Inside adidas’ MakerLab With Three Emerging Designers

Helen Kirkum, Alex Nash and Shun Hirose discuss their collaborative sneakers, and what it's like to be a part of every step of the process

The adidas‘ MakerLab is essentially a hub for all of the brand’s ideations—those released and those archived. Within the walls of the previously inaccessible studio space, there are endless swatches of fabrics, space for sketching and crafting, a wealth of references, on-hand talent and advisors, and all of the machinery to bring concepts from paper to pavement. In the spirit of spotlighting emerging talent and letting the world in on some of the technology at their disposal adidas asked three sneaker designers—Helen Kirkum, Shun Hirose (of Japanese boutique Recouture), and Alex Nash—to join them on a 10-day trip to collaborate on three unique sneakers, all based on the iconic Campus 80 silhouette.

They began at adidas HQ in Herzogenaurach, Germany—where MakerLab is located. Here, they were given unbridled access to anything they needed to create their signature sneakers. “The MakerLab is a place where I feel comfortable,” Kirkum says. “It is easy for me to formulate ideas in there because it’s similar to the way I work in my own studio, but they have lots more machines and things to play with.”

Then, they took a trip to Vietnam to visit one of the brand’s manufacturers. “For me, working at the factory was a more eye-opening experience. Of course I’ve worked with factories in the past, but this extremely personal and thorough experience was nothing like I have ever had before,” Kirkum continues. “Working with every individual factory specialist on specific details allowed me to understand their vast knowledge, experience and passion for what they do, to see that every sneaker you buy has so many hands, personalities, and thought behind it, and that was incredible to be part of.”

In an accompanying documentary, each designer can be seen toying with every detail of their sneakers—dually learning and expressing themselves. “Coming from a traditional shoemaking background, I didn’t know how to make adidas sneakers,” Hirose says. “Now, I think about how sneakers are made every time I see a pair on the street.”

While each designer is experienced in shoemaking, designing and wearing, none knew exactly where to start. Adidas sneakers are different from others and their resources outnumber many other brands—thus, each designer needed a clear-eyed vision of where to begin, and a sense of adventure regarding their process and end result.

“I am always dismantling and reconstructing footwear as a shoe repairman, paying close attention to the order of each step throughout the process,” Hirose says. “The design of my shoes was inspired by what a ‘mistake’ would look like and visualizes the possible outcome of reconstruction done in the wrong order. The shoelaces come in five colors, including white, and can be used in twos on each shoe. The insole design was inspired by the MakerLab facade in Germany, which bears a deconstructed version of the adidas logo. The color palette is a combination of all of the Campus colors sold in Japan—grey, navy, red and white. I chose genuine leather as the main material because I wanted to make something that will last for the user.”

“My Campus is inspired by itself,” Kirkum explains. “It is a product of all the parts that make it up. It exposes the elements we don’t always see on the shoe, but all the pattern pieces come directly from the Campus itself. So that was the starting point, but then it was further inspired by the process, so as I learned more about how things were done in the factory I began to hack them even further, adding little twists and elements to elevate the design. For example, I had to have the stickers when I saw that that’s how the factory marked the pattern pieces, I kept the fringe on the tooling when I saw how that process was created, the comments and remarks on the hangtag are the real comments from Lien one of the factory technicians, when we were talking about how to change and improve the sample.”

She continues, “These elements allowed me to help visually share the process of making with everyone who will see it. Even to the last second when I added the confirmation tag when I saw my final shoe weeks later with that tag on and had to sign it off. I thought this has to go on the shoe too, to give you the ‘confirmation sample’ tag to cut off yourself.”

Nash drew inspiration from his own DIY sneaker past for his design, “When I started cutting up sneakers and modifying them back in 2003, I quickly realized that the more pieces you had from old sneakers (straps, labeling, etc) and the more materials you had in your arsenal, the less restricted you’d be, opening up more avenues for your creation to develop.” On his sneakers—perhaps the boldest of the bunch—he says, “The inspiration for my design came from adidas’ archive itself, being that I used my destroy and rebuild method of customization and applied it here, taking some of my favorite iconic sneakers of adidas’ rich archive and applying it within my design. [It’s] a hybrid as if it was done in the ’80s, and a collaboration in every sense of the word.”

The Campus 80 is an ideal canvas and each design turned out different from the other. “I think the fact that the Campus 80 is a very classic silhouette, it is easy to understand and digest, three stripes, a heel tab, tongue, toe. So having those super classic shapes to work with allowed me to play around a lot… With a different canvas to start with, this might not have been so successful,” Kirkum says.

Each design (of which there are 333 pairs) will be brought to market via StockX IPO, an auction-like marketplace wherein customers bid on sizes and styles and the winners claim a pair at “Clearing Price.” It’s an interesting tactic that further emphasizes the DIY attitude of this project by allowing the designer to bring a concept to life and to the real world in minimal time. The auction will begin at 9PM EST today, 15 October, and end 72 hours later on 18 October.

Discussing the sneakers she’ll send to auction, Kirkum says, “It represents my way of working, of hacking, adapting and flipping a design on its head—by keeping the pattern pieces the same, but presenting them in a way that is completely different. I tried to stay true to the Campus itself. To cherish the parts that are special about it and to elevate them into something unique. You can recognize it’s an adidas campus, but in a way you have never seen it before.” She also encapsulates the spirit of this initiative: to present sneakers (from the design process to manufacturing and sale) as playful DIY projects as well as valuable works of art.

Images courtesy of adidas