Behind the Scenes at the Inaugural World Sneaker Championships
E. Scott Morris (center grey shirt), a 20-year veteran of the sneaker industry, says the first World Sneaker Championships will become “a part of American sneaker mythology” and likens students to superheroes-in-training. “They’re becoming the Captain Americas, the Wonder Womans the Supermans. They’re learning how to fly, and they have their mentor in D’Wayne. He’s Professor X. He’s showing them “this is what you have to do if you’re going to be a hero.”
For their final presentation, students wore black pants and white PENSOLE shirts. The creative part of their outfits had to come, fittingly, in their footwear.
It's easy to assume certain materials and colors will work on designs. That's where Suzette Henry, who runs the Materials Lab at PENSOLE and was the first-ever materials designer hired at Jordan in 2001, comes into the conversation. Henry demanded her CMF students connect with designers during every step of the design process, to create a look that is both complete, and able to function properly.
Edwards starts every day with a lecture that includes a sneaker fact (did you know Sneakers got their nickname because the rubber sole allowed them to “sneak” up on people?) a sneaker person (Tinker Hatfield has worked on 16 Jordans and is considered the godfather of sneaker storytelling) and an inspirational quote (“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities” — Bruce Lee).
Story boards are a necessary tool for creation, as designers try to explain their inspiration, evolution and final product.
Edwards brought in numerous experts from the footwear world during the WSC, but provided plenty of feedback himself on students’ designs. “Everyone has a skill,” he says. "The difference with designers is, you can see our superpower.”
As students sketched iterations, each time adding or taking away small details from their design, they asked for their classmates’ help in deciding which direction to go.
Victoria Adesanmi quit her job at an eyewear company in New York City to study at PENSOLE. Her task when the class wrapped mid-August: Go back to Manhattan, box up her life and figure out the next step in her design career.
When he left for PENSOLE, well-wishers in Maher Jemili's small village outside of Tunisia, Africa, told the 30-year-old student "Say hi to Barack Obama!"
In the CMF corner (design shorthand for “color, material and finish”), Suzette Henry, another instructor, talks with Lindsey Johnson, a repeat PENSOLE student who finds the design academy “a little addictive.”
Andrew Parks of Cincinnati, a former Division-III baseball player, draws inspiration from the decade he was born into: “Design isn’t as good right now as it was in the 90s,” he says.
Stefan Cristobal (representing the Philippines) for Android Homme
Steenwyk, a cross country runner at NAIA Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., designed a backwards running shoe, which led to a lot of backwards running on her part, both around Portland and here, at the final presentation in front of spectators and judges.
Inspired by Mike Tyson, Andrew Parks designed a boxing sneaker that featured patent red leather (like Everest gloves), a terrycloth interior (because Tyson walked out in the ring with a towel draped over his shoulders, not a silky robe) and one gold lace tip (for Tyson’s gold teeth).
Ako Xiang (representing China) for Under Armour
Tardiness is unacceptable at PENSOLE — and punishable by pushups.
Victoria Adesanmi (representing Nigeria) for Nike
Just thinking about what a sneaker could look like isn’t enough at PENSOLE; students are encouraged to feel different materials and pair colors together in the CMF lab.
Andrew Parks (representing USA) for Undefeated
On a trip to Blicks Art Materials in northwest Portland, Jesus Garate (representing Mexico) and Guilherme Lemes (Brazil) were encouraged to look for inspiration, and ideas, down every aisle.
A basketball junkie, Ako Xiang of China, designed a shoe for his favorite player: The shooting guard.
From left: Shaun Kosoy (representing the United State), Jared Fiorovich (USA), Jesus Garate (Mexico) and Guilherme Lemes (Brazil) were competitors, technically, but eager to help each other in an effort to preserve the "design integrity" of sneakers.
Beth Steenwyk (representing USA) for Air Jordan
Born in the United States but representing Pakistan, Zia Ahmad was the oldest student at the World Sneaker Championships at 33. He drove himself up to Portland from San Francisco, where he lives and works, with sneakers piled in his backseat. Having options was important. "Footwear is the last piece of authenticity," he says, "that makes your outfit legit."
Danny Chambers (representing USA) for Pony
Daniel Raes, a 2013 graduate of Iowa State, knew in the sixth grade that he wanted to design sneakers. To study his craft, he got a job at Foot Locker, and used his employee discount for what he deemed “design research.”
Maher Jemili (representing Tunisia) for Air Jordan
Ako Xiang quit his job at ANTA in China to attend the World Sneaker Championships after meeting Edwards three years ago. This is his first time in the United States. “I put all my heart (in) to do this, to come here and study with D’Wayne,” Xiang says.
Beth Steenwyk, the youngest student at the World Sneaker Championships, says it took “one black hole of a semester” studying architecture to realize she needed a different major.
Zia Ahmad (representing Pakistan) for Undefeated
“I don’t think you can ever conquer design, because it’s because it’s always evolving,” says Edwards, who considers PENSOLE his greatest creation.