Sneakerheads that were saving their money for the release of the Nike Air Yeezy 2 this April have luckily found solace in a shoe that won’t break the bank: the Nike Roshe Run. The simple yet elegant new silhouette from Nike Sportswear is currently the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, and I decided to get up with designer Dylan Raasch to find out how it all came together.
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How To Make It: When did the design process start for the Nike Roshe Run?
Dylan Raasch: The design process for the Roshe started back in the fall of 2010. I was asked to bring ideas to a Nike Sportswear Fall 11 seasonal brainstorm session, which focused on ways of bringing value to a lower price point. I was the only designer in a group of merchandisers, marketing and sales people, and when I presented the concept behind the Roshe the room was crickets. Apparently the idea was too abstract at that point, but I knew there was something there, so I decided to develop the design in my free time.
How To Make It: What was your original design goal: simply a new silhouette, something to hit a $70 price point or strictly performance based?
Dylan: When the idea sprouted for the seasonal brainstorm session, it was definitely an exercise of what value can we bring at a $70 price point, but it soon became a challenge of how I could also make it stylish at the same time. Since I was designing for NSW running and not performance running, I didn’t have to meet the performance requirements for a running shoe, which gave me the freedom to make something that had never been done before. And being that the shoe was designed off brief, I had zero limitations which created a perfect opportunity for something fresh.
How To Make It: What’s the inspiration and concept behind the shoe?
Dylan: Since I was young I have practiced meditation, so the concept of Zen and simplicity plays a big part in my life. The inspiration and name comes directly from the word “Roshi,” which is a title given to a Zen master. And to me, nothing really epitomizes simplicity better than a Zen master. For legal reasons, we had to change the “i” to an “e,” but it is still pronounced the same so it worked for me.
From there, I designed the shoe to be as simple as possible by keeping only what was absolutely necessary. For a running silhouette, it turns out you don’t need much: quarter support, heel support and some cushioning. Once the unnecessary elements were removed, it was an exercise of sculpting and refinement. I pictured the Zen master meditating in his Zen garden and used the shapes and color for inspiration. The bottom of the outsole uses the Nike natural motion waffle pattern, but I wanted them to look like stepping stones in the garden. The insole was designed to mimic a freshly raked Zen rock garden. The original iguana colorway played off the natural dark green moss and leaves and the off-white rocks of a Zen garden. Even the midsole profile of the medial and lateral side is slightly different to create a juxtaposition of seriousness and playfulness.
Apart from the details, I wanted the shoe to be as versatile as possible, so I designed it so it could be worn barefoot or with socks. You could dress up or down in it, travel with it, walk or run in it, chill in it, almost anything. I felt the simpler I could make it, the more profound it would become.
How To Make It: How many versions did you see before the final model hit shelves?
Dylan: When you start from a blank slate and there is nothing to reference, it is a long road of small tweaks. There ended up being over 16 outsole revisions and over 50 upper changes. The smallest change seemed to make a huge difference, so changes came down to millimeters. You might never guess considering how close the first prototype sample looks to the final production version.
How To Make It: Did you face any big challenges?
Dylan: It seems at every corner there was a challenge with this shoe, but there where two big hurdles that come to mind. The first was getting the shoe into the line; the next was sticking to my guns with the original design intention. There was a lot of outside pressure, especially considering I was fairly new to Nike at the time, but the design director, Andreas Harlow, and the category director, Jeff Henderson, had my back and were adamant that I maintained my original vision and keep it as clean as possible.
How To Make It: When you have the full range of Nike technologies at your disposal, how do you decide what to include?
Dylan: On this design I only used technology if it made the shoe simpler. The outsole is a perfect example. All shoes have a cushioned midsole and rubber bottom for durability. I thought, what if you combine the two? I found a special EVA compound that is soft but supportive, and has the durability of a soft rubber. Thus, I eliminated the need for rubber molds, and with a one-piece injection there was no outsole construction necessary, making it a greener manufacturing method.
How To Make It: What’s the relationship like between the designer and the product line manager?
Dylan: Typically, a designer and a PLM work hand in hand and balance business asks with new concepts. Since this shoe was designed off brief, it created a big problem for me – it would never see the light of day if a PLM didn’t like it. Tung Ho, the NSW Running PLM at that time, and I had a good relationship, so I showed it to him and he knew right away we had something unique. He put it in line and played a big part in helping me refine the concept to make sure it maintained its identity.
How To Make It: What other shoes have you designed?
Dylan: I have only been at Nike for two and a half years, so my Nike portfolio is still pretty limited, but I designed the Nike Air Max Lunar, the Nike Field Trainer, the Nike Trainer Classic, the Nike Lunar Pantheon and the Nike Lunar Safari update, as well as a handful of others.
How To Make It: How did you land at Nike?
Dylan: I was a shoe designer in the skate industry for over eight years, and I got to the point where I needed to move on to something new or I felt I would be cheating myself. I saw a footwear position pop up for NSW and thought it would be a great opportunity since I had so much lifestyle experience. The thought of leaving the Southern California sun was hard, but when they asked me to come on board I immediately felt like the doors of possibility had opened. For the first time in my career I could actually make anything I could think of.
How To Make It: What was the moment when you knew that you’d made it?
Dylan: When you travel the world and wherever you go, you see people rocking your designs, it’s a pretty good sign you are doing something right. I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am today.
How To Make It: What advice would you give an aspiring sneaker designer?
Dylan: The two biggest pieces of advice I could give to an aspiring sneaker designer is get to know your market and start to learn and understand how to design with cost and manufacturing in mind. These things obviously come with experience, but the quicker someone can grasp these things, the quicker their designs will find a home on someone’s feet.
How To Make It: What’s something you wish you had known before you started out?
Dylan: I think this goes back to the last question. When I came out of design school I could sketch and render all day long, but didn’t have that market and manufacturing experience to tie it together. I wish I took it more upon myself to learn those things beforehand, because it took me a good two years of being immersed in retail, factories, sales meetings and trade shows before it clicked.
How To Make It: What is the first sneaker you can remember buying?
Dylan: The first sneaker I can remember buying was the Airwalk Prototype 540. If you skated back in the day, that was the shoe you had to have. I think my brother and I actually slept in them the first day we got them.
How To Make It: What does your personal collection look like?
Dylan: To be honest, I keep things pretty simple these days so I don’t have a huge sneaker collection. I prefer to stick to clean, timeless designs, but occasionally I buy shoes I don’t even wear just because they have a cool design concept like the Nike Considered Mid and the Nike Zoom Haven. It’s fun for me to look at old design concepts and think about how they could translate into current trends.