Cesar Idrobo is the head pattern and sample maker at YEEZY, which means that the Colombian is both a designer and a shoemaker. With five years in the footwear industry under his belt, Idrobo has worked at some of the biggest companies in the business. After working at adidas, Nike, and Pensole Academy, he is now a central figure at YEEZY proper, where he has been since 2018.
In an effort to highlight roles in the sneaker business that may have previously been more covert, and to pass on some of his knowledge and give insight into what it takes to make it in the industry, Idrobo spoke to Highsnobiety about his career so far.
Idrobo explains why his industrial design education at Savannah College of Art and Design laid the groundwork for his success thus far, what some of the most important characteristics and skills are in his role, as well as which YEEZYs he’d put on his all-time podium. Read the interview below.
How much did your education help in getting you to where you are now?
It was the right key to open the right door at the right moment. And I think having a targeted education is incredibly important. For example, Alexander McQueen, he had proper training in tailoring before he ventured into his brand. But he first had to learn, as we call it, the traditional ways of doing things. He had to learn the basics.
The fact that you can draw a shoe doesn't mean you can make a shoe. So I wanted to take the right steps. I didn't know it was going to lead me to where I am now, but I just had that drive to learn how to do something from start to finish really well.
Were you a sneakerhead before you broke into the industry?
I was not into making shoes at the beginning of the program of graduate school. I wasn't a fan, because it was difficult. There is a lot of physical and emotional labor that goes into it. And at the beginning I was like, "I'll learn, and I'll do it because I have to because it's part of the curriculum." The more I knew, the more practice I got, the better I got at it.
What advice do you have for people who want to break into the industry?
Finding a job in the industry is a balance between what the industry needs versus what you like and love, and seeing how you can put those two together. At the end of the day, you’re going to do what pays the bills, which isn’t always what you love.
As far as learning about the industry, we have YouTube now. We have all these online platforms that you can learn from. However, you have to be mindful, and you have to make sure you're learning from the right people. What can end up happening is, people copy and replicate mistakes from things they learn on YouTube. And so you have to first make sure you're learning from the right source.
It's like collecting the stones from the Avengers. You have to collect the right five stones in order for you to be able to snap into the industry. So you have to align education, skills, and finding a need for a role, to have high chances of being successful in the industry.
What else is important to know when it comes to sneakers?
You have to look at shoes as art. Pure art. Because you have colors, you have materials. You're composing. You start on a 2D, and you're composing materials, colors, shapes, forms, and that's art. Knowing how to compose well, it's going to help you create really visually impactful work.
You have to know about art. You have to know what beautiful things look like. What they feel like. And to create great things, you must first experience great things. And I think learning design elements and principles of design and art will help you become a better designer. And then, you combine that with the expertise and the skills of knowing how to make shoes.
What do you love about your specific role in the industry?
Even in the industry, professional people, they have theories about how something works, but they haven't gone through the process of actually doing it. And I think that's one of my advantages. I have operated the machines that make the shoes, therefore you know the limitations of the machine, and then you know how to pull and push things in order to make things work when you're working on a new design or a new concept.
What does your day-to-day look like?
I think a simple way to explain it is I make shoes. I'm pretty much the execution guy, the maker guy. So there are the ideas and then those ideas need to be realized. So I take care of that realization. I take care of bringing them to life.
What are some important qualities or characteristics to succeed in the industry?
Just preparation. It doesn't have to be academic. You don't have to go to college. Now you can take private courses. My professor offers private courses and he'll show you everything you need. That's as good as a course in a classroom. You don't necessarily have to go to college, but you have to learn from the right places.
You have to build up intuition. Furthermore, you have to have a library of knowledge, a library of visuals as well. Not just traditional knowledge, but you need to have a library of visuals. Things that look good, things that feel good. You have to have that as well.
Sometimes you have to be open to doing other jobs that will prepare you for that job that you want. But hadn't you done that, then you wouldn't know what to do if you were in your dream job, for example.
It's hard to pinpoint, just because these shoes are like children, and you love your children equally. They're special in their own way. The 450 is a great design. The Foam Runner is a great design as well. And then, I mean, you cannot leave behind the Wave Runner. The Wave Runner is one of the Yeezy pillars. Those are my top three.
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