Bryce Harper is a force on the diamond, and he needs a baseball cleat that can keep up with his grind. We sat down with footwear designer Spencer Hawkins to find out what it takes to create a cleat for one of the game’s greatest. As the designer of the Under Armour Harper 6 baseball cleat, Hawkins had to combine fresh style with trusted performance to create a shoe that would be the perfect fit for Bryce and for young baseball players looking to take their game to the next level.
Here’s what Hawkins had to say about his design process, pushing the limits of style, and keeping things fresh in the Harper line:
Can you walk us through your design process and how you gather inspiration for a new shoe?
Art, science, and culture are the three things I try to think about in terms of what the aesthetic is going to be. What inspiration can I draw from, and is Bryce going to relate to whatever that is? Are the consumers? And then it comes down to the science. What’s the tech or feature that’s going to make Bryce better as well as any athlete who puts it on.
I try to think about how it will be marketed. If the design tells a story, can that story be boiled down to a tagline that Bryce connects to and that a 16-year-old high schooler can also relate to. If it can, then I know I’m on the right track.
What is that design story for the Harper 6?
When I was creating the story, it was to have the cleat provide a clear advantage. That evolved from the aesthetic of transparent materials and Bryce thinking it was cool and something he hasn’t really seen before.
The aesthetic of baseball cleats has a lot of heritage, just like in the sport, so things are held onto a lot longer than they might be in other sports. So having those transparent materials, we thought was a fresh aesthetic to go after. I wanted to tie in why we were using transparent materials. Why are we using it culturally? Why are we using it scientifically to make athletes better? And the art piece, just connecting to the trend of transparency in fashion.
We tried to strip down to the essential parts of the cleat and then either emphasize and highlight them. So, using the transparency in places where we’re adding support or structure as a way to showcase those elements. The transparent materials on the shoe also provide a benefit or feature. Like the overlay piece that is transparent on the toe adds durability and protection and it also comes up and protects the lace.
How involved was Bryce in the creation of the Harper 6?
Normally we’ll meet three or four times in person just going over the story, going over initial inspiration, going over the samples, what to change, the color stories, etc. So, he’s heavily involved with that. This season was different with COVID. Luckily, I’ve been working with him since the Harper 3, so we have a relationship where we can work very loosely without very formal meetings. I can text him certain questions that I have, and he’s learned what I’m looking for as far as that marketing story. He can tell me he likes the look of something and the reasons why and how we can build that into a story he feels good about telling and that he thinks kids will enjoy. So, he was pivotal in terms of the jumping off point.
Then we came with a final design that he liked on paper. Once we both like what we’re seeing on paper, the real work starts in terms of making what’s on paper real and tangible and making sure it passes all our wear test standards and isn’t causing any fit issues. It’s a fine line balancing between “this is something I’ve never seen before” and something that’s still going to perform better than what we’ve made in the past.
So, Bryce has different touchpoints all the way through. And luckily, he trusts our team a lot in terms of what we’ve been able to build in the past and where we take things.
Which tech features in the Harper 6 were chosen to complement Bryce’s style of play?
A lot of things on the Harper 6 are engineered towards what he’s looking for and how he plays. With all the years that he’s been playing, all the standing out in the outfield, he has suffered from a few foot injuries in the past, so how do we make sure this cleat more comfortable, more supportive, keep his foot on the plate. Those are the things we were working with engineering to fix.
Bryce is a player who’s always evolving. When he started playing, he was known as almost brash – very fiery type personality – and that came out in his play. I think that still comes out but it’s much more now as an overarching leader of a team. So, it’s hitting the style, the unique aesthetic for baseball, it’s having the tech features that are making you better, so more comfortable underfoot, more breathable. It’s not overbuilt, but it’s showcasing the layers through transparency. Those were all the things we were thinking about in terms of checking all the boxes for Bryce.
When you’re designing multiple iterations of a shoe, how do you balance staying true to that athlete’s signature style with making sure the model stays fresh and interesting?
That’s always the toughest part. Luckily with signature, I think having the shoe be its own personality from the 3 to 4 to 5 to 6 is always a good thing. So, I’m not afraid of drastically changing things. I think with the last two or three we’ve overall maintained a similar silhouette in terms of having it be a low cut, whereas before his models were either mids or highs. So, he’s been on board with that, just in terms of what he likes to play in and what the market has been trending towards, so it’s certain things like that where I’ll pick and choose a few features to stay the same or similar and then drastically change the others. So, for example, if we’re keeping the same silhouette and a similar material play, then I’ll drastically change up the colors and the graphics. Or it could be the opposite.
What type of ball player do you think these cleats are best for?
If you relate to Bryce, you’re going to relate to this cleat. It’s for someone who puts in the work to stand out. It doesn’t have to be the one with the biggest personality on the team. It’s about leading by example and standing out for the right reasons.
It’s that balance of creating energy, creating limited edition colorways – things that connect with Bryce – but also creating fresh team colors. It’s the balance of staying on palette of your team’s colors while also bringing excitement and energy in that space.
How important is that style element to the performance of the athlete?
It definitely depends on the athlete. To Bryce, it’s one of his number one things. Obviously, the cleat needs to work. It needs to not cause any distractions, it needs to feel more comfortable, stable, breathable, supportive – all those things – but at this point he takes those things as a given with the products we have. So, as long as we’re not taking steps backwards in that department, his number one thing is style. It’s that saying, “look good, feel good, play good.”
What was your favorite part of designing this cleat and your favorite element on the cleat itself?
This was the first one during the pandemic and what makes it special is what we went through as a team trying to bring this product to life during an unprecedented time.
One of my favorite features is the lace shield. It’s just something I haven’t seen before with that transparent piece coming up a little bit over the laces. So, being able to merge that aesthetic of transparency with the performance benefit while protecting your laces during slides and the different movements of baseball, that’s what my favorite part is.
What do you think sets the Harper 6 apart?
I think it goes back to being that melting pot of all the things that you want. I think it’s easy to have cleats that are super unique or very provocative in how they’re styled, but because of how it looks it’s not as comfortable or it’s super supportive but because of that, it’s maybe overbuilt with a lot of materials and it’s a little heavy. The Harper 6 is just kind of the perfect melting pot of style, performance, and the way it incorporates the story. That’s what set it apart. It has a unique visual from far away in terms of having that dot pattern around the transparent pieces, giving it a unique on-field, on-tv aesthetic. But then when you have it in your hand, it’s simplified and has a lot of details up close. So just being that universal solution in all those areas is what makes it stand out.