For the fourth May in a row, Nike, Jordan and Converse’s Future Sole Design Competition is now live and accepting entries from the footwear designers of tomorrow. Maybe that includes you?
The design contest offers high school and college students a wealth of exposure and feedback, and former Jordan Brand Design Director D’Wayne Edwards was inspired to found Future Sole after looking back on his very own career path. “To support my sneaker habit, I was working at McDonald’s during my senior year of high school, and I remember seeing this ad in the paper for a sneaker design competition,” he says. “It was the smallest ad you could place in the L.A. Times – maybe a quarter of an inch by a quarter of an inch, and I found it. So I entered and I won.”
Winning that contest put him in touch with countless industry professionals and kickstarted his own career. Now more than twenty years later, Edwards recently left his job as Jordan Brand Design Director after a decade with the brand to focus full-time on his Footwear Design School, PENSOLE, continue to oversee the Future Sole competition and mentor the aspiring designers of tomorrow.
If you think you have what it takes and would like your sneaker design to be judged by Nike, Jordan and Converse designers, be sure to check out FutureSole.com for all official rules and entry instructions.
If you’re still curious about what exactly the competition entails, I caught up with D’Wayne Edwards to have him answer five things about this year’s Future Sole Design Competition.
1. When was Future Sole founded, and what are the goals of the contest?
“The Future Sole project started in 2008, and I was inspired by my experience of being a young kid and drawing sneakers in high school and wanting to have that as a profession. The great thing about it is that Nike is trying to provide a semi-pathway for kids to get closer to that goal. Being a high school student and being able to have Nike designers review your projects and review your work and give you advice on how to improve or what schools or even high schools to go to is a blessing. The concept of the contest is to identify high school kids that have a talent in design, and even if you may not win, we’ll still identify the kids that have talent and help them improve so maybe they can win the next year.”
2. For people that are new to the contest, what are some things that the judges will be looking for?
“The best thing to do would be to research what happened the last three years, so you could understand the level that the winner needs to be at. The other thing we’re looking for is hand-drawn work with good proportions, and not computerized entries. You need to come strong, because it’s only going to get tougher, and at the end of the day, it’s a fun contest.”
3. What restrictions are there to enter?
“The contest is now open to all ages. We took off the age restrictions, and as long as you’re registered in High School for the High School competition or you’re registered in College for the College competition, you can enter.”
The four Future Sole Design Competition categories are:
High School Students – Two shoe design categories – JORDAN & CONVERSE
College Students – one shoe design category – NIKE
International College Students – one shoe design category – JORDAN
High School and College Students – JORDAN T-Shirt Graphic Design
4. What else is new and different about Future Sole this year?
“The new wrinkle this year, is that the Finalists will all come here to Beaverton, Oregon and they’ll take the PENSOLE Footwear Design program at the University of Oregon Architecture school for three weeks to finish their final presentation. That’s unlike the previous years, where all of the finalists had virtual mentoring along the way, and they’ll come here for three weeks and get to be with their mentors from Nike daily. Another new feature is the addition of Converse and now International College students are now allowed to enter.”
5. What do the Future Sole Design Competition winners get?
“Finalists will get a Future Sole Gift Pack that includes a $500 Gift Card, T-shirt, Cap, Sketch Pad, Pencils, Books, Scholarship to attend PENSOLE Footwear Design classes at the University of Oregon Architecture branch here in Portland, and 3 college credits.
The Winners will have their designs posted on the Futuresole.com website as 2011 Future Sole Winners, and they also win $5,000 in computer equipment, including a Mac Powerbook and Wacom design tablet. Plus, they’re welcomed into our family of mentors to keep improving their skills.”
2010 Future Sole Design Competition Finals – Jordan T-Shirt Category Runner-Up: Jared Pahl
My experience at Future Sole was a dream come true to say the least. It was almost surreal when I got the email saying that I was a finalist. I couldn’t even focus on becoming a college student because I was too excited for the trip. The day couldn’t come soon enough.
