How sweet is life for Sean Wotherspoon right now?
It’s a Sunday afternoon at St. Alfred in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Hundreds have lined the sidewalk around the shop for the drawing of an in-store raffle for the opportunity to purchase Wotherspoon’s highly coveted Nike Air Max 1/97. There is a buzz in the air as each of those in line are envisioning themselves being one of the lucky few that will receive a golden ticket to secure their pair.
Inside St. Alfred’s doors await Wotherspoon, welcoming each person allowed into the store with a greeting you would expect from your favorite cousin. His eyes fixate first on the feet of those he speaks with as he rattles out encyclopedia-like knowledge on models, sometimes even catching those wearing the shoes off guard. The in-store artwork and setup reflects the colors and vibe of the shoe everyone here wants. Sean looks completely comfortable, holding shop in what seems to be a giant version of his shoe, as he welcomes folks in with the ease of someone playing host at their home.
He’s been in Chicago less than 24 hours, hasn’t had much sleep, but you wouldn’t sense any bit of jetlag by the “Oh Shits!” or “Bams!” he yells out when the posters he signs for those who are taking their chance at the raffle has a golden ticket affixed to the back of it. There are plenty of times where the joy he expresses for those lucky few overcomes theirs. He genuinely happy to be able to have the chance to take part in sharing his creation with those who have quickly have made them the must-have so far this year.
Over two hours have passed and the line is seemingly just as lengthy as it had been when the doors opened. He hasn’t yawned not one time. Pretty soon, he’ll need to eat, maybe catch a quick nap, and make his way over to the Willis Tower, the site of Nike’s Air Gallery, which has given select local artists (Diana Pietrzyk, Alex + Aleia, Evan Sheehan and Stuk One) the opportunity to birth their imagination using the Air Max as a platform. It will be one of the few moments Sean will have to catch his breath as he’s scheduled to depart to New York in just a few hours to do it all again.
We caught up with Sean during a break in between welcoming customers to discuss his brief first visit to the city and creating a lightning-in-a-bottle design with his Vote Forward winning concept.
Nice Kicks: What has the last 24 hours been like since touching down in Chicago?
Sean Wotherspoon: Crazy and insane! It’s been awesome and a lot of fun. I feel like the celebration of Air Max Day is so great at this point that just being involved in it, I feel like you’re part of this crazy holiday. It’s like you’re the Easter Bunny. I guess that’s the best way I can describe the feeling if that makes any sense. It’s almost unreal to where it hasn’t even hit me. I’m waiting for it to hit me because it’s so unreal. It’s crazy seeing all the support. That’s the number one thing that blows my mind. I can’t believe the line outside. Even (Saturday), we went to Boneyard Chicago and the kids in there were hyped. I’m always mind blown by the support.
Nice Kicks: How have you never been to Chicago before this?
Sean Wotherspoon: I don’t even know. It’s my first time here in the city. Chicago is unreal – it’s so beautiful. I miss the east coast vibes. This reminds me a lot of when we opened our first Round Two in Richmond, Virginia. This reminds me so much of Richmond that it’s crazy. I’m loving it and feeling right at home.
Nice Kicks: At some point, we’ve all lined up for sneakers but to see a shoe you helped create attract a line of hundreds. What does that feel like?
Sean Wotherspoon: I didn’t know the line was that big, honestly. I’m in here and I’m feeling like we’re almost done. I’m thinking that there are maybe 20 to 30 people left out there. Someone just came in and told me that the line was around the block. I’m like there’s no way possible that that is actually happening. I saw a video and there might be over 100 people out there. I don’t even know how I feel about that — it’s nuts. I didn’t expect this type of turnout.
Nice Kicks: What’s has it been like interacting with the customers and receiving the feedback from them?
Sean Wotherspoon: It’s been exciting. Everyone is hyped. It’s different because I interact with a lot of customers in LA and this is different for me because it’s my first time here. I can tell people are a little bit more excited. One dude said “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because I don’t ever make it to LA and this is your first time here.” I was like ‘damn.’ I didn’t really think of it that way. It kind of means a lot to people because they’re thinking this might be their only opportunity to meet [me]. It’s been a lot of love here in Chicago. It seems like the sneaker scene out here is huge. You can tell that you’re like in Jordan’s stomping grounds. You can see the Bulls influence everywhere. Every vintage store we go to, its super heavy with red clothing in general, tons of Chicago Bulls stuff, Bears and it’s really cool. I don’t know how to explain it in the best way but it’s cool seeing the art here and how they merchandize their stores to see what’s popular with their customers and it’s interesting to me.
Nice Kicks: Being a shop owner, did you see anything that gave you any ideas or did you find one you really enjoyed?
Sean Wotherspoon: It’s definitely setup a lot differently than LA. They’re obviously marketing to a different customer out here. I think it’s interesting to see how each store has conformed to that. We went to a vintage store, Kokorokoko, and I loved it. That store is amazing and it’s so different than any store that we have in LA. It’s merchandized really well and really cool. It’s great to get a fresh outlook on things from different cultures.
