At the iconic Coupa Café in Palo Alto, we sat down with designer, entrepreneur and educator Jason Mayden. He shared with us his journey from a kid in the south side of Chicago to being the first intern at Jordan Brand and designing shoes for Michael Jordan, like the Air Jordan XVII Mule. A shoe that changed his life and embodied all his hard work and belief in himself. That led him on an amazing career at Nike and Jordan brand designing shoes for athletes and iconic silhouettes such as the Air Monarch.
Jason emphasized the importance of being different and investing in yourself. He also explained his inspiration for Super Heroic, a children’s footwear brand he created after leaving Nike, and his mission to build stronger children rather than fixing broken adults. Mayden also talked about his new book, “A Kids Book About Design,” and the urgency to give children the tools to make the world the better place everyone talks so much about.
This interview with Jason was a reminder that it is all about the people. How sneakers are this unique thing that made us fly across the world just to meet and listen to some amazing stories about people. Thank you Jason for showing so much love for our work and for the amazing stories and inspiring words. Let’s keep this fun.
“My name is Jason Maiden. I am a polymath, or what we call a cultural-alchemist – which means I’m a designer, I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m an educator. Right now we’re sitting in Palo Alto, California, in front of Coupa Cafe, which is a world famous location for startups. Companies who’ve received massive investment, have all started here. So everybody from Facebook to Google, at some point, they sit in this area, discussing their dreams and their opportunities, which is why I wanted to be here with Kickstory, because you’ll be just as big as these companies. So you get the magic of Coupa Cafe as well by sitting in this location.”
Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words. You were born and raised in Chicago and there are so many amazing talents that came from there. How do you think the city has molded you as a person and also as a designer?
jason There’s a very specific reason. It’s a city that was founded by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian immigrant. It’s the only city in the United States, that I know of, that still has a very dominant culture that’s entrepreneurial and inquisitive, because we had the benefit of having a founder that was a black man from a country that had a rebellious spirit – Haiti defeated France, they fought and they received liberty. So he brought that energy to Chicago. When you see people there, we carry a spirit of warrior culture.
It’s also the home of the Bauhaus. When they left Nazi Germany, they came to Chicago and started Illinois Institute of Technology, which is now regarded as the new Bauhaus. Why is that important? You take this industrious, warrior spirit, and then you match it against Bauhaus modern design principles. Then you match that with people who are activists like Fred Hampton, or Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago.
We can’t help but have large personalities, and also conviction for what we believe in. Everywhere we grow up in the city, you’re reminded of your possibilities, of your power, which is why I believe Chicago is always under attack – because the city produces powerful people. You have to have the city in conflict in order to prevent a new voice of a new generation rising up that can lead people in a different way. You see it in art, in music, in politics, there’s something in the water in Chicago that gives people confidence to be themselves. So I’m grateful that although my family is extremely diverse, our roots are in a city that is that powerful and that meaningful.
“we had the benefit of having a founder that was a black man from a country that had a rebellious spirit – Haiti defeated France, they fought and they received liberty. So he brought that energy to Chicago. When you see people there, we carry a spirit of warrior culture.”
“When I got to Nike and I met Mr. Knight and Mr. Jordan, they realized that I had various skill sets and they both encouraged me to continue down that path. I never really stayed in one group. When I was in Jordan, I rotated through the company – I worked in supply chain, finance, brand marketing, and it was all because I was curious. I realized at a certain point, I would need to know those disciplines in order to run a company.”
Today you're not just a designer but also an entrepreneur, a teacher, just an overall creative person. Where did that creative drive come from, and did you look up to anyone in particular?
jason In the United States there was an event called the “Great Migration”. It was the largest movement of people from the South to the North in modern times, and a predominant amount of those people were black. When they moved to cities like Chicago, they came as entrepreneurs because they couldn’t get jobs, so they started companies. My family came, they built churches, they started insurance companies, cab stands, they sold cigarettes, they did everything. So I already had in my family’s history, the spirit of being an entrepreneur.
