We have repeatedly said that Reebok makes some of the best collaborations and theamed collaborations, perfectly applying the essence and details of movies, series and cartoons into sneakers. But we never imagined having the opportunity to talk to the person behind these special projects like: Tom & Jerry, Minions, Jurassic Park, Billionaire Boys Club, Ghostbusters, and of course, the collaboration with Power Rangers and the famous box set that forms a megazord when connected together.
At Portland’s famous Waterfront, we talked with Chris Hill about his profession in footwear graphics, his journey through adidas, his time at Reebok as Senior Design Manager for pop culture and streetwear collaborations, his references and much of the process of making these collaborations. But for his interview he chose to talk about something more personal to him, his Air Total Foamposite Max, which not only represents a lot of what he likes in a shoe, something more futuristic, crazy and different, but also because it was that special sneaker that he took, many years to get.
“My name’s Chris Hill. I’m a footwear designer and I’ve been designing for 10 years now. I do colors, materials, graphics, new shoes, packaging, my specialty is doing a little bit of everything. I like to collect toys, go to movies – I like a lot of Marvel movies and I collect vintage Ninja Turtles, that’s kind of my prized possession. Other than that, I just spend time with my wife and my two dogs. I don’t do that much (laughs).”
How did you get into the creative field?
chris Since I was a little kid, both of my parents were into arts and crafts. My dad was an artist before he became a minister, and my mom made porcelain dolls, she would sew clothes and stuff like that. So both of them had some kind of artistic ability and they both were pretty good at what they did. So I was kind of born with it.
I would draw monsters and random shit when I was a kid, and then getting into high school, I took it a little more seriously, and started drawing shoes, cars, and girls – these were the three things that I drew. From there, I knew I wanted to do something in art. I looked up different schools and ended up in graphic design – which was not what I needed for footwear, but it has benefited me a lot now in my career. And then later down the road, I found out about industrial design.
So actually, I went to school for graphic design, but I wanted to just go to fashion design because I was told that’s what I needed to go for footwear – and that wasn’t the case either. So I kind of dropped, got kicked out. My grades were bad, and I was doing pretty much everything except for school, like playing basketball and doing custom shoes.
After high school, I started doing custom t-shirts and painting shoes, and that’s how I made money in college, by customizing clothes and shoes. And my mom was actually my seamstress, she would make custom clothing for me that I designed.
“After high school, I started doing custom t-shirts and painting shoes, and that’s how I made money in college, by customizing clothes and shoes. And my mom was actually my seamstress, she would make custom clothing for me that I designed.”
So, you created your own brand? And how did you end up working with sneakers and footwear?
chris I called it Chrisco, it was short for “Chris’s company”. That was something I started in high school for a project, and I thought it was kind of corny but people that I was doing work for, all thought it was cool so I just stuck to it.
But as I was saying, I got kicked out of school, took time off for six years, and just worked in customizing shoes. I was in Ohio at the time, and then I moved to Portland because Nike and adidas are out here, my wife really wanted to come out here as well. I decided to go back to school and I ended up studying at the Art Institute, and got my degree in Industrial Design. That’s how I finally got into footwear – I actually took the right courses. Halfway through school, I got an internship that turned into a job at ID Workshop, and from there, I went to adidas, and then to Reebok, to Universal Studios, and now to Nike.
And since when were you into shoes and how did that come into your life?
chris I was already into shoes at a super young age and all my favorite athletes were Nike guys. That’s what got me into shoes – watching Griffey play, Deion, Penny, Iverson and Shaq – those were athletes I was really into, because they all had cool shoes. My dad was into shoes too – not like a huge sneakerhead like they are now, but I remember he had the Barkleys and some other stuff, and I thought that was pretty cool.
Do you remember when you had that "click" and realized that there was something special about sneakers? When did it become a passion for you?
chris It was either the Deions or the Griffeys, I can’t remember which one it was. I could never get them when they came out, I had to wait for them to go on sale at the end of the season, and then my parents would buy them for me. Those would be my school shoes for the following year. But luckily, I was able to get both of them on sale, because back then it wasn’t hard to get stuff, like it is today.
You worked at adidas for a brief moment. What projects did you participate in during your time there?
chris When I graduated school, I was already working at a design firm here in town. There we did mostly football equipment, ski and military gloves, stuff like that, so that was where my design and product background came into training. From there, I went to adidas to do basketball shoes for a little bit, on a contract basis, and then I switched to colors and materials for American sports – which was baseball, basketball, and football. I actually stayed at adidas for only a year, then Reebok recruited me to go over there and be in charge of footwear graphics.
And can you take us through what exactly is footwear graphics?
chris Basically all the logos and imagery in a sneaker, like the Tom & Jerry Reeboks, where you have the droopy logo or the stuff on the heels, those elements are considered graphics. Or even if the shoe is covered in a graphic, like an image, a picture, or a pattern, those are all considered graphics, like the Galaxy Foamposites, that’s technically all covered in graphics.
“Basically all the logos and imagery in a sneaker, like the Tom & Jerry Reeboks, where you have the droopy logo or the stuff on the heels, those elements are considered graphics.”
You have worked on so many cool projects during your time at Reebok: from the early collabs with artists to these movie themed packs like Tom & Jerry, and of course, some of the coolest sneaker packaging out there. What areas did you work in at Reebok?
chris When I first got to Reebok, I was in charge of all the graphics for footwear for the entire brand, but then it started trending down, they weren’t as popular on footwear. So I switched over to special projects and that’s when I started doing things like the Reebok Alien Stomper, Cam’ron, Curren$y and Amber Rose; I also did some stuff around streetwear and fashion, like Bape, JJJJound, Concepts, Pyer Moss – we did their first three seasons – and MISBHV. I worked a lot with those guys and helped them facilitate a lot of their ideas.
