. It's like anything. It becomes popular and then everybody was over it, and I think it was a little bit of an expected reaction. It definitely had its era of the pants you'd wear with it and the fit that you'd wear with it.

Jogger pants.
Yep, the joggers. It definitely has its time in history, but like anything else, it's going to move on, and the bigger they are, the bigger they fall. So I think when it fell, it was like people almost got this bad taste in their mouth, because it was so big. But I'm like, yeah, it is what it was, and let's take it for that.

Nike Roshe Run Design Zen Dylan Raasch

Were you excited to see Roshes come back in the past couple years?
To be honest, not really. I think it was too soon. I think you need at least 20 years for something to come back. I think you need that generation that was into it to have it come back when the time's right. I think it felt a little early and not necessary.

Like you need a bigger gap to really build up the pangs and the memories of it.
Yeah. Personally, that's how I feel. It's a sentimental thing that if you just leave it there and keep trying to push it on people, that becomes the memory. I don't think that's what it should have been.

You announced that you were leaving Nike the same week that they're implementing these layoffs and restructuring. Was your decision to leave connected to that? Because the timing obviously doesn't feel coincidental.
No. I was offered another position. It's just for the point where I'm at in my career, it didn't feel like the right path forward for me. So I decided to take the severance package and explore other opportunities.

Are there other shoes you've done at Nike other than the Roshe and the Air Max 270 that you personally loved that maybe didn't catch on or become as big of hits?
I think there's a lot of shoes I did that had fun stories. I think the Air Max 270 React was a fun one in terms of playing into the design eras of art. I think that was something that was fun. I don't think that hit as big as the 270, because obviously that thing was a monster as well.

But that 270 React, that original, the Bauhaus colorway? I feel like that thing was gigantic too.
Yeah. Well, maybe I have to give a better example then of something.

Maybe you never missed, Dylan.
No, no. I definitely missed, I mean, that's part of the thing. I think there was one shoe, this is a funny story, but the Nike Payaa was the shoe that was supposed to be the Roshe 2. I was just on this weird kick of simplicity and it kind of completely missed, but it was the story of using Native American shoe technology, how they made shoes. And that thing was just, it was more of a funny, fun approach to shoe design, but it isn't something I'd probably even wear nowadays. But it was just a fun project. There's a lot of weird things where it's just, let’s try this and see what happens and it would fall flat on its face sometimes.

How hard is it to be weird and be creative and navigate the structure of a giant matrixed-out corporate company like Nike?
Well, now I’d say it's very difficult to be weird or avant garde or try anything—I don't want to say new—but try anything that could be something that isn't a more mainstream proposition. There is a lot of people there making sure—it's such a huge investment on any shoe at Nike that you gotta make sure you're doing what's needed at the right time and the right consumer demographic and the right cost. So there's a lot of checks and balances now.

Nike's not just going to go and invest 10 million in a shoe just because it's fun or wacky or creative.
Yeah, and I think a lot of the stuff that was done in Catalyst at the time, they were kind of on that, but I think that's changed even recently. So I think it's getting into more—I don't want to say predictable—but a safer space in terms of making sure all the resources are used to the fullest.

Vinyl record cover with cartoon eyes on a floral background, titled "FRESH EYES" by BODHIKAN

What are your thoughts on some of the comments people have about Nike lacking interesting or innovative product right now?
Well, I think some of it may be justified. I think there was definitely a lack of that in the past four years. I don't know if working on Zoom or working from home was the reason, but maybe the innovation pipeline wasn't being pushed strong enough, but there was quite a few things in the works. It's just not a lot of it maybe came to life at the right time.

So I think innovation is extremely difficult to bring to life. There is a lot of elements that I think people aren't visible to. We did a lot of stuff where you have something and then it would go through testing and one of the bonding things would fail, and it was too difficult to push it forward at that point. So there's a lot of things that just never see the light of day that are pretty cool innovations. So I think there was just a lot of that going on.

What happens to those kind of projects if they don't make it to the finish line?
Well, if the larger group doesn't feel like it's worth pursuing, it kind of just disappears and goes into the archives, unfortunately.

Inclusive of Nike and the industry as a whole, do you think there's anything interesting going on in sneaker design in 2024? What are the things that you appreciate as a person who's done this for decades?
To be honest, right now, I feel like we're in an era that is kind of looking back a little bit. I think coming out of the pandemic, it forced a lot of people to really think about their budgets and maybe focus on things that they knew would stand the test of time and wouldn't be a quick trend.

So I think that's why the classic thing has gotten so huge right now. So unfortunately, I don't think there's a lot that's piquing my interest from the forward design lens. But I think what it's doing is setting up for a huge opportunity to come, and I think a lot of people are waiting for this. Like, what's that next thing? No one's really seen it yet.

Do you think it's a matter of the consumer just getting sick of retro and having to come to that point of demanding the brands give them something new?
I think it's a combination of that and having that right thing at the right time. If everyone comes off this classics thing and is like, “OK, I'm ready for something new,” and someone drops something that you've never seen, it's going to be that perfect timing moment. That's kind of what I see setting up right now.

Did the 270 catch you by surprise, just how big that one became?
Yes and no. I think with that one, as soon as we started making the prototypes for that, there was something about the silhouette of it that seemed just fresh. Tinker did see it and he was like, “Oh, this is the future of Air,” and it is kind of that reassurance from the godfather of Air.

It’s a pretty good cosign.
Yeah, it's a pretty good cosign, so it felt good. And I think as soon as we started seeing the samples come in closer to the final design, we're like, yeah, this is in the right zone.

Two Nike Air Max 270 sneakers floating against a white background

Are you a guy who cares about how the shoes you designed are used? Because the 270 is one that comes to mind where I see people wearing it for style of course, every day, but then also I know people who use it on a treadmill or go running in it. Do those things make you cringe?
Not really. I mean, unfortunately, I think it does create, I don't want to say a vibe of the shoe, but you see enough people at the gym in the shoe, then everyone starts thinking it's a gym shoe. That was the same thing as the Roshe. People started running marathons because it had the name “Run” in it. You’re like…well.

Running actual marathons?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's why they changed the name to Roshe One instead of Run. There's just funny stuff like that, where it starts being used. But I guess it's a good thing. Everyone thinks [every Nike] is a sport performance model. But it does take a little bit out of that lifestyle zone when that starts happening.

You've been designing shoes for over 20 years now. Maybe it's too early to ask, but is that in your path in life going forward, or is it time to do something else?
I think I'll keep working on footwear. I think I'm going to expand into other things as well. I don't want to limit myself at this point. I'd say I have a pretty extensive archive of ideas that weren't utilized, so it'd be cool to see some of those come to life and then maybe see how some of that could translate into other sectors or products.

What's your dream job at this point? Or do you aspire to have a job right now?
Yeah, to sit around and meditate all day [Laughs]. No, I think it's just having that balance. As you know, I'm into music. I think having a creative portfolio of projects and jobs you can do is probably, I'd say, the best thing. Because what I've found is just, one thing will influence the other in a completely new way, how the music process can influence design process and vice versa. But yeah, I'm just trying to take it a little bit easy though, not worry about it too much and see what happens.

We're not going back to motorcycle racing?
Definitely not going back. No.

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