We sat down with Daniel Bailey of Concept Kicks, a website we’ve had our eye on for some time — which shines a unique light on the world of sneaker design. Check out our interview, with the man behind a very exciting project that you’ll definitely be seeing more of in the future.
SlamXHype: We’ve known about you for a while, but for those who’ve never heard of you, can you introduce yourself and ConceptKicks?
Daniel Bailey: Sure. I’m a British product/footwear designer and”entrepre-nerd”, and I go by the name Mr. Bailey. ConceptKicks is a website I created a little while ago that focuses on all things related to footwear design and development. We aim to shine some light on the super-talented, up-and-coming designers in the industry, all while trying to inspire and educate wherever possible.
SXH: What made you want to start this blog?
Daniel: Firstly, I always wanted to create a singular platform for designers — where they could see what their peers were up to, become inspired, broaden their skills, and, most notably, get a little recognition for their hard work. Often, especially with the bigger brands, the designers involved never get any acknowledgement for their part in creating a shoe.
Honestly, I think footwear designers in general get sh*tted on, and are suppressed by larger companies. A lot of the time only other designers know who the actual people involved in a product were. Some non-designer, sneakerhead type folk might be able to name Tinker Hatfield as a shoe designer, but I think it drops off pretty quickly after that. I want Concept Kicks to be the start of designers getting credit for their creations, as opposed to just the brands.
My second reason to start the site was to educate the average sneakerhead on what actual shoe design is. I think there a lot of misconceptions out there at the moment, so it would be great to clear some of those up. Knowing a release date and the name for a special colorway is great, but I think knowing the artist/s behind the product is just as important.
Lastly I just think the whole process, from initial ideation to manufacturing, is incredibly interesting. Checking out samples that didn’t quite make the cut, or having the designer explain why there is a certain design element in the shoe, is something I think people genuinely want to see.
Why focus on showcasing designers?
Mainly because I feel like they just don’t get enough credit. Real talent doesn’t seem to be getting enough credit right now. I honestly think product designers, and footwear designers in particular, are some of the most talented people in the world — period. I don’t think people understand how dope this profession is.
The best example I could give is Tony Stark. If Stark was a real person he’d be considered a product designer, and who in their right minds wouldn’t want to be f*cking Tony Stark? [...pause...]
What’s your background in sneaker design?
Being massively into basketball and art growing up, I’ve always loved sneakers — both wearing them and sketching them. I never really took it too seriously though, until I came to America to play college ball, messed my knees up, and then started studying product design. After I met my current business partner, Omar, who had his own footwear design agency, I realized I could learn from him and kind of blaze my own path in the footwear industry.
I’ve never been a huge fan of working for anyone, I’d rather work with people/clients. Rather than concentrating on working for a brand, I switched my focus to branding myself, and creating my own footwear design and development agency.
I’m sure a lot of designers would advise going a different route then the way I have, but everyone has their own path I guess. I think that diving in at the deep end and learning on the job forced me to learn things a lot sooner than the average designer. It enabled me to really push my agency forward, while being young enough to adapt and come at the industry from a different angle (blogging about it, for example).
Why do you think it’s important for people to know more about sneaker design and manufacturing?
Not everyone wears hats, or gloves, but everyone wears shoes. I feel like shoes still have this magical stigma about them – which is good in a way – but I still feel there’s a certain level of ignorance when it comes to footwear, that needs to be dealt with. All I can try to do is put good information out there, either from myself or others, and hope people take it in. I’m still learning how to do that in a palatable way that doesn’t alienate non-designers, but I’m getting there.
Also, to be totally honest, knowing how your products are designed and manufactured is just a smart move as a sneaker consumer. You don’t end up making misinformed, sh*tty purchases. There’s this wealth of knowledge that sneaker lovers already seem to have, I would just like to see a slight shift in its focus.
What’s the best advice you could give a young person trying to design sneakers?
Be incredibly annoying. Footwear design is a very tight knit and tough industry to crack into, so you have to have a real drive to excel. Be respectful, of course, but make sure you constantly reach out: email people, call them; make sure people recognize your persistence and see your growth. The more people you know in the footwear industry, the greater your chance of getting involved with it.
Also, don’t be afraid to put your work on display on public portfolio sites like behance.net. Your work will most likely be horrible and disgusting at first, but it’s good to get feedback on it — for people to see your thought process, and also see your growth.
Tell us about the Concept Kicks “Lab”, your design and development agency. When did that start?
The CKLAB was actually only formed a few months ago. Both myself and my business partner Omar had our own footwear design & development agencies outside of CK. We realized it just made sense to pool our incredible skills, combine forces and create the most epic footwear design agency ever.
