Soletron Exclusive: Interview with Head of Design for adidas Basketball, Robbie Fuller

Published: 26th March 2012
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Robbie Fuller is the head of adidas basketball and is the main designer behind the recently released adiZero Rose 2 sneaker. With the shoe being a huge success, in terms of sales, as well as innovation, Robbie took some time with Soletron, your sneakerhead destination, to talk about himself, how he got started in the business, as well as his personal thoughts on sneaker design. A great piece, read it below.

Interview

When did you first get interested in designing shoes?

“I grew up in Charlotte, and about 2 miles down the street from my house, in 4th grade, there was a shoe store that opened up and gave away key rings with shoe sketches on them. My buddies and I loved it, because we didn’t even realize that was something you could do. We went back and started our own little shoe company, and I did cross training stuff while another guy did running. Literally, from there I just stuck with it.

Around 10th grade, my brother was in a commercial with Larry Johnson, and my mom went down to the shoot and wound up talking to one of the company guys there. She asked if he had any contacts in the design department because she had this son that wanted to design shoes. She ended up getting a name of a guy, and I wrote him a letter saying “I have been really excited about footwear design for 5 years now, and I wanted to know what kind of degree I have to get.” The guy said most of the designers had a degree in industrial design or fashion design.

I took his word for it and went to North Carolina State and got an industrial design degree. When I graduated, I sent my portfolio out and got a lot of bites. I had my choice of a few places, and at the end of the day I chose adidas.”

How long have you been at adidas?

“I started at the beginning of 2001, so a little over ten and a half years. I started on cross training and did that for a year. Then I moved to Germany, and was there for three years working on cross training and the running category. I then moved back to the states in 2005 to head up the running satellite team in Portland. Two years later, adidas signed the NBA deal, and I moved over to the basketball category, and I have been the head of design of adidas basketball for 4 years. For the past couple months, I have been transitioning to a new role where I am heading up a group on advanced footwear concepts for the U.S.”

What about the culture of adidas made you pick to work there?

“Fun. It’s really two fold. First, is that adidas is built around a love of sports and a passion for sports. When I got here, even the office was an old space that we played whiffle ball,Nerf football, and basketball in. We had a half court basketball court in the design center with bleachers. That screamed fun to me.

The second reason I have been here so long is being able to work overseas. Global adidas has helped shape who I am and my views of the world, as well as extend my style view, and my designs. We are so passionate that every innovation is leading. When you couple those things together, the work mentality and the play mentality, it really is the perfect blend for working an 18 hour day that seems like it goes by in two seconds because you have fun the whole time.”

What are some of the many projects you have worked on that you are most proud of, personally?

“I think some of the early running stuff when I was being mentored by the designers above me. Not just what makes a great shoe, but what makes a great adidas shoe. One of those was called the a3 Cushion. Another was the a3 Megaride.

Since then I am really excited about the adiPure we put out a year and a half ago. You saw it at the dunk contest. Serge Ibaka was wearing it, revitalizing the focus of the concept we lead off. Most recently, I have been working on all the Rose products, and finally the Crazy Light, the lightest basketball shoe of all time. I think right now that is the pinnacle of the products that I’ve worked on and it’s only up from here.”

How did you get assigned to the Rose line of sneakers?

“I think it happened because as I was head of the category and once we signed Derrick Rose, the two just went hand in hand. We knew we were going to want to build products that were exclusively just for him and the best adidas could provide. My track record, and the position I was in, meant that was going to make that my responsibility. My counterparts and myself worked on innovation to best kick off his legacy.

That’s how we look at it. And actually right now we are taking a looking back approach, and want to make sure that 15 years from now, we look back at a whole line of products, and see styles that are iconic and that every sneakerhead is going to remember and talk about.”

We at Soletron have a marketplace launching very soon, and have many people doing custom kicks. What advice would you have for someone coming up in the industry as a designer?

“My quick thought is just ‘make it happen’. That means sketching until your hand is sore or friending every designer you can find. The idea of being humble and hungry is to know that it is competitive, and if you truly have a passion for it, don’t let anyone stop you. If you see someone doing it better than you online, take what you can from them and get fresh ideas. Don’t try to be like someone else.

The sneaker game now is all about who can wow the public with a new approach. I would tell them to send emails, ask for feedback, and post your stuff online. This generation, as opposed to my generation or the people who came before me, have designers at their fingerprints. I had to randomly get someone’s mailing address, send them a letter, and hope I would get a typed letter back. If you get in this game, make sure you are truly passionate and don’t let anything stop you.”

You have been at adidas for a while and have deisgned some of the best selling sneakers in the world. Where do you go from here and what goals do you have for yourself?

“Continue to grow as a designer. There is still room for innovation. We always say to go one inch higher and one step faster, but how about 5 steps faster? There is a lot of room for growth.

Style-wise, I am always trying to simplify my approach so that there isn’t anything I would take off, but anything added would be excess. And then beyond that, in this new role I am in, I am focused not just on the basketball category, but all the categories that the brand is involved in. The new challenge for me is to think beyond one sport and about icons and how they can be represented across all sport.”

Can you speak on what you got coming up soon in the future?

“You want spring ’14? [laughs] No, we continued to set the bar high with the Crazy Light, and continue to push the lightweight benefit. Light is just one way to get fast though, and there are other ways . With all the products coming up, you are going to see the lightweight theme throughout, as well as seeing other benefits come from that so you can pick your weapon from the whole line.”

Thanks very much for taking with Soletron!
http://soletron.com/blog/2011/10/24/soletron-exclusive-interview-head-design-adidas-basketball-robbie-fuller/

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