In an industry addicted to retro, Highsnobiety presents The New Vanguard of Footwear, a dedicated hub that celebrates the pioneers from around the globe who are changing the face of what today represents a multi-billion dollar industry.

Ask almost anyone in the footwear design world and they’ll have a story about Daniel Bailey. There’s the infamous WhatsApp group chat that he shares with many of his peers to support each other and trade ideas. Some designers remember their sketches being featured on his CONCEPTKICKS platform, which is what got them their start in the industry, while others just know him personally and have hung out with him in London.

Bailey, through CONCEPTKICKS and his studio’s industry-leading work, is someone people gravitate towards, as if they were being pulled in by the currents of the ocean. It’s apt, then, that one of Daniel Bailey’s biggest inspirations is the natural world. Most of his projects, whether it’s the ammonite-inspired adidas collaboration or the CONCEPTKICKS brand he tells us is on the way, include some nod to nature.

“We’re always looking to nature to inspire the product,” Bailey says. “There's a balance of nature and technology in the projects that both Mr. Bailey and CONCEPTKICKS do.”

That balance between nature and technology has long become Bailey’s signature. The aforementioned adidas collaboration is a perfect example of that. “That's been a really big project for the team,” he explains. “Hopefully it’s been refreshing for adidas as well. As far as I know, this is the first time adidas has collaborated with a footwear designer.”

The final product is also unlike anything adidas has ever done before. An iconic Three Stripes shoe has been taken apart and put back together to the extent that it’s completely fresh, but the consumer can pinpoint exactly where Bailey and his team started.

That’s all part of the plan, as Bailey reveals: “We design products, but what we also do is tell deep-seated stories with our product,” he says. “There’s a lot of layer and nuance that goes into them.”

Layer and nuance is something the natural world is incredibly full of, so it’s no surprise that Bailey and the CONCEPTKICKS crew are constantly diving into research k-holes.

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Daniel Bailey
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Daniel Bailey

“Did you know, that there’s a jellyfish that’s immortal?” Bailey asks, before revealing that that might have something to do with the second part of his adidas collaboration. “The more you dig into the natural world, the more you see just how ridiculous it is. Honestly, it’s a cheat code of inspiration, constantly.”

Bailey’s creative process, like most designers, isn’t easy to pinpoint, as it differs from project to project. But the designer tells me that he’ll often zero-in on something he finds interesting, research the shit out of it, and then see how he can translate that to product design.

“The science of all of this is fascinating. Then, I try and see how to bring it over in an aesthetic way. Or is it more of a functional way?” he muses.

That’s why the upcoming CONCEPTKICKS brand will be firmly rooted in the natural world. “Everything will always be inspired by something in nature,” Bailey reveals. “The in-house brand is inspired by earth. One of the five elements will always inspire the product. The logo is five hexagonal dots, each one representing a different element.”

Bailey remains tight-lipped about the brand, though he does share that it won’t be what people expect. “I wouldn’t expect a CONCEPTKICKS sneaker,” he teases. “But maybe there’s a more holistic world around that, that we can move in. Both physically and digitally, we’re working on a lot of really interesting spaces and trying to find the balance in between those two worlds.”

But just like no two of Bailey’s projects are the same, and he’s got his tentacles in a lot of different pots at the same time, the designer doesn’t just pull strength from the natural world.

“I’m massively inspired by the tight-knit group that we have,” he says, alluding to the aforementioned WhatsApp group and the community of next-gen footwear designers. “But also people in different industries. My main inspiration is Daniel Simon. He does vehicle concepts for sci-fi films. He did all the work for Tron.”

That array of references manifests itself in Bailey’s work. Alongside the adidas and Heron Preston projects, as well as the in-house brand, Bailey and his team have their hands full with projects — some can be talked about, while others can’t.

One such is a project with Vibram which has sustainability and utility at its core. “We’ve partnered with Vibram to create a very complex sole unit, one that will hopefully elongate the lifecycle of the product,” Bailey shares.

Another is with a luxury brand Bailey can’t name just yet, that uses the fire element as inspiration. And yet another is with Timberland, called Construct, which is a program that allows Bailey to bring creatives together create whatever they want using Timberland’s facilities and resources.

Bailey — and by extension the CONCEPT KICKS team — is busy. Busy researching, designing, and creating. Busy pushing the sneaker industry forward. And we’d expect no less from a designer of his caliber.

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