How a No. 2 pencil designed my life.
I grew up in Inglewood, California, in the heart of South Central Los Angeles. I was introduced to a No. 2 pencil at a very young age. I drew my first shoe with the pencil when I was eleven.
As a teenager I worked at McDonald’s and my managers often told me that if I stayed at McDonald’s I could work my way up to a managerial position myself and make $40,000 a year one day. I told them my dreams were bigger than that: I wanted to be a footwear designer.
With this career goal in mind I went to my counselor for guidance. She encouraged me to enlist in the military because “making a career out of designing shoes (was) never going to happen for a black kid from Inglewood.” This negativity was exactly the motivation I needed to prove my counselor and co-workers wrong.
At the age of 17 I won a Reebok design competition, beating out professionals and college students nationwide. At that moment I knew my dream could come true. I spent the rest of my senior year drawing shoes every day, and the last one I drew was my version of the AIR JORDAN 2.
After I graduated from Inglewood High School, I wanted to attend Otis-PARSONS Design School in Los Angeles to study footwear design. But, growing up in a single- parent home with four brothers and a sister, there was no money for design school. Not to mention, after I did some research, I discovered that no local schools offered a program in footwear design, nor did any other school in the United States. It was at that moment that I first had the idea that I would start my own footwear design school.
Since design school was not an immediate option, I got a job and attended Santa Monica College in the evenings where I studied business marketing, advertising and management. As luck would have it, I got a job as a file clerk with the footwear company L.A. Gear. They set up suggestion boxes in every department where employees could submit ideas to make the company better. I knew this was my chance, so for the next six months, every day, I put a sketch of a new shoe in that box.
And my suggestion each day was to hire me as a footwear designer.
After 6 months and 180 sketches later, I was offered my first design job, making me— at age 19—the youngest professional footwear designer in the industry. I also learned that I was one of the few African American footwear designers in the industry; second, behind Wilson Smith III of Nike.
Soaking everything up like a sponge, I quickly worked my way up to be one of the top footwear designers in the industry. At the age of 23 I became Head Designer for L.A. Gear. A year later I was Brand Manager/Head Designer for Karl Kani Footwear. At age 28 I launched my own brand, SITY by Skechers, and it was recognized by Sporting Goods Business as the #2 brand to watch in the industry behind Brand JORDAN in 2000.
In 2000 I fulfilled a lifelong dream and began working at Nike. In my first year I designed the best-selling boot in Nike history, Goadome 2, which continues to sell close to a million pairs a year to this day. A year later I did something I never even dreamed of: I was given the opportunity to design for Brand JORDAN. As fate would have it, my first basketball project (Nu Retro 2) in JORDAN was to redesign the AIR JORDAN 2—the last shoe I’d actually drawn in high school.
At the age of 30 I became one of the youngest Design Directors in Nike’s history.
In 2007 I achieved the ultimate dream of every athletic footwear designer: I designed an AIR JORDAN (I share this achievement with only seven other designers in the history of the Brand JORDAN, the Air Jordan XXI. My design for the Air Jordan XXII followed in 2008.
My career has spanned over two decades, and I have designed more than 500 men’s and women’s styles in a variety of categories from Athletic, Dress, Casual, Outdoor, Kids and Alternative.
My designs have sold more than $1 billion worldwide.
I have created shoes for today’s premiere athletes and teams, such as Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter, Roy Jones Jr., 2004 National Champion University of North Carolina Tarheels, and my shoes won two, 2008 Olympic Gold Medals. I own more than 30 patents, and the Nike Ipeas Equestrian Boot I designed for the 2008 U.S. and China Olympic Teams not only won a Gold Medal, but was selected out of 40,000 entries from 40 different countries for the prestigious 2008 International Red Dot Design Award.
As Design Director I had the opportunity to build a team, and we contributed to the growth of the JORDAN brand from a $300 million business to more than $1 billion in seven years. Learning and growing a billion-dollar business helped further inspire my passion for mentoring others; to help them realize their dreams and succeed in the industry. I have mentored more than 50 people who are now currently working as professional footwear designers.