The day finally came and, after all the calls from my parents making sure I was in Portland safe, it sunk in that I was one of the few people that were chosen to show Nike what they had. The first night was kind of an ice-breaker dinner because no one really knew what to think of the whole situation. During dinner we met with D’Wayne Edwards and Wilson Smith III from Jordan, Sean Williams from OSD, and all the other designers in the competition. After dinner we went back to our hotel, but I doubt anyone slept because the next day was our tour of Nike HQ.
Pulling up to the front of the Steve Prefontaine was a great start to the day. The tour consisted of a lap around the campus and going into a few of the important buildings. My favorite buildings were the Mia Hamm building, which houses the innovation kitchen and other offices, and the Michael Jordan Building, for obvious reasons. Being a huge Jordan fan, this was probably the highpoint of the entire trip. I saw original sketches of the Jordan VI by Tinker Hatfield. I saw the original Grape V’s, which are my favorite Jordans of all-time. I saw where all the designs are created and where I will be designing one day, hopefully haha.
Later that night, we went to dinner and met up with the mentors for the Future Sole shoe design finalists. It was very interesting to listen to what they had to say and how they got where they are today. It was very motivating to talk with people who are doing exactly what I want to do as a career after college. After dinner, we went back to the hotel and got rested up for the next day. The next day was the judging of our designs. Before judging took place, I was fortunate enough to go to the department of design for Nike 6.0. It was very interesting to see the new snowboarding products that Nike is starting to make. Being a snowboarder, I can really appreciate some of the technology and design of their products.
After that, the judging began. I was nervous to say the least. I was presenting my designs to people that I never thought I’d meet: the VP of Jordan, Jason Petrie, the designer of LeBrons, and many other people that had been looking at designs way longer than I had been designing. I felt confident in my designs so once I was up there it was a breeze. In the end, I came up short but took a lot away from the experience. I learned skills that I need to develop in order to create designs that will blow people away. I met people and made connections that will be very valuable in the future. So in the end, I guess I didn’t come up short. I still came out thinking that it was all a dream.
2010 Future Sole Design Competition Jordan T-Shirt Category Grand Prize Winner
Being in the Future Sole Competition was unbelievable. Visiting the Nike Campus was an experience that still hasn’t sunk in. It really didn’t feel like a typical office. There’s so much inspiration everywhere in everyone’s workspaces, it’d be tough not to get twenty ideas a day. It was great seeing how laid back everyone was; instead of stressing you out, it really helped you relax and think of more ideas. You could tell every single person on campus loved their job. It gets you really excited to see what will be coming out soon.
At first I really didn’t know what to expect. When I was told we were given mentors I just thought it’d be an intern looking at our work and telling us some things once in awhile. I never thought I’d be working with D’Wayne Edwards personally on my concepts. Since I was working with him directly, it really pushed me to impress him. Also, since he was my mentor, I didn’t want him to look bad. He had so much knowledge for me that not utilizing it would be unthinkable. He was a great help with my concepts. I’d be sending him about three a night and he’d give me direct feedback about each design very quickly. My personal goal was to make each design perfect by the first time he saw them. Nine of my ten final concepts were perfect after the first time sending to him. The one that wasn’t just had a little change and then it was good. I really focused on making as many strong designs as possible so we’d have a bunch of concepts to pick from for my final submission.
At Nike campus I met so many great people that are really interested in helping me take my design skills to the next level. Being able to talk to people directly in the business and on the design teams was amazing. I really got to learn exactly what their goals for the designs were. I now understand the process a lot better.
Winning the Future Sole T-shirt competition sounds like it’d be the end, but it’s really just the beginning. Since the competition, I’ve made so many more designs for my portfolio. I’ve been working on making more connections in the industry and working towards internships.
