Portland’s footwear design school shows off new kicks

Portland’s footwear design school shows off new kicks

PORTLAND, Ore. - Some of the most inventive footwear design ideas to be shown in Portland this year made their debut Wednesday night. And the professionals were certainly impressed.

A group of 20 students from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., showed off the product of two-weeks of immersion instruction at Pensole Footwear Design Academy in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown district, the Portland Business journal reported.

D’Wayne Edwards, the former design director for Nike Inc.’s Jordan Brand opened the footwear design school’s permanent location in the Old Town/Chinatown district in January, and Wednesday’s showcase served as the school’s grand opening.

The results were not what most would expect, which — according to Edwards — was exactly the point.

“I challenged students to design something that’s not in stores,” Edwards said. “It’s to challenge them to think about different things other than what’s common to them.”

So before an audience that included key executives from some of the biggest brands in the business — including Adidas, Vans, and Under Armour — the students displayed their intentionally unorthodox footwear concepts.

Kenneth Tay designed training shoes for a trapeze artist. Justin Chambers designed footwear to prevent injuries while playing the Xbox Kinect game system. Derrick Tan conceived of Vans-branded shoes for break dancing. Carlos Alfaro came up with safety boots to be sold at Home Depot designed to protect roofers. And Kasia Burzynska designed Nike figure skates, complete with a Swoosh-shaped blade.

Though the concepts may have been unusual, that’s what impressed the brand-named big-wigs in attendance.

David Dombrow, creative director of footwear for Baltimore-based Under Armour, said Joël Greenspan’s concept of Under Armour-branded paratrooper shoes was “very original.”

“I think this (class) shows that we’re supporting design and the future of design,” said Dombrow, an alum of the Art Center College. The brand supported it in other ways, too.

Under Armour, Adidas, Nike, Vans, Disney Consumer Products and OluKai — a California-based maker of premium casual footwear that has Portland roots  — collectively sponsored students participating in the program.

Adidas also announced last month its plans to partner with Pensole on a similar program.

Al Van Noy is a vice president at Adidas AG who heads the German brand’s Adidas Innovation Team from Portland. His job, by its very definition, is to come up with creative new products that help enhance either an athlete’s performance or a consumer’s experience with the brand.

On Wednesday, he said the work by the Pensole students did the same things he’s tasked to do at Adidas, but they did so in ways that were surprising and with the intent of stretching each brand’s boundaries.

“They looked at things from a different angle,” said Van Noy, another Art Center College alum. “That’s what we’re looking for. When we’re looking for creative minds, it’s that kind of outside-the-box approach that appeals to us.”

The students — who took part in course while on spring break — are the second Art Center College of Design class to work with Pensole.

While the school has helped spawn several accomplished professionals in the footwear industry, it has only recently begun offering a specific degree focus on “wearables and soft goods,” said Karen Hofmann, chair of the school’s product design department. The intent, she said, is to bring a class from Pasadena to Pensole every year, if not more than that, she said.

“We’re bringing them here,” she said, “to the mecca of footwear design.”

The Portland Business Journal is a news partner of KATU.com