I also wanted to add another aspect to the blog side of CK, enabling viewers to see the projects develop in real time.
What are some of the projects you’ve done?
In the short time since CKLAB was formed, we’ve been blessed to design and/or develop footwear for Supreme, the General Electric X Android Homme (collab), Mahabis slippers, New Balance and a couple others.
For Supreme we designed and developed the black & red slippers they dropped earlier this year. With the GE X Android project, we were able to develop a super-conceptual footwear design I’d created some time ago, and use it for a specialty shoe project commemorating the moon landing. Only 100 were made, and they sold out on JackThreads in less then a minute, so that was pretty cool to be a part of. Mahabis was also a lot of fun — creating the first stylish slipper that’s modular, and can be worn both inside and out.
We’re working on a special in-house project right now that we’re super excited about, but I can’t really say too much about that just yet.
What bit of design work that you’ve done are you most proud of?
Oh wow, that’s a tough question … I’d have to say it’s a tie between the ‘LowPoly’ lace tip aglets I created in collaboration with ekn footwear, and the Mahabis project. I really loved how we remained totally open to discussing new ideas and really disrupting the generalized footwear development model with Mahabis — using 3D printing to create our first prototypes, for example.
The lace tips were something of a personal passion project of the past year or so. I basically wanted to create something so dope and well designed that anyone who receives them will just be blown away. Its something I don’t really care about making any money from. I kind of see it as an extravagant business card, introducing people to my design taste.
How did you get linked with your Lab partner?
It’s actually quite funny. Seeing as we both have the exact same last name, people generally assume we’re brothers. Then they meet us and realize Omar is a large, black American man – and I’m a lanky, white Brit.
I actually met Omar while I was still in school. I attended a product design conference in Philly, where Omar happened to be speaking about his footwear design agency. I never even realized it was a possibility to have your own footwear agency until then, so after listening to his talk I reached out to him straight away and found out he had a studio in Manhattan. I was studying in New Jersey at the time and was always hanging out in NYC, so we just developed a great friendship and a mentor/mentee relationship. I’d always be in his studio trying to soak up as much as I could, working on sketches or renderings and asking for his opinion, trying to learn and get better. It’s actually pretty cool to think we’ve gone from something like that,to now becoming business partners.
Being sneaker lovers ourselves, we know its tough to explain, but what makes sneakers so special?
It’s tough to explain, but I think as sneakers have evolved over the years they’ve become far more than just something practical; they’ve become functioning pieces of art. Sneaker design has been thought out and executed so well, that it’s propelled footwear into a realm most other pieces of clothing can only hope to reach.
Also, there a lot of experiences surrounding sneakers that I think makes them special — opening the box, unwrapping the tissue paper, smelling that new shoe smell, tying the shoe laces … it’s a very personal, ritualistic experience.
Do you have a favorite shoe of all time? One that’s most iconic in your mind?
It changes a lot, but recently i’ve really been into the Nike Woven Footscape. I just love the uniqueness of the silhouette, and the pairing of a sporty cup sole and woven upper. It just creates something super original and different, I think. As far as one thats the most iconic, I’d probably have to say the Converse Chuck Taylor. I don’t think there has been a shoe created since that is as copied or recognized, and that has permeated as many levels of culture.
What are your favorite brands in fashion apart from sneakerdom?
To be honest, I’m not really a big ‘brand’ type of dude, though I do follow a couple I like quite a lot – for inspiration and whatnot. I’m just as happy finding some awesome hidden gems at a secondhand store, as I am with buying things fresh off of the rack. That being said, I do have current favorites. I’ve been into Norse Projects a lot recently. Their t-shirts are super high-quality. BWGH has been crushing lately. And I really respect the amount of detail and thought that Ronnie and his KITH set put into their clothing, I also like Clothsurgeon for that same reason.
Right now, who’s your favorite designer? Sneaker? Project?
My favorite designer right now would probably have to be visvim’s, Hiroki Nakamura. The man’s a proper legend. I really respect his mentality and work ethic — immersing himself into different cultures, and then creating styles based off of his experiences. I just think it’s very authentic. Not to mention, the level of craftsmanship and detail on all his products is outstanding.
As far as innovative design goes, one of my favorite brands right now would have to be Thorocraft. They’re really bringing well-thought-out, innovative design to the casual market. And they also do it with such a high level of quality.
As recent individual sneakers go, I really appreciate the ‘Apollo Moc’ Native Shoes came out with, that I believe Nick Daiber and Q. Williams worked on. Also, the adidas C-10 by Erik Hernandez and Brian Foresta is pretty wild too.
Head over to Concept Kicks, for much more.