You won't break into the fashion industry by following the Yellow Brick Road.
Barmak Badaei's story is one that is certainly shared by others in pursuit of creative careers. These stories are defined by intuition and slow progression, often told through a meandering narrative of experiences that rarely follows a linear path. Today Barmak occupies adidas Originals' Senior Global Menswear Designer role in Portland, but how he arrived there in the first place is not as straightforward as you might imagine.
Highsnobiety's staff is frequently posed with the question "How can I work for Highsnobiety?" for which there isn't a single cut and dry response. But as Badei's narrative shows, genuine passion and willingness to break outside your comfort zone are traits that can go a long way, and they're also reminders that success won't simply fall into your lap.
So you’re the Senior Global Menswear Designer at adidas Originals, what does that mean?
As a Senior Global Designer, I am responsible for several facets of our apparel product creation process, which entails working with several cross-functional teams such as product marketing, development and merchandisers to bring our designs to the market.
From a strictly “design” perspective, my role is to explore, discover and craft our concepts in order to bring to life our seasonal story. In the end, I’d like to think that all designers are responsible for telling a story. For us at adidas, we are truly fortunate to be part of a brand with such a rich history and take part in contributing to its legacy.
What were you doing before your current role at adidas?
In 1999, I started a brand called SCIFEN. I literally started it out of my parents' garage while I was in college. Well, I have to go back to 1992 when I started breaking, which was really important for me. Growing up as b-boy, style always played a huge role in my life and it was something we were conscious of, in and outside of the cypher.
In 1994, I lost my mother to cancer and it just made me focus extremely hard on what I was into and how I felt about it. Later I went to school for business, but in many ways, SCIFEN was my own private graduate school for all things "garmento." Eventually I decided to put SCIFEN to bed and figure out what was next.
From a career standpoint, what was the first step toward getting where you are now?
I knew I wanted to be a part of adidas, so that was the first step. Out of habit, I would tell myself to start another brand, but it didn’t feel right anymore. In the summer of 2014, my wife and I decided to spend two weeks in Portland with our two little kids and see what it was like together as a family. On our second day, my wife was offered a job transfer to a hospital here in Portland as a registered nurse. She said yes, and before we knew it, we had to figure out how to move in less than six weeks. After we moved, we would frequently drive past the adidas headquarters on our way to Cathedral Park with the kids and eventually it hit me. This is it, this is the brand that started it for me, this is the legacy that shaped my aspirations as first a b-boy and ultimately as a designer.
I got on the computer to look up the design recruiter and sent him an email to introduce myself. He responded right away and within a week, I meet with Brian Foresta, who is the VP of Design for adidas Basketball. We had a great conversation and he said I had to meet Nic Galway, the VP of Design for adidas Originals. One day, I get a call from adidas that Nic was in Portland and that he had an hour free to meet with me. So, I dropped what I was doing and headed right over. It was easy to completely geek out with Nic about adidas, design, the past, present and future. Nic is truly amazing, he is a designer’s designer and embodies everything I was aspiring to be apart of. Ironically, what I thought was just us sharing experiences and ideas turned out to be an interview and the rest is history.
I’ve dreamed about adidas since I was 10 years old. adidas is my first connection to product and single-handedly the most important brand to influence my love for product. As a b-boy, style is everything.
Lots of sneakerheads and streetwear fans would love to work for adidas, what advice do you have for them?
If you love design and you love adidas, then reach out. The company is always hiring and we believe in the creator and the future. I’ve always believed that people should follow their hearts and be truly passionate about what they do. If so, then dreams will become reality – it’s just a matter of skill meeting opportunity.
There is no luck with design. I think that’s too easy. You have to want it, work hard for it and be patient to allow it to happen on its own and never give up, this is why it’s called a "dream." It seems unreal, but it is achievable.
Why is it important to trust your instincts?
In many ways, we are our instincts. We are shaped by our experiences but it’s useless if it doesn’t also affect our instincts. If we ignore our instincts, then we might as well ignore ourselves. We might not always be right but we will never have regrets if we trust our true instincts or a calling to experience something. We can always constructively process our experiences if we are honest with ourselves. In return, this sharpens our instincts and our experiences.
For me, if it wasn’t for my instincts, I wouldn’t have wanted to learn a six-step, start SCIFEN, marry the love of my life, have children, end SCIFEN, discover myself again, move to Portland, meet Nic Galway or be at adidas. I owe a lot to my instincts.
Explain how adidas Originals is staying on top of the game right now, how is the spirit of the brand finally being fulfilled?
It might sound funny, but it’s having the right instincts and trusting it. This isn’t always easy to do, but we aren’t afraid of taking risks. It takes experiences and understanding what it truly means to be bold. To me, Adi Dassler was exactly this…he aimed to make the impossible possible. He had a calling to create simply for the sake of doing so and I think we are aligning with this spirit as a company. Again, there are thousands of people that shape what we do at adidas. It’s truly unreal. So I have to give a lot of credit to everyone in the team.
Tell us about your latest project, which drops in December.
I've been working on the apparel component for our Tubular footwear franchise. This new apparel concept has its own name and explorations, yet it embodies the same bold spirit as our Tubular franchise. Like Tubular, it takes risks and isn't afraid to push the boundaries, which in many ways is deeply rooted in the DNA of adidas.
I remember when the new Tubular Runner released several years ago and suddenly feeling that the pendulum was about to swing. Then, I meet Nic Galway and here I am taking part in shaping the brand. There isn't another brand on the planet with such rich history in sportswear as adidas.
As a designer, having such a personal connection is valuable because I get to put it all right back into the brand. There is a lot of energy in the brand and we are putting a lot of effort into what we do every day as a team. This is why I've always loved adidas. It's a powerful brand built by the people that love it, and just like with any sport, we can change the game with a single play. So we are constantly pushing one another and it shows in the work we are doing together across apparel and footwear.
We have a lot in store....shout out to Chris Law. It's still a bit early to go into a lot of specific details but I look forward to sharing more soon!