It’s not often that consumers get the opportunity to see beyond the products that we wear. The people. The material. The processes. When thumbing through Instagram on the subway, or browsing the shelves at our favorite stores, we see the finished product. But how did it get there? What was the inspiration, and how was it made?
That’s one of the questions that Design Director, Han Josef, challenges us to ask ourselves. With a diverse design background that spans casual and athletic footwear brands, Han brings to Sperry a renewed sense of appreciation for process — a lost art.
“As a designer, process is everything,” Han tells us as he guides us through one of the unique methods he’s employed here at Sperry, which fuses innovative design techniques with tradition.
We recently ran into Han while working with specialty clay – a unique medium typically utilized by designers in the auto industry – while designing a concept that may eventually make its way into our Spring ’19 product line. (Believe it or not, that’s actually how far out in advance we plan!)
“Rather than drafting on paper or CAD (computer-aided drawing) software on a computer,” Han tells us, “I was inspired to use modeling clay to sculpt the outsole of the shoe. What this does is allows us to better convey a fluent design concept.”
He goes on to explain that this medium also allows him to incorporate elements of nature, which is something that inspires his work. “In this instance,” he says, “the curves and transitional lines are inspired by water. This exploration allowed me to touch and see these lines three-dimensionally, while giving me free range to capture all the lines and shapes and forms.”
The initial concept for Han’s design actually started with instinct. While exploring different shoe lasts that could be used for a casual lifestyle shoe (a “last” is a 3D mold on which a shoe is constructed), his team simply felt drawn to the mold you see pictured here.
Once the last is selected, the fun begins. First, you have to bake the clay until it reaches a certain temperature, making it pliable enough to mold. “Special modeling clay is typically hard to use straight out from the packaging,” Han explains, “so it needs to be placed under a heater to soften the clay.”
For that, Han uses a bespoke heater created by Sperry VP of Global Design David Nau. Impressively, Nau made it out of an old mailbox. “Our team built a customized, home-made heater specifically for sculpting,” Han explains. “The clay gets heated within a contained box using a high-temp light bulb until it’s soft enough to be used.”
After the clay is formed onto the last, Han evenly shaves the clay for proportion. Then, it’s time to get creative. Han tells us that a key part of the sculpting process is “allowing the eyes and hands to dictate the direction, but letting the mind focus on the design objective.”
“There’s never a wrong way,” Han adds, “so experiment and be surprised with your outcome.”
Like what you see? Follow us @sperry on Instagram to catch our next “Meet Our Crew” feature.
A designer is always designing. Meet Senior Product Designer Shannon Buono, and find out where she finds everyday inspiration.