Legend. Inventor. Godfather. These are all words any sneaker lover worth their salt would use to describe Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. But, perhaps a more fitting moniker for the man behind shoes like the minimalist Nike Huarache or Nike Mag straight out of science fiction is “architect.”
Not just because he’s actually an architect by training, but because he also figuratively designed some of the most iconic lines in sneakers. Air Max? Changed the trajectory of Nike and has its own brand vacation. Michael Jordan’s most beautiful shoes on the court? The original blueprints were sketched by Hatfield and now remixed by streetwear culture’s greatest collaborators from season to season, decades later.
From inventing the elliptical trainer to imagining self-lacing sneakers before the technology even existed, the human resume is miles deep. “I swear designing a shoe is always a totally new experience,” Hatfield said. “I never really got tired of designing new sneakers.”
Paradoxically, his secret to maintaining design momentum for over 40 years has been to periodically stop working on shoes, in order to give new impetus to his creativity. This is the moment he finds himself in now.
“I have this theory that a skilled designer could probably sit down and do a decent job in a variety of areas,” he said, adding that he recently designed a unique electric motorcycle with the co- founder of See See Motorcycles, Thor. Duck. Last year, he also entered the NFT space by designing digital art to benefit athletes at his alma mater, the University of Oregon.
One of the new arenas that Hatfield is getting into is that of beer bottles. That’s right, the world’s most famous sneaker designer created a limited-edition bottle featuring Michelob Ultra to celebrate the 75th NBA Finals. This is the second time Hatfield’s has collaborated with the company, the designer is donating his design fees to a Chicago-based charity and this year’s collectible bottle will also come with a Hatfield-designed NFT.
Here he talks more about the project, what’s on his design bucket list, and shares his thoughts on NFTs in sneakers.
I know you are very judicious in the projects you take on, so why was that bottle of beer something you wanted to do?
The whole project is bringing some much-needed money to Champs in Chicago, so that’s really the number one goal for me. I’m still on the lookout for away projects from Nike from time to time and they usually don’t turn into anything, but Micheloeb Ultra is doing a great job with the NBA. Their whole strategy of “It’s all about the joy of life” fits my personal approach to life, so it’s been fun, but also rewarding to get some much-needed funding for Champs.
Is it refreshing for you as a designer not to work on a shoe or something that is used for athletic performance?
Yeah. I have this theory that a skilled designer could probably sit down and do a decent job in a variety of arenas. I actually just did a motorcycle – I worked with See See Motors here in Portland – and we did a unique electric motorcycle. Between the two of us, we ended up with a motorcycle that did very well at auction and also raised a lot of money for charity. This kind of work is fun because it’s hard to step into someone else’s arena and it works well.
Is there something on your bucket list that you want to design, but haven’t had a chance to do yet?
I used to be a licensed architect and still do today, but you just need to hire someone who’s licensed to stamp everything and get the crossed out T’s and dotted I’s. The reality is that I love architecture and still love doing it. We actually have a location gearing up for Bend pretty soon. And like most architects, I would like to design furniture. I think I could make fun furniture, but I never got around to doing it. So I would like to design furniture.
You once said that you really don’t get designer block because you’re always engaging in new experiences. What kind of experiences do you bring into your work now?
In my case, the past year has been even slower than last year. We all need to do a better job of adapting to the pace of life and the way we move through the day. I think I have become much better than before. For me, learning to design a few extra things was a nice break from everyday life. That said, I swear designing a shoe is still a totally new experience. I never really got tired of designing new sneakers or shoes.
This collectible bottle comes with an NFT and you have done NFT work in the last year. What do you think of how this is changing the industry?
That’s a good question that deserves a good answer. The crypto world is still a bit foggy for me. I understand how to create an object of an artistic nature and know that there are different companies that can monetize, authenticate and set something in motion to sell, auction, etc.
I know that working with the University of Oregon and with great people has been a positive experience and money has gone to deserving athletes, not just stars. So crypto works well for that, at least for now. So we’ll see how things evolve and work their way through the system.
Do you see the NFTs adding a new layer to the sneaker collection?
Yes. Because the authentication process is very tightly controlled. If a consumer gets one or something out of 100, it may take on more value. That’s kind of how the system is built.
Personally, I don’t try to get so caught up in the business side or the intricacies of authentication, but I’m more caught up in trying to figure out what attracts people. What kind of art? What kind of stories are we going to tell? Is the story well represented in the art itself? There’s a lot of pending stuff, but it’s really fun to explore right now.
We’re in the middle of the NBA Finals and you worked with a player who was going to the Finals a lot in the 90s. Do you have any favorite memories of those celebrations?
I tried to stay away, quite frankly. Winning an NBA championship is obviously a very special thing to do, but you also do it with a bunch of other people that you train with every day or who train you every day.
I can design something for gaming or to be on people’s feet, but I don’t subscribe to the hanger approach. I feel like there’s an appropriate time to be a friend, and then there’s an appropriate time to be a professional, so that’s a philosophy that helps me not get too caught up in everything. this and helps others to be comfortable, especially the most famous people. They don’t really want to talk to you if you’re going to be weird.
You’ve designed for some of the best players in the game over the past 30 years. Is there a promising talent with whom you would like to do a new project?
I have to be kind of political in my job right now. The young athletes we see entering the NBA are bigger, faster and smarter than any class before them and we have our hands full trying to design products for these athletes who are like magicians. In fact, they want to be even faster, and we want to help them do that.
There’s a lot of science in what we’re working on right now and we have a great sports research center that helps us understand what improves the performance of a basketball player, a track runner or a footballer . All of this isn’t very well understood by the sneaker industry because they’re always looking for what’s cool, but I think what really makes sneakers cool are the stories about why which they work for an athlete and that’s what also contributes to hip and cool. of this one.
So it’s less about building around a popular personality and more about trying to solve a problem any athlete might have?
Yeah, I’m thinking especially of modern athletes who are so gifted that we have to slow down and make sure we’re doing the right thing around that athlete. But, of course, it has to be salable and do well for us to get a return on our investment. But most designers – I don’t think I’m any different – most of us are too busy to know what the results are because we’re too busy or we’re on the next problem to solve.
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