When I got to Nike and I met Mr. Knight and Mr. Jordan, they realized that I had various skill sets and they both encouraged me to continue down that path. I never really stayed in one group. When I was in Jordan, I rotated through the company – I worked in supply chain, finance, brand marketing, and it was all because I was curious. I realized at a certain point, I would need to know those disciplines in order to run a company. I didn’t have an ego, I asked a lot of questions and I allowed myself to fail often. People are afraid of failure, I’m not. Actually I enjoy it, because I can learn something that other people may not ever learn.
At the age of 7 I got sick, and I remember being in the hospital and wondering what my life would be like if I grew up. And when you have to think about your life as a kid at seven, you don’t waste time, you live every dream that you have in your mind – so I wanted to become this guy. This comic book that I brought, is not the exact one, but when I was in the hospital, I read Batman 307. And then there was Dr. Lucius Fox, the black guy who made gadgets for Batman, and I decided I wanted to be just like him. My entire life I’ve been trying to be like the guy in this comic book.
Why is he so important? Because he was an engineer. He was the CEO of Wayne Enterprises, he ran Batman, Bruce Wayne’s whole conglomerate. He made all the gadgets for Batman, he convinced the Wayne family to give money back to the community – pushing him towards philanthropy. He was everything that I wished I could have been as a child, because he didn’t have superpowers, he was just creative and confident. I thought “I could do that”. So I pretended that Michael Jordan was my Bruce Wayne, and I would grow up to be Lucius Fox, and I’d make gadgets for Michael just like Lucius made gadgets for Batman.
When I quit my work at Nike, I felt it was important that I continued with the pursuit of becoming Lucius Fox, so that I can inspire other children to become who they’re supposed to become, more importantly, help my own son to see himself as confident and capable, and able to do whatever he dreams up. For me, entrepreneurship isn’t really a job, it’s more of a lifestyle. I have to build things to feel happy.
“He was everything that I wished I could have been as a child, because he didn’t have superpowers, he was just creative and confident. I thought “I could do that”. So I pretended that Michael Jordan was my Bruce Wayne, and I would grow up to be Lucius Fox, and I’d make gadgets for Michael just like Lucius made gadgets for Batman.”
And how did you get into design?
jason I think design got into me, I don’t think I got into design. I’m what’s known as neurodivergent, that is people who are on a spectrum of intelligence – they’ll say autism spectrum. People who have autism, Asperger’s, and neurodivergent are a form of intelligence on that spectrum. For me, how it shows up, is this extreme curiosity and creativity, but also my memory – I remember a bunch of random things. I would always mash things together and create new ideas of random information.
It wasn’t until my senior year in high school when I heard the word design for the first time. Up until that point, I thought I had to be an engineer. I always taught myself mechanical and electrical engineering, I was teaching myself how to make gadgets, radios, cars, watches and televisions, I was taking apart everything and putting it back together.
I ended up finding out about design after I had already decided to go to engineering school and pursued that path. My portfolio was horrible because I didn’t know what design was, I had mostly illustrations. But it was after the first year of failing a lot of my classes and struggling that I realized I loved it. Even though it was hard, the phrase: I refuse to quit was the thing I thought about all the time.
That’s why I say design got into me – it gave me a purpose, it allowed me to feel normal. In school I never felt normal because I didn’t think, look or act like anyone else. And when you feel abnormal, the only thing you have is your imagination. So in my mind, I was with all these people that were just like me because of comic books. I was a mutant in the comic book. It wasn’t until I got to design school that I met other people like me, and I realized that I was part of a bigger tribe, I was happy to finally meet them.
“That’s why I say design got into me – it gave me a purpose, it allowed me to feel normal. In school I never felt normal because I didn’t think, look or act like anyone else. And when you feel abnormal, the only thing you have is your imagination.”
What inspired your passion for footwear and how has it impacted your life?
jason Footwear has always been my passion. When I was young, I couldn’t afford the shoes and a car was way out of my reach. Where I grew up, if somebody had a car…that was a dream come true. Shoes were our vehicles and so after school, I would stand in front of Foot Locker and I would draw shoes every day. I couldn’t afford, so I drew them and I would keep the pictures in my pocket. If someone asked me “hey, have you seen the latest Jordan? Did you get it?” I’d say, “Yeah, I got it. I have a sketch of it.” I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell the whole truth (laughs).