I’m really excited to move forward and hope to be working in footwear or apparel design soon. I can’t thank D’Wayne Edwards, Nike, Jordan, and all of the sponsors enough for this opportunity. Everyone was so nice and engaging with every finalist in Portland. It was an amazing experience. It’s definitely a life-changing experience and I would recommend any up-and-coming designer to jump at the chance to enter the competition. Oh yeah, KEEP SKETCHING!
2010 Future Sole Design Competition PRod 5 High School Runner-Up.
When I got off the plane and first met the other contestants, everyone was pretty quiet. I suppose they were sizing up the competition and anxious for what was to come.
Nick Daiber’s 2010 Future Sole Final Rendering
The first night, all the contestants went to dinner with D’wayne Edwards and two of his friends from the University of Phoenix, Sean Williams from Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, as well as Nike designer Wilson Smith III. They all had good words of advice. After dinner, the other high school contestants and I talked about our love of shoes and walked around downtown Portland. Then it was time to get some rest for what was to come tomorrow.
Everyone was excited as we waited for the bus that took us to Nike’s World Headquarters. It was amazing, better than I could have ever imagined. It was a billion times better than Willy Wonka’s factory.
It was really awesome to finally talk to my mentor, Jesi Small, in person after talking to her on the phone and through e-mail for a month while I was working on my design project, the Prod 5.
After dinner, it was time to go back to the hotel and try to get some rest before presentation day. We spent the entire next day at Nike. I thought it was cool to see all the people working and playing at Nike on an actual workday after seeing it the day before when there was almost nobody there.
It was like a dream come true to meet so many of the designers that I look up to. Even though I didn’t win the grand prize, the trip itself was worth so much more.
2010 Future Sole Design Competition PRod 5 High School Grand Prize Winner.
I first heard about the Future Sole Competition two years ago. I was perusing a sneaker website when I came across an advertisement for a Nike sneaker designing contest: Future Sole. I have always loved sneakers, Nike and Jordan Brand, and the art of designing, so it almost seemed too good to be true. I spent a lot of time designing what I thought, at the time, to be an excellent shoe for both the Jordan and Nike categories. However, I was devastated when neither of my designs even made the semi-finals.
Josh Mann with the 3D model of his PRod 5 Future Sole design
Though I didn’t make it through, I followed along with the outcome of the contest. I was enthralled when I saw Austin Jermacans’ design come to life, and I knew that I wanted the chance to do the same. When the time came for the 2010 Future Sole competition, I barely registered on time. I was swamped with end-of-the-year schoolwork, and I sent in the registration at the last minute. However, I worked hard on my designs and sent them in on time.
I was ecstatic to see that I made the semi-finals. In my mind, this was an enormous accomplishment in itself. However, my sights shifted towards finding a way to win the online voting, and just make it out to Oregon. Fortunately, I had an unbelievable amount of support from my friends and family who voted for me, and helped spread the word. When I found out that I won the Consumer’s Choice Award and would be moving on to the finals, I was overjoyed. It was like a dream come true. Not only would I have the chance to design a shoe for Nike, but also I was thrilled about heading to Nike World Headquarters to see where the magic happens. After reading about last year’s competition and the contestants’ experiences, I could hardly contain my excitement about the upcoming trip.
Shortly after hearing the good news, I heard from my mentor, Cheresse Thornhill. Cheresse is a designer at Nike basketball and I was astonished to see some of her work both on the internet and on the feet of people in my home city. She informed me about my new design brief, which was to design a skate shoe for Paul Rodriguez Jr. using the tooling from the Nike P-Rod 4. Cheresse was a huge help in guiding me in the right direction with my designs and concepts. I myself do not skate, so her insight was invaluable from both design and technical standpoints. Cheresse was great to work with. I play high school football and during the design period I was in the midst of two-a-day practices. Therefore, I had to use my time management skills to crank out sketches and designs whenever I had any free time. Cheresse was awesome with being flexible and working with me on a unique schedule. During the last couple of weeks, though, we kicked it into overdrive and finalized a stellar design.