Nice Kicks: Your time has been limited here but what else has been something that you’ve taken away from your time in Chicago?
Sean Wotherspoon: Meeting the people. I love meeting people. I really love meeting people, especially people who you share a common interest with. I feel like that is the whole line of people outside and we have so much in common. That’s my favorite part about anything; being somewhere, meeting like-minded people, carrying out conversation and just relating. Something else – and I haven’t really gotten to experience this yet – I think one of the moments that I’m most excited for with Air Max Day is seeing people buy my shoe. If you think about it, I’ve never seen someone purchase my sneaker.
Nice Kicks: Really?
Sean Wotherspoon: We gave them out on the bus. I think at Undefeated I saw maybe a few people buy them but I haven’t really had that feeling like Yo! The shoes are out, released and available in stores. I just want to sit there at the point of sale. I want to watch someone walk up, be like “Yo, can I get a 10?” I want the dude to go in the back and get the 10 and come out. The person maybe tries them on, they go to the counter, get charged with tax, the shoes get put in the bag, the person takes their card or cash out – I want to see the whole process. I feel like that will be the most fulfilling moment for me. It’s like I’ve seen everything. I just want to see the person who came to buy the shoes. I want to see that process. It means so much to me for some reason. I feel like I will keep the vision of that happening with me forever. Those are two of the coolest things. I feel like another one is just the amount of fan art. I hate to even call it fan art because it’s more like the community taking part in this big movement. I think that something that’s also crazy is that we created such a movement with this sneaker that everyone felt they had to be involved in some way. Not to hate on any other release – I’m just using this as a comparison. Even for Virgil’s stuff, when a shoe comes out, you don’t really see the whole world making posters, drawings, cakes and cars. So many people just want to be involved and that was huge that so many people wanted to be a part of it. Everyone really got together on this.
Nice Kicks: You’re basically on celebrity status now. How has the process of being known in circles to now being known worldwide?
Sean Wotherspoon: This is nuts! It’s weird and it’s hard to explain how big it is. I’ll be sitting at my house and I’ll look through the Instagram and people will tag me in pictures and everything, but to be in the mix of everything, the line outside – it’s like, damn, people really like this shoe. All of it is just crazy to me.
Nice Kicks: Even when you were selected to bring the shoe to life, could you forsee how coveted it would be, especially when it’s something from your personal tastes?
Sean Wotherspoon: In my head, it was perfect. I just wasn’t sure if it would be perfect in the consumer’s head. There’s no question in my mind that this is the most perfect shoe on planet earth. That’s how I’m always going to think about it. The fact that everyone else started to think something similar to that blew my mind. I was hyped just to have the opportunity. I thought that mine might be the one where everyone was like “Yeah, way too much color.” Hell no! I was just thinking that I’m at least going to appreciate it myself. It felt like the whole world became one community. Like, what the fuck? It’s actually really nuts. We all came together on these specific colors and now in Thailand, and other countries, they’re using these colors. It was just cool to see the whole world come together. I’m feeling the love. I love being in here in the mix of it. St. Alfred went above and beyond. I had zero expectations and if I had any, this would have exceeded them. This shit is nuts.
Nice Kicks: I know you’ve talked the design process a hundred times now. Could you just summarize it in a nutshell?
Sean Wotherspoon: The whole process is so hard to break down but from start until finish was nuts. I got the call that I was going to be able to be a part of this competition. Right at that moment, I started thinking of ideas. Nike gave me the briefing on how it was going to go down. I took it as serious as possible and tried to follow their rules to a T. I got my homies together who I thought would give me the best opinions on the shoe. We kind of all put our ideas together and that’s what we came up with. I took it to campus, used my meticulousness and precision to be as on point as possible about making sure all the details were there. I’m really hard to work with. [The shoe] is the process of being borderline too hard to work with. That’s what you get and I’m super proud of it. I think my goal was for colors and corduroy to catch on and I think that shit happened. I’m seeing a lot of corduroy and colors this year, so I think we did it.
Nice Kicks: What were some of the stress points for you with Nike?
Sean Wotherspoon: The stress point for me was the texture of the corduroy. I didn’t want it to be cheap corduroy. I didn’t want it to fall apart. Finding the right corduroy was pretty tough for us. Something else I was really specific about was making the patterns so it would be able to fray because Nike likes to put this backing behind stuff but I wanted it to fray. We had to make sure that all the edges were raw – also, the tone of the colors. I spent a lot of time making sure the brown was perfect, the green was perfect and that was what I was most meticulous about – the corduroy and the color.
Nice Kicks: What do you do for an encore after something like this?
Sean Wotherspoon: I’m just really interested to see where this all takes me. I know where I’ve been and where I’ve been brought to now. Now, I’m excited about the next part of the chapter, which is I don’t know. I’m so down for whatever. I love shoes, so I would love to keep doing shoes and see what happens.