I realized that no matter where you go in the world, if I tell a person “I like your shoes,” you can make a friend, you can meet someone. It’s the only product that you can do that with, especially if you see someone with a rare pair of sneakers and you know the story, there’s an immediate connection and shared experience. I can’t do that with anything else, there’s no other object that you have that type of community. So yeah, footwear was a way for me to find belonging and that’s why I love it so much. It’s just a great career.
“I realized that no matter where you go in the world, if I tell a person “I like your shoes,” you can make a friend, you can meet someone. It’s the only product that you can do that with, especially if you see someone with a rare pair of sneakers and you know the story, there’s an immediate connection and shared experience.”
How was your experience in college, and how did you end up designing shoes?
jason I only knew the Tinker Hatfield name. I didn’t know how he looked, I didn’t know anything about him other than he designed shoes for Michael Jordan. I ended up having to make up my own major in college. There were a couple of kids who had interned at Nike, but no one had really told me how to get there. So it was all through discovery – I wrote letters, applied three times, got rejected twice but got accepted on the third time.
I had a professor called Peter Shoux, an undergrad, who allowed me to create my own major – I studied biomechanics, kinesiology, physiology and anatomy. I studied how the human body works in motion at a university across the street from my undergrad school. I studied industrial design there and my teacher let me do what’s called an “independent study”, where I made up my own major. With that I started designing shoes, creating my own products and presentations. And then College for Creative Studies became almost like a system for kids to go through in order to get into Nike, adidas, and Reebok. I was the first one that really put the effort into getting more people into these companies, and I think since I graduated, CCS has probably put 60 designers into footwear, and before that it was three. Most of the designers who have gotten jobs are women and women of color, which is amazing because this industry needs more women, there’s enough dudes. (laughs)
I would say CCS is one of the schools that has changed the face of footwear design, and a lot of it came through people like myself getting into trouble for loving shoes, because it was not cool in 2000 to want to design shoes, you would get laughed at, people thought it was an undesirable job. Everyone wanted to design cars – you went to design school to design a car or go to Hollywood to work on a Star Wars movie. Now it’s like the number one reason people go to Design School (laughs).
Do you remember when your passion for sneakers began? When was that moment you saw a pair and had that special "click"?
jason The first pair of Jordans that I was able to buy was the Air Jordan X, when Michael Jordan retired. I had other Nikes but I never could afford the Jordans. My uncle gave me the money to get them, so we went to a store called Marshall Field’s in Chicago and they had every color of the Air Jordan X, all the random ones – Celtics color, Bulls colors, it was amazing. I ended up getting the black and white – the Beetle Juices.
I wore those shoes until I couldn’t fit them anymore and it was the first time I felt connected to Michael through his product because I had watched him on TV since I couldn’t afford to go to the Bulls games. I only saw him play as a kid twice, because we got free tickets. So to have the product, and to touch it, and study it, made my dream real because at that point I said “somebody made this, and this somebody could’ve been me. Why can’t it be me?”. I just kept that image in my mind that one day it would be me making those shoes.
But the first time I fell in love with Jordans was the Air Jordan IV. In second grade, a girl in my class had the Military Blue IV, and I was staring at her feet, but the teacher thought I was staring at her butt. So I got in trouble staring at her sneakers (laughs). The teacher didn’t understand why I was staring so hard at some shoes. But I remember distinctly like “I love sneakers that much I’m willing to get in trouble.” That must be my job, this has to be what I’m supposed to do with my life.
“So to have the product, and to touch it, and study it, made my dream real because at that point I said “somebody made this, and this somebody could’ve been me. Why can’t it be me?”. I just kept that image in my mind that one day it would be me making those shoes.”
