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.
Sneaker design is constantly undergoing seismic shifts, creating an evolution that, until we're presented with physical product, proves difficult to accurately track. If a timeline exists to highlight the pace at which we're transitioning into new eras of design, perhaps it lies in the career of footwear designer Finn Rush-Taylor.
With a portfolio that boasts work across adidas, PUMA, and Vivobarefoot, as well as extensive conceptual and client-facing projects via his studio, Rush-Taylor's gained a deep understanding of footwear design across several physical and digital mediums – an understanding that draws light to just how far we've come since Tinker Hatfield's early Air Max sketches, and where we're headed.
As the technology used to design and produce sneakers has matured into an immersive VR experience that is responsible for some of the industry's weirdest, wildest, and most innovative creatives, so too has Taylor’s personal design language.
Working from the ground up to build a portfolio worthy of recognition, the designer has undergone a transformation all of his own, finding new opportunities using software like gravity sketch, unlocking a world in which you're limited only by your imagination.
In the hopes of understanding what the future of sneaker design looks like today, how we got here, and how much digital technologies have shifted the needle for footwear designers, we joined Rush-Taylor for a conversation about his career, design influences, mentors, and more.
Let's start at the very beginning, what's a sneaker from your youth that inspired you as a designer?
Yeah, that's a tough one. It’s not a sneaker, but it would just be the adidas Predator. That was what drew me to shoes, because I was obsessed with football boots, and in terms of what I wore growing up, I’d only wear Astros. I was footballed-out.
How did you get to where you are now in your career, with the studio and everything – what was the process like?
I spent my third year at uni applying myself to footwear design – my cousin did it as well, so I realized that that was a path you could take. From there I started applying for internships at PUMA, adidas, Nike, and got rejected all the time.
Over the next year, I started building up my portfolio to the point where I was getting accepted. My first internship was at PUMA for what was supposed to be six months but went on for about a year. They kept me on as a freelancer, basically full time, while I finished uni, which was amazing – I neglected my studies and dropped out to pursue the path further.
After moving to London I did an internship with a design agency called the Footsoldiers. I was there for a couple of months, but then needed to find something full-time, so I joined the barefoot running brand Vivobarefoot.
That was a really cool journey, because I learned more about the technicalities of footwear and things about ergonomics, biomechanics of the foot, and how shoes aren't actually really designed for our benefit. They’re more designed to be aesthetically pleasing, which I didn't realize initially. I felt like you'd always put people first, but really it's just trying to sell technology. It wasn't really for me though; I was more drawn to that aesthetic and trying to wow people with design. Due to the pandemic, I lost my job, which was a blessing in disguise… it kind of gave me a kick up the ass to try and learn some new skills and up my level a bit.
So that was when I started my journey in 3D; sketching in VR and gravity sketch, which completely unlocked a way of designing I'd never experienced before. Now, I'm working at adidas sportswear on top-tier products, alongside my studio.
Do you have any mentors or colleagues that have left a lasting impact on your design career?
My main two are Ayesha Atlee, I think she's head of color and material design in sportswear at PUMA. Her and Alexander Dowson. He was a designer at PUMA, and now I work with him at adidas. Those two are like my heroes because they gave me my first opportunities in footwear.
How would you describe your approach to footwear design?
I guess I have this new way of working, but it's still very hands-on and feels... the core values are the same, where I'm putting the product first, getting into VR, and working on a last, which is actually quite a traditional way of working. Usually, you tape up a last and draw over it, sketch over it, but I'm doing that virtually now.
How would you describe your personal, signature aesthetic, and are there any notable inspirations you pull from?
A big part of my early process in gravity sketch was to try and make everything asymmetrical, which was something I learned while at Vivo. The foot is asymmetrical, so why not design to that?
When you're designing in gravity sketch, you're designing the object all as one, rather than if you're sketching, you've got one view, another view, another view – but when you're designing it in 360, it unlocks a new way of thinking, of having lines flow all the way around in a different asymmetrical look.
My organic design language is there, but I want to now progress into a more textural expression. I'm now looking into textures to create that visual and tactile experience that will draw people to the product, with things like algorithmic design you get these really unique textures. It makes things harder, but I think it's worth it. I’ve also definitely been impacted by Yeezy, those are a big source of inspiration.
What would you say your favorite shoe that you've designed is?
I have a slide coming out with Axel Arigato in March – that's probably the one I'm most excited about.
And your favorites that you haven’t had a hand in designing?
I used to always wear court shoes and my favorite was the Adidas SC Premiere.
What kind of observations have you had on the evolution of sneaker design over the past few years?
To be honest, there hasn't been much evolution up until now that I think has been properly impressive. A lot of the stuff is just done for profit and bringing back the old styles rather than creating new things, because creating new things is a risk and these companies don't want to take the financial burden.
With things like 3D printing, it makes a made-to-order kind of system where people can just experiment. So that's the most exciting thing, technology-wise, in footwear that's been inspirational. There’s also quite a lot of material development that's been really cool, the Parley for the ocean stuff with adidas, for example, but as an outsider, you probably wouldn't see those material innovations as much.
What do you think the future of sneaker design looks like?
With all the emerging technologies like 3D printing, it's going to unlock a new way of thinking for designers. The best people will now want to be independent because they can produce their own footwear. I feel like it'll be like what podcasts did to entertainment, where everyone has their own show. They're not going to get to the heights of adidas or Nike, but they'll be earning money off their own product.