Our Nice Kicks staff has had the pleasure of meeting an abundance of influential people within the industry, but starting today, we will highlight and showcase some of the well-known African Americans within the sneaker world for Black History Month. Today, we dig into the mind of former Jordan Brand designer and current Nike Digital Sports Innovation Director Jason Mayden. View our article about Mayden in which he tells his life story in detail, touches on his favorite African American sports moments and shares what Black History Month means to him.
Check back next Wednesday for the second installment of our Black History Month Spotlight.
Growing Up on the South Side of Chicago
“I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I had a typical inner-city childhood. I saw a lot of things that were good, and I saw a lot of things that were bad. At the end of it all, I discovered myself through creativity and sports. I always tried to figure out how to merge my two passions together. I didn?t know what that was because I didn?t necessarily have people in my community who wanted to be industrial designers, let alone footwear designers. So, all I could think of growing up was becoming an engineer. That?s kind of what the career path is when you want to make stuff. So, I came down the path of trying to figure out what was the best place for me to land in terms of engineering education, and also where I can manifest the version of myself that I knew I could be.”
The Beginning of a Journey
“I looked up a bunch of schools that had great design programs or engineering programs. It was a few universities in the south and some up north. I had a couple of setbacks while I was in high school in terms of things that were going on around my community, so we moved from where we were living at the time to the south suburbs. So, I spent my senior year in a new high school. I didn?t know anybody, but I built a strong rapport with my track and field coach. During the school hours, I worked in the athletic department and I would sit with him and he would see me sketch shoes. He finally asked me, ?What are you doing?? I told him that I was practicing, and that I wanted to be a footwear designer.”
“My dream was to design Jordans. Growing up where I grew up, it?s not like I had a lot of access to the product, so I would draw them and put them in my pocket to be apart of the Jordan movement. I figured if I at least had an image of it and it was close to me, then I was still connected to the brand. The brand helped me understand that I could be more than what society told me I could be as a young, black man in the city. I wasn?t going to be Michael Jordan. He?s already himself. I knew that I could be the Michael Jordan of whatever industry I went into, and ultimately be the first Jason Mayden and not the next anybody.”
Off to School
“My parents found an article about an auto show. In the article, there was a small blurb about a young man named Chiih-Wei Lee who had designed a car for Toyota, and he had an internship with Toyota at the time. It listed all of the places he interned at including Nike. My mom thought I would be interested in it. I showed my coach, and he told me to call Toyota to see where they got this kid. I got a call back the next day and the guy told me about one of the head designers in California that wanted to speak to me. So, I get on the phone with this guy, and he told me to check out two schools: Art Center and College of Creative Studies. He told me, since I live in Chicago, I should attend CCS since it was close to home and I would have family support.”
“At the time, industrial design people?s average age was mid 20s, and I was 16. I didn?t have a degree either. I took his advice, put together a portfolio and drove up to CCS in Detroit with my parents. Initially, they told me I should do graphic design. I took that as a challenge. Ultimately, I majored in industrial design and minored in graphic design. I think they wanted to dwindle the class size down, so they purposely overloaded us with work. I felt like I was built for it, so I treated it like a sport. I did everything I could. I read books, I sketched, and I asked questions. I just wanted to grow.”
“In my freshman year, I struggled. I wasn?t the worst, but I damn sure was nowhere near the best. I went home over the summer and started treating design like a sport. I sketched everyday. I read book after book, and I went to the art museum and took illustration classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was able to catch up from a work ethic standpoint. I wasn?t the best sketcher at the time, but no one was going to outwork me. In my sophomore year, I ended up towards the top percent of my class.”