When you were growing up, you were really into Jordans. Years later, you had the opportunity to work with Michael himself, for his brand and even design one of his shoes. How was that for you?
jason It changed my life, man. The first time I met him I was 19 years old. I call him Mr. Jordan because he paid for me to go to Stanford, and I respect him for how he invested in me. When I was 14 I saw my friend get shot in front of me, and because of that, after school, since everybody was afraid to walk home, they would tell us to go somewhere else, and then walk home. So I would go to Foot Locker and draw shoes.
Now, imagine five years after that event, I’m standing in front of the actual person that I’ve looked up to my entire life. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had because it made me feel like, regardless of what I went through, that my dreams are possible. Regardless of where I come from my dreams are possible, regardless of what I look like my dream was possible. I didn’t have money. I didn’t have a famous family. I just had a bunch of unconditional love from my parents. And I had a bunch of belief in myself. And that’s how I got to Nike. I had no connections, no hookups.
When I got there, Mr. Jordan asked me a question. He literally asked: “How did you get here?” And I thought he meant if I took the stairs of the elevator. So I said “I took the elevator”. And he’s like, “no, no. Like, how did you get here to Oregon, to Jordan Brand? I know where you come from. I know your neighborhood”. The crazy thing is that my mother went to high school with his ex-wife. So he knew the neighborhood that I came from. And he was completely surprised and impressed that someone had come from that neighborhood and made it all the way to Jordan as a design intern, because I was the first design intern.
So it was a blessing, and that’s when I knew being different was the right thing, and being weird was cool. Liking sneakers was not a bad thing. And I’m just grateful that they gave me a chance because if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I would be in this industry. It still trips me out, I had the chance to introduce Larry Miller at Stanford this weekend, he was the former president of Jordan Brand. So he and Michael Jordan were the first two people I’ve met when I got there and they saw my potential. Both of them knew about my neighborhood and they taught me so much, it’s literally because of them that I’m in the position that I’m in today. It’s crazy.
“five years after that event, I’m standing in front of the actual person that I’ve looked up to my entire life. It was the greatest experience I’ve ever had because it made me feel like, regardless of what I went through, that my dreams are possible. Regardless of where I come from my dreams are possible, regardless of what I look like my dream was possible. I didn’t have money. I didn’t have a famous family. I just had a bunch of unconditional love from my parents. And I had a bunch of belief in myself. And that’s how I got to Nike.”
So you were the first intern at Jordan Brand, and you ended up building an entire carrier at the company. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
jason My goal as an intern was for people to think I was a full time employee by the time the internship was over. A lot of interns that go to these big companies want to go to parties, and hang out. They think it’s all fun. I took my job seriously, I wanted people to think that I was permanently hired to Nike, and not just there for a few months. So I didn’t party, I didn’t hang out, I worked extremely hard for that four month period.
So much so that I ended up having a shoe go to production off the Air Jordan XVIIs. So imagine, I couldn’t afford Jordans and in my internship, I did a Jordan that actually goes to production. And he hired me at the end of my internship as a contractor. So my senior year in college, I still was able to work for them, design products, and a lot of the younger designers in the industry, who are now well known, would come by my dorm room and I was showing them that even as freshmen, it’s possible, you can get to Nike.
And from there, I graduated and went back. I ended up designing the Monarchs as my first shoe straight out of school at the same time, I did a bunch of branding for athletes. And then I went back to Jordan brand. And then, you know, the rest is history. We took it from $150 million and now it’s $4 billion. We worked extremely hard but we did it though.
And why out of all the sneakers you own and all the amazing sneakers you designed, did you choose this Air Jordan XVII Mule specifically for your interview with kickstory?
jason Because I want people who read this to realize that I’m no different than them. I’m no different than a kid who grows up in a favela in Brazil. I’m from the south side of Chicago, I never would have thought I would be able to make something with my imagination that I can physically hold. I didn’t think it was possible.