And then we started doing pop culture, which is the Reebok Tom & Jerry, Predator, Ghostbusters, Jurassic Park, and etc. The ‘Tom & Jerry’ collab was the first big pop culture project we did, and it did really, really well. So because of that, Reebok created its own separate business unit for Pop Culture, so it had its own section within the brand. I eventually splintered off from doing streetwear and fashion, to only doing Pop Culture. And that became a whole thing. I was in charge of all these stuff on the creative side, working with Universal Studios, Sony, Warner Brothers, with Power Rangers, Wonder Women, Nerf.
I kept bouncing around a little bit, but everything I was doing was all around collabs and special projects the whole time I was there, which was nice and it’s a lot more fun to do. That’s also when I started doing special packaging – Reebok wasn’t doing them before that. So the first box I did there was for the second Cam’ron shoe, the pink Ventilators with the camo boxes. And it kind of became a big thing.
We are huge fans of your work and how you bring these collabs to life. The level of detail is absurd and you can tell that who made all of this, was having fun. The Jurassic Park packaging was especially nostalgic, they are exactly the same as the box the Jurassic Park figures used to come in back in the day.
chris I loved those toys as a kid as well, they were a lot of fun back then. So that’s why I like addressing parts of it in those boxes in a way so it looked like the original Kenner toys. Sometimes it was actually just as fun if not more fun to work on the packaging than on the shoes.
The Power Rangers boxes specifically, are like nothing we've ever seen out there. They are just as awesome as the sneakers themselves. How was the process of making these boxes?
chris When I first started doing boxes it was a really big fight just to do it, because going through the supply chain, the cost and all that. It was just something we weren’t doing and it takes away from the cost of what you can put into the shoe, and at that time, we weren’t charging as much for shoes. So in the beginning it was really difficult, but by the time I got to Power Rangers and the Flintstones, which were the last two sets I worked on at Reebok, Power Rangers were the last one I was able to finish all the way to the end for the most part. Luckily, I had my boss who was very supportive and a big fan of the work I was doing. He helped push those through with me, but it was constant battles every week with development because of the cost, the complications and just how complex they were. It was something that had never been done in footwear before.
We made special dies for all the boxes: the arms and the legs were the same die lines, and we had the torso and the head which were two seperate dies. Then we created these little connector pieces, that’s how you put them all together. But it was a lot of fun to work on, I would create the guidelines, and come up with the ideas to put all these boxes together. I worked with a really good artist called Natalie – she created all the artwork for me under my direction, like for Jurassic Park and Flintstones.
It’s a shame it didn’t get a little more publicity and not many blogs picked it up, but Reebok didn’t do much marketing on it either. The little bit of marketing they did was pretty cool, they had some clips of the boxes coming together in 3D animation. I was hoping those boxes would break the internet (laughs).
“Luckily, I had my boss who was very supportive and a big fan of the work I was doing. He helped push those through with me, but it was constant battles every week with development because of the cost, the complications and just how complex they were. It was something that had never been done in footwear before.”
We know it's hard to choose but do you have a favorite one out of the Power Ranger pack?
chris I think out of the whole pack, the Pink Ranger is probably my favorite because of that piece in the back. It was just a cool way to show the character, and it was the shoe that I probably struggled with the most to make it actually look good. Getting that part on the back was a fight as well because of the cost of it and the timing for the factory to make it.
And why out of all the projects and collaboration that you have done, and sneakers you own, you specifically chose this Nike Total Air Foamposite Max for your Kickstory?
chris Just because of the story behind them from when I was a kid. I’ve always been into Foamposites ever since the first one, the neon royal ones. When I was younger, my parents would get my school shoes on sale and when I got a bit older, my grandma started buying them for me, so I would get one full price pair of shoes a year.
When we would go to Cincinnati, my dad, my brother and I would go to the Northgate Mall. They let us go to whatever shoe store they had in the mall to pick out one pair of shoes for school and, I’d had to wear those same shoes for basketball as well.
So one day I went to some “mom and pops” store and they had these Total Air Foamposites Max. I had never seen them before. There were some regular Foamposites at the store but when I saw these, just the fact they were silver with the hologram and that neon blue, they really stuck out to me and I was like: “oh man, these are fucking sick”.
I’ve always been into the more futuristic and crazier shoes. Normally my parents and my grandma’s budget was $100, $120. So I asked the guy at the store to get my size, and he was like: “you know how much these are, right?”. I looked at the tag and it said $135, so I thought that I could finagle my grandmother to spend a few more dollars, so I could get the shoes that I wanted. So, he brought the sneakers out in my size, I tried them on and they were awesome! When I went to the cash register with my dad the price came up, and it turned out they were $185, not $135. I misread the label and my dad was like: “there’s no way you’re getting these shoes, they’re way too expensive”. With taxes they were almost $200.
I don’t even remember what sneaker I ended up getting that year because I was so disappointed. I always wanted those shoes ever since I was a little kid. When they finally came out I got them. It might have been 2013 or something, and it was the only time that this shoe “retroed”. They were one of the few shoes that were a real grail for me, so I just had to get them, and I was glad I got to have them at least as an adult. I haven’t worn them in a while just because I’ve been working for Reebok and adidas. Now I started wearing Nike again, so I’ll wear these for sure. I even got the Tim Duncan jersey to go with them and everything. Hopefully the bubbles don’t pop on me (laughs).
“I always wanted those shoes ever since I was a little kid. When they finally came out I got them. It might have been 2013 or something, and it was the only time that this shoe retroed. They were one of the few shoes that were a real grail for me, so I just had to get them, and I was glad I got to have them at least as an adult.”
Nike Total Air Foamposite Max
Owner: Chris Hill
Photos by: Kickstory