The trip to Nike World Headquarters was the trip of a lifetime. Our first night in Portland, all the contestants, along with our parents, had dinner with the founder of Future Sole D’Wayne Edwards. He happened to sit next to me at dinner. He is as big as it gets in the footwear industry and I was almost starstruck. He was really great to talk to and I learned a lot from him about the industry. The next day, we took a tour of the Nike campus, which surpassed my preconceived expectations. Aesthetically, the landscaping and architecture of the place was beautiful. I had seen a few pictures of it on the internet but one can’t get an idea for how dynamic the atmosphere of the campus is except for in person. We got to see some amazing stuff, a lot of which I probably cannot divulge.
That night, I got to meet Cheresse in person for the first time at dinner. The next day, Cheresse was able to take me around the campus to see in-depth what it was like to work as a designer. She showed me her own sketches and models, which were amazing. I got to see pretty much every department of Nike design. While walking around, we happened to bump into the 3-D model of my shoe being delivered from the modeling department. It was such a proud moment to see my vision of the shoe turn out perfectly in three dimensions. My favorite part of the tour was getting to see the different production phases of the shoes and designs. Being a sneaker enthusiast, I have always been fascinated with seeing the behind-the-scenes workings of how sneaker designs come to life. I saw sketches, models, components, and samples of some INCREDIBLE shoes.
I also had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people at Nike. In addition to Cheresse, I got to meet some big-time designers like Jason Petrie, Leo Chang, Jonathon Johnson-Griffin and Wilson Smith III. In particular, Jason Petrie was awesome because he took a lot of time out of his schedule to talk to a few other contestants and me about everything from the LeBron James line to being a designer at Nike. I also enjoyed talking some football with Julian Duncan, who works in training. There was a really positive vibe about the campus and everyone that I met was extremely kind and generous.
Nike designer Jason Petrie and PRod 5 Future Sole winner Josh Mann
The trip culminated with our design presentations. We were set up at the Tiger Woods Center on the stage of the Stanford Auditorium. I got to see my presentation board and there was some time to finalize my presentation with Cheresse. I ended up presenting second to last. It was interesting to see the other contestants present and to see their designs and inspirations. Before I knew it, it was time to present. I’m not a huge fan of talking in front of people, but amazingly I felt pretty comfortable talking about my design. It was a remarkable feeling to look into the audience and see familiar faces within the industry. After I presented, my competitor Nick Daiber went. He had a great presentation. It was interesting to see how he interpreted the design brief and also to see the similarities in our designs. Shortly after he presented, the results were in. When I heard my name I was overjoyed. I got the chance to thank everyone influential in me getting this far and it was a moment that I will never forget. Afterward I had the chance to get some pictures with the designers and thank them. Afterwards, there was a barbeque for everyone involved. Then Allen Largin (the Jordan division winner), Nick Daiber, and I asked Jason Petrie if we could go back to his office with him and talk to him some more about the LeBron line. He was extremely awesome about it and spent a lot of time talking to us. That kind of capped off the whole experience and I was able to learn a lot. From there we returned to the hotel. My dad and I hit the town to celebrate that night and we flew home the next morning.
All in all, this experience was everything that I thought it would be and more. After following the competition last year, it was an amazing feeling to actually be a part of it this year. I still get a kick out of seeing pictures of my designs on sneaker websites and hopefully there will be more to come. Before this experience, I never really even considered the position of a footwear designer. However, I have learned that it is actually possible to draw shoes for a living. Being able to walk around the Nike campus and talk to the designers has really motivated me to pursue my love for design, athletics and sneakers.
I’d like to thank everyone at home who supported me and helped me get this far as well as everyone else who voted for me. Also, thanks to Cheresse Thornhill for being a great mentor and Mr. D’Wayne Edwards for making his vision a reality and giving me this chance. The Future Sole experience was an opportunity of a lifetime and I will never forget it!