So I brought this shoe because I want people to see that this is the manifestation of years of sacrifice and belief in myself. No one gave this to me, no one gave me any opportunity. People just saw me investing in myself. So when people see this story, I don’t want them to think that my life was perfect and that I had all the right things, and did all the right things, I didn’t. I got in trouble as a kid and was made fun of. I was great at school but that wasn’t a good thing where I come from. I never thought I would make it past the age of 16, so at 19 years old, I designed a product that I got to see professional athletes and my heroes wearing. Five years earlier, I saw someone almost lose their life, so I just want people to know that this is where it starts. This is where it all began for me. It’s none of the stuff I’m doing now, all the awards and popularity, that doesn’t matter. Because when I made this shoe, I had no idea what my future would be. I just knew it wasn’t going to be as a victim in Chicago. I knew I was not going to be that.
And I never imagined I would have done all the things I’ve done because of this one sketch. This was one sketch that I did in 20 minutes. I presented it to Phil Knight and to the Jordan Brand team, they loved the idea and it changed my life. I got a job at Nike because of this shoe.
This is the actual confirmation sample, almost 20 years to the date. Back then, they had me working on concepts and just helping them with random work. But Wilson Smith, the first black footwear designer in the industry, he was finishing the Air Jordan XVI and already working on the Air Jordan XVII. I just told him: I have an idea – most athletes don’t like to show their toes in a locker room because their feet are swollen. I played sports my entire life and I know, when you take your socks off your toenails are torn, bruised and beat up. And so most athletes, they don’t want to show their toes, and Michael never wanted to show his toes. They can’t wear the shower slides, so I said “what if we did a post game recovery shoe that looked like the Air Jordan?”
They play in the Air Jordan on court, then in the locker room during interviews, they can change into something that’s still familiar, so the foot doesn’t have to change its memory. It’s the same level of cushioning, the same width, only difference is that it is covering the toes, and it’s allowing my heel to slip in and slip out. My thesis was that you can heal the foot quicker postgame. I don’t know if it was accurate since I was 19, but it sold out. And it became like the most sought after post game shoe.
I also thought of this design for people that work in professional settings, who may want to wear a casual shoe, but don’t want to wear full sneakers. This was an alternative. It’s kind of a lifestyle, it’s not really basketball, it’s a hybrid. So this is before there was sportswear, we were doing this in 2001, more than 20 years ago.
This is the first time I’m telling this story. So you guys have the exclusive because I just found this shoe, it was sitting on my shelf and I was moving some stuff and it was stuck behind something. And I was like, this is the shoe! This is the one I want to talk about.
“I never thought I would make it past the age of 16, so at 19 years old, I designed a product that I got to see professional athletes and my heroes wearing. Five years earlier, I saw someone almost lose their life, so I just want people to know that this is where it starts. This is where it all began for me. It’s none of the stuff I’m doing now, all the awards and popularity, that doesn’t matter. Because when I made this shoe, I had no idea what my future would be. I just knew it wasn’t going to be as a victim in Chicago.“
Being in the sneaker industry for such a long time, and being around sneakers everyday for a big part of your life, we ask you: has your relationship and how you feel about sneakers change from when you were a kid and wanted to draw shoes?
jason Yeah, I think with anything that goes from being a hobby to a job over time, the passion goes away. You start to deal with politics, and when I was a kid I didn’t know about the politics of corporate culture, I just wanted to draw shoes. So for a period of time I left the footwear industry intentionally and jumped into venture capital and technology, I did everything else. The furthest thing away from footwear, because I wanted to find my passion for footwear again, I wanted to love it as a fan, not as an employee or a business owner.
Now I get to love it as a fan and to actually contribute to it as a creator, to help with the future as an innovator, as a professor, and as a researcher. It’s almost like a second romance with sneakers, this is like my second time being married to shoes (laughs), I divorced it the first time, it wasn’t working. (laughs)
We interviewed a lot of people and you can really see the different ways people interact with shoes, so it's cool to have someone doing it the right way.
jason We gotta keep this thing special, man, we have to keep it fun. It’s just supposed to be fun. I don’t know when it got so serious, and who let these people in? (laughs). Just like collecting comic books, collecting Pokemon, whatever it is, sneakers were never intended to be the cool thing. It was intended to be the thing you love – and if you loved it and your friends loved it, then it was cool.
This is born from people that didn’t have a lot of money so sneakers were a symbol of their self worth, they were valuable because they had the sneakers in their community. They didn’t have jewelry and cars, they had this thing on their body that gave them a purpose that made them feel like they were alive. It was special, now is the thing that helps you get into the club.
