Interview: We Talk to Sneakerboots Designer Dylan Raasch and Peer into the Mind of One of Nike’s Premier Young-Blood Designers.

We interview Nike Sneakerboots and Roshe Run designer Dylan Raasch

Image via Nike

When you think of some of Nike’s most iconic designers names like Tinker Hatfield and Bruce Kilgore will likely spring to mind. But who’s representing Nike’s new school of designers? Who’s leading the pack in terms of design and innovation deep down in Beaverton, Oregon?  One name that should be on your radar is Dylan Raasch — if you don’t know who he is you probably own a pair of his trainers in the form of the iconic Roshe Run.

Part of the new blood of designers at Nike, he’s currently leading the way and keeping the competition hot on their toes with the second season drop of the Sneakerboots collection which features redesigns of some of the brand’s iconic trainers such as the Air Max 1’s, Air Max 90’s, Lunar Force 1’s and the Flyknit Chukka Boots. We caught up with Dylan during the Sneakerboots unveiling in the cold, unforgiving climate of Moscow (which was, apparently, still t-shirt weather whilst we were out there) to talk about the challenges of designing his latest collection, creating those iconic Roshes and making the perfect trainer.

The concept of trainers designed specifically for the winter is quite unique, how exactly did the idea for the Sneakerboots first come about?
It really began when people started coming to us and were saying they were wearing these sneakers in the winter and they’re getting ruined, so it was a problem where we were like “let’s fix that”. People wanted to keep their shoes fresh and clean so we needed to come up with a way to solve that, so I think that’s where it really started; by listening to peoples problems, creating the Sneakerboots and just pushing it from there.

When coming up with the designs’ for the Sneakerboot collection was there anything that you looked at that you took inspiration from?
I think we started by looking at the winterised boots that are existing right now and you look at the materials on those, the hardware, the traction system and then you need to look at snowboard boots for protection. So that’s what we started with and then kind of peel it back and then rebuilt the icons from there. We worked with our elements category, we actually talked to the snowboard program when it existed and I think it was just doing research with what we had on hand.

Did you find out anything interesting during that whole research period that you could apply to the design of the Sneakerboots?
I mean the biggest thing was the challenge of actually making stuff for the different elements. You think you make stuff strong enough and you usually don’t, so we’d go test stuff and you’d be like “wow, that thing got wet really quick”. So I think that was where we realised we really had to up the elements of protection. That was the biggest thing for me because it was like we had to do better than I thought we had to do, and every season we keep getting better and better at it, so we’re continually evolving.

Were there any other bumps on the bumps in the road?
Not really, it was more on how to improve stuff so there weren’t really any huge challenges. One of the big things for us was to improve on the water protection. This is also the first season we have a Flyknit shoe so that was kind of interesting. But yeah, it was the small things here and there that we had to work on.

How does this collection compare to the last Sneakerboot drop?
I like to say every collection is better than the last season, because it is. It’s kind of in between where we were. But as soon as we release this collection you get feedback and say like “hey, maybe you guys could’ve done this better” so it’s nothing you can anticipate. I do think this season’s collection is probably our most wearable one and you’ve got most of our icons [Air Max 1, Air Max 90 etc.]. This collection has been very solid from A to B and I think there’s something for everyone. I think that’s what sets it apart from the last couple of seasons.

What’s your favourite pair from the whole collection?
I think my favourite design is the Air Max 95. I think it just looks like a SWAT boot, almost looks super rugged but it still maintains it’s iconic quality.

Is it a challenge as a designer knowing that you have to continually outdo yourself?
Yeah it is because as soon as we finish this the next season they’re like “What can you do?” “Up that one” and “Make the next one better”. You got to continue outdoing yourself, so it is something that gets very tedious but it’s part of the job and it’s why I love doing this because you got to kind of dig deep and be like “What’s something that I didn’t see last time that I can do”.

Sounds like you have to be very meticulous and self-critical?
Yeah, very meticulous and continually reinventing yourself on how you look at things. You have to change how you saw it last season.

Obviously most people in Sneaker Culture will associate your name with the Roshe. It’s such a modern day icon in the sneaker game; did you feel the need to top it? How is that even possible?
You know… it’s something I did and I’ve moved on. People love it, it’s something that I can still use as inspiration for my new designs but I don’t get stuck on that, I try to think about what’s next and then focus on that, keep pushing and sometimes I’ll have success and then sometimes I’ll have something and then it’s bombed, so it’s best just to keep looking forward because I don’t want to rest on my laurels, I gotta keep moving forward. You know there are people like Tinker [Hatfeild], he’s made so many hits-after-hits-after-hits… you got to focus on the next thing.

Looking at the Roshe it oozed simplicity, there was nothing complicated about it. Do you think that’s why it grabbed consumers and sneaker heads alike?
I think the attitude touched on a lot of things; there was nothing on the market that was — I guess — that simple, there was nothing that comfortable, but most importantly there was nothing at that price point. I think people said “Hey I can buy a couple pairs of these and I can switch them up and it’s going to be comfortable, I can wear it all day anywhere” so I think it had a lot of things it just touched on. Most sneakers touch on one or two things but I think it was a very versatile sneaker so I think that’s why it was so successful.

It was quite a “lightening in a bottle moment” I thought.
It was and it’s like when you design it there’s something here and you know it. You can’t ‘try’ to do that, it just happens.

Was there any point before they came out where you thought to yourself “Yeah these are going to be a hit”?
I knew there was something there that was different but I didn’t know how people would take to it. Off the bat people in the office were like “this seems too weird I’m not going wear it” so I had no idea what was going to happen, but it was cool because one day you’d have a line of people at 21 Mercer Street [in New York] and then the other day it’s at outlet stores and it’s like “what is this thing?” So no one really knew, it kind of organically turned into a little more by itself.

For you as a designer — and I guess as a consumer — what makes the perfect sneaker?
Good question, I think it’s three things: making it comfortable to wear all day everyday; I think it’s something that needs to be accessible — so whether it’s affordable or not — but I think the biggest thing for the perfect sneaker is having a distinct personality. I think when you make something — and you take a look at any of the Nike icons — they all have a distinct personality, it’s really hard to do that nowadays because there so many designs now, when you touch on the insight of the designer that’s done that, that for me is what makes something perfect. And when you can build it up and create something that stands by itself that’s what makes the perfect shoe.

For those that don’t know, what is your background as designer for Nike? How did you getting into designing sneakers?
So I grew up skateboarding, I was super-passionate about that and I decided I wanted to get into design. I went to design school to do that and it was in school that I wanted to focus on footwear because people are so passionate about it and I didn’t want design microwaves or something [Laughs]. So at that point I wanted to focus on getting into the skate industry and design skate shoes and I think that was a huge part of where lifestyle and footwear started, so that was how I got into it and it was a passion that pulled me into it.

What do you tell people who come up to you and say, “Man you’ve got such a cool job. How can I get into the industry?”
I always tell a lot of designers that are coming out that it’s all about your passion and to really do a lot of sketching and concept drawings because there’s a lot of people out there — I think even more so nowadays. Because it’s more and more popular a lot of people want to do it but it’s really your passion, your drive that’s going to get you there and that’ll get you noticed. I always tell people who are curious that I always carry a sketchbook in my pocket, so always sketch and think and how can you evolve? What are you going to put into it? So you grow up and you start out by copying things but then it’s like what are you going to offer into it? I always ask people that and then they start thinking.

Lookout for the Nike Sneakerboots which will be in available in stores and online on November 5.You can also purchase them before the release date by downloading the Nike Tech Book app on iOS and Android.