Looking at its presence in street fashion, Adidas Originals has recently done a lot of things right. What’s the vision behind it? We spoke to the brand’s newly established Vice President of Global Design, Nic Galway, about how to keep a brand trendy without looking at trends, traveling in fast motion and working with Pharrell.
Nic Galway is a transportation and car designer by trade but during his studies he noticed that wasn’t what he wanted: he preferred to actually make things. So in 1999, he answered an advert at Adidas and was hired.
Since then, Galway has accompanied and led some of the most interesting developments in the sportswear giant’s lifestyle segment, from the creation of the Originals brand to collaborating with Yohji Yamamoto (finally resulting in the Y-3 brand), Stella McCartney and Rick Owens, and (re)launching iconic footwear styles such as the Pure Boost, Tubular and, very recently, the NMD, the first new Adidas sneaker that is not fully based on any archive model, but only fuses elements of iconic Adidas styles with the brand’s latest technology, such as the Boost and Primeknit fabrications.
Today, as VP of global design, Galway oversees the whole of Adidas Originals.
You only spend very little time in the Adidas headquarters in Herzogen-aurach–what’s the most inspiring destination to go to for you?
I travel a lot. Whether it’s to factories to work on the products or to capital cities to take part in events or to see culture. I don’t have a favorite place but what I like to do is go just for a very short amount of time.
And what kind of things do you look at there?
I tend to not take inspiration from what’s going on around me. So if I travel to cities and I’m looking at other brands it’s just to give me a feeling of where we are. Inspiration has to come from other places. I’ve always been inspired by looking at how other products are made, completely outside of our industry. Different colors, materials and textures.
So what other industry could that be?
I am very interested in furniture. Working with Tom Dixon for example, he always amazes me. I find it really inspiring to see how one product was developed for one purpose and then start thinking about how I can translate it into a different situation. Because sometimes when you take something familiar into a new situation, that’s where the magic happens.
What are your ingredients when designing a new product?
When I’m creating a new product, I don’t try to be fashionable. I think this isn’t the way, I think you need to be confident and challenging. But you have to find your own way. I like to really work hands-on with a product, so I draw a little, but then I really encourage my team to actually make things.
Do you look at fashion trends?
I think we’re not a brand which should be chasing fashion trends. I think we should have a consistency and a direction, as every brand should have. But I think right now, Adidas is very trendy… Yes, I hear this a lot, too and obviously that’s very nice to hear. But you have to be careful with that; you have to always find a balance.
How long do you think this whole sportswear trend will stay around?
I discussed this with my team recently. I don’t know if that is a trend. I think it evolves and adapts, this is for sure, but I think sportswear is part of our life. It’s like denim is part of our life, too. Sometimes it’s more important, sometimes it’s less important–but it will always be there. We must always remember that the key role of Adidas is innovation for sports and if we remain true to this, then the trends can come and go.
Are you ever scared to make a product that doesn’t match that moment?
I think the only thing to be scared of is being complacent or maybe of being afraid. I believe people will accept success and failure provided you always have integrity and be true to who you are. People may like what you’ve done or they may not but they will always appreciate the fact that you’re pushing forward, I believe. I think what people wouldn’t appreciate is if you stop. Or if you just sell the past. Originals has to be a culture brand; it can’t be a retro brand.
So how much retro do you allow yourself?
We have such a rich archive. You have to respect that and people love that. There will always be a place for the Stan Smith and the Superstar. But people expect us to be pioneering–that’s what the company was founded on. And innovation doesn’t just mean technology. I think everything we do should somehow be innovative. But it doesn’t mean the product itself has to be innovative. That’s a key learning: the future doesn’t always have to be futuristic. But it does always have to be interesting and engaging.
Was that actually successful, releasing a shoe in 50 different shades?
When I first met Pharrell I asked him why he wanted to work for us and he said, “Because you guys are a people’s brand.” And this was the first thing that stuck in my mind. He talked about how he is very much about equality and bringing people together and celebrating everyone in the world not just only the lead. And he said: “I wanna do 50 colors.” Any rational marketing man would say, “That’s too many, what about only doing the best ones?” But he was like: “No, I wanna do 50.” His point was: don’t think about it in terms of commerce, think about it in terms of showing who you can be and he was absolutely right. This product wasn’t limited edition and it wasn’t super high price, but with the stunning window displays and social media of the 50 colors, it got the same press as if it was. And it largely sold out.
How do you approach collaboration with people like Pharrell or Yohji Yamamoto?
Everyone is different; that was actually one of my very early learnings. The way that you work with one partner won’t work with the next. You have to get to know each other and understand the cultural differences. I like making things. Once I understand what’s in their mind I will make an actual series of studies just to ask “Is this what you meant or do we need to try something different?” I don’t like if there is one fixed idea presented at the end, because then they feel pressured to say yes.
Do you instantly feel if a product is ready or not?
Absolutely. When I made the first Tubular shoe, the Y-3 version, I made one, and I said yes. That’s it. I did one sketch, one quick handmade shoe and then I saw what I was looking for.
What’s the next step in sneaker design for you?
We’ve had a couple of progressions. You had the time where sneakers were just for sport and then you had the heyday time of fashion sneakers and now that’s all come together and you have where we are today. I think we are ready for the next step and for me that will be finding how can we mix the future and the past. With innovative materials like Primeknit you don’t have to follow the constructions of the past, because it will mold and move with the foot so it allows you to take on new silhouettes.
And which will be Adidas’ next big retro sneaker after the Stan Smith and Superstar?
Everyone knows the Stan Smith, the Superstar, the ZX, the Equipment. But then there are so many other stories in there that people don’t know. These I would like to look into, the shoes which were never made, for instance.
Does it happen that sometimes a silhouette becomes very popular and you didn’t anticipate it?
It can happen, yes of course. There is a mix between the trends we can see and also the trends that we set. That’s kind of the interesting thing. In today’s fast times, you cannot have a one-way conversation. We can learn so much from the consumer, too. I always find it amazing how people adapt my product and how they wear it. It’s an exciting time and I think we’ve only just started on this journey.