At the end of the day, it’s all about the people, the sneakers don’t move if no one’s wearing them. So who’s really in charge, is it the person or is it the company? It’s the people, if you don’t believe in these companies they don’t exist. But we allow the companies to tell us what’s cool, to tell us how we should feel about ourselves, to tell us to feel desperate and hurt if we can’t get a product. Why do we put our value in the hands of a corporation that only wants us to feel desperate, so we can buy something every Saturday? That’s stupid.
The companies need to respect the fact that sometimes people may save money for years, just to get one pair of shoes. And that’s the favorite thing that they’re gonna have for most of our life. And that’s important. It’s not the kid who can buy 15 pairs of every release. I could care less. I care about the kid in Brazil who’s looking at this on the internet, saving up money for years to buy it – that’s the person that I want to help and inspire. Because I know how that feels. That was me. I don’t know, I’m a purist for this culture, because I helped to create it.
“It’s not the kid who can buy 15 pairs of every release. I could care less. I care about the kid in Brazil who’s looking at this on the internet, saving up money for years to buy it – that’s the person that I want to help and inspire. Because I know how that feels. That was me. I don’t know, I’m a purist for this culture, because I helped to create it.”
You left Jordan to open your own company – Super Heroic. What led you to take that decision, and what inspired you to create a children's footwear brand?
jason It was very simple. I started the company because I felt that children needed more intentional design. Most products that are made for kids are just shrunken adult silhouettes. And even the products that are made for kids right now, still don’t necessarily inspire them the way that they should, you know? It’s still transactional, where you buy the shoe and they want you to do something.
But Super Heroic was intended to change their mindset and how they see themselves. My son had dealt with a health challenge, and the thing that was impacted was his confidence in himself. And I remember what that felt like. So using the analogy of a superhero, and how superheroes have alter egos, and our alter egos are usually small and frail or frayed. Then they transform into their super heroic self. That’s what I want the kids to feel like when they put our shoes on. They were no longer little Jason, who was sick all the time, they were super Jason. And super Jason could do things that regular Jason couldn’t. And that’s really what prompted the company. I want children to see themselves as a super version of who they are. They’re not the little kid, or the small kid, or the big kid, or the skinny kid. They’re exactly what they’re supposed to be, they’re perfect exactly the way they are.
Our product was intended to encourage them to be 100% who they are, and not try to be what society tells them is cool. Be your own version of cool. The industry unfortunately, did a very good job of creating a very narrow perspective on who is considered influential and who’s considered important. Most people will never be like the people that we put on pedestals in this industry, because they’re born with genetics, they’re 6 ’10, they play a sport, those are things that the average person can’t do, because it’s your genetics, but everybody can be creative, courageous, everybody can have great morals and ethics. I believe that it’s better and more important to inspire those behaviors versus inspire someone to have a better jumpshot. I mean creativity is my jumpshot and that’s what I want people to focus on. That’s why I did it, to create a new conversation around what it looked like to be a hero.
It's just a really cool product with a beautiful message behind it. The entire experience of opening the box with the sound, the cape. Did you design the whole thing?
jason Yeah, that’s even me and my kids doing the sound. Everything from the comic book to the packaging, to sourcing in Asia to product design, obviously you have a team, there’s no person that does everything alone. But for the first six months of the company, before I could afford to hire anyone, I created 10 different email addresses and I was all 10 of those people. I would pretend to have a team and I would CC myself. I would respond from another account, and because people assume that an email is attached to a person, no one ever questioned if it was just me. And over time, I ended up hiring a person for each of those emails.
Before I can have anyone else believe in my vision, I had to create it, because Super Heroic wasn’t a shoe company. It was an entertainment and play company that used shoes and clothes to get kids to move. It never really was about the shoes. And that’s hard for people to understand because they’d say “you come from a footwear background”. And I have to explain “I come from a background of design – designing cars, watches, airplanes, video games, software, clothes, food, business models, buildings, I’ve designed everything”. I was able to use my brain to say, “ok, there’s content, which consists of all the characters, we created our own comic books. There’s experiences, which consisted of these obstacle courses”. We would drive up in a little bus, fold out this little obstacle course, and kids could train like a hero. And then there was the physical product and the packaging. And so all three of those require its own reason to exist, its own psychology, its own experience. It was extremely fun to do, because I was able to use my entire brain all at one time.
And it's amazing how your relationship with your own kids inspired you to create something so special, for all kids.
jason I think kids are honestly the most important demographic on the planet. I just don’t get why people don’t see it that way. We don’t protect the young and we don’t protect the elderly. Our elderly have wisdom that can benefit us, and the young have the potential to prevent us from harming each other. But we don’t actually put any effort into that.
My children had a very privileged life, and I understand that it’s important for me to extend that privilege somehow to other children. If my kids are the only ones that benefit from the philosophy that we hold in our company, then what’s the point? So we created something that any family can leverage. And that’s why I wrote this kid’s book, any family can leverage this insight to help their children become what they want to become.
My daughter is a phenomenal artist, she’s way better than me. My son is going to college, he’s a business person and already has his own business – and he’s 18 years old. A lot of people ask us how we raised our children and we explained to them that it wasn’t how we raised them. It’s how we speak to them, the words we use, the things we put in front of them. And all I’ve ever wanted to do is to share that with the world.
I believe everybody deserves a joyful, peaceful, beautiful life full of happiness. I don’t think it should be because you can afford to have peace. You deserve to have peace because you’re worthy. So that’s really what inspired the company and what inspires me to keep helping children. I don’t think you should have to be wealthy to live a nice life.
“I believe everybody deserves a joyful, peaceful, beautiful life full of happiness. I don’t think it should be because you can afford to have peace. You deserve to have peace because you’re worthy. So that’s really what inspired the company and what inspires me to keep helping children. I don’t think you should have to be wealthy to live a nice life.”
You have this phrase where you say "I want to help building stronger children rather than fixing broken adults". What's the meaning behind this?
jason What I mean by that is most adults have already agreed with what they believe they are. Most adults think, “hey, I can never learn a new subject. I can never become this thing. I’m too old. I’m too this”. Kids don’t have that yet. They have nothing but belief and for them everything’s possible. So if we preserve that then, the children grow up to be strong adults, rather than adults whose confidence and self esteem has been broken.
Their image has been broken because the world is telling them “you’re not enough”, and they believe it. I just have never believed anything the world has told me, I believe 100% in myself. If I believe that I’m a minority, that I’m poor, that I’m not good enough, then that’s what I am. I believe that I’m intelligent, kind, compassionate, talented, and meant to do something that can help people. If I believe in myself, then I can believe in other people. That’s why we have so many controversies – because people don’t believe in themselves. How can you expect them to care about you, if they’re abusive to themselves? I love myself enough to love everyone. That’s just how I live my life.
And now you have a book coming out tomorrow. What made you decide to write "A Kids Book About Design", and how did that come about?
jason I’m in the process of writing a creative nonfiction book, which is like a memoir about my life. But I felt writing a book for adults first it’s not really on brand for me. It has to be totally different. So, this is basically a mixtape before my album, and it’s intended to inspire both children and adults. It’s a summarized version of my life story but it starts a discussion, because designers are supposed to ask big questions, but we’re not always supposed to provide answers. This book is not an answer to what is design – it’s a series of questions about what design can be. That’s the most important thing that I hope people walk away with, is that my job isn’t to provide an answer or solution, it’s to ask the biggest question to help the most people.
Right now, design is just how to make things look cool. I want to get design back to being about discovery and problem solving. When we say “make this world a better place”, what does that actually mean? And how do we actually do it? Because I’m really sick of people saying it, and this world is still suffering. So I’m trying to start a revolution where we arm children with the tools to do it, because adults, I don’t think we can get out of our own way. So I’m not going to waste time, I’m just going to try to inspire these kids as quickly as possible. That’s what prompted it, it’s that urgency to give them something to look forward to.
“So, this is basically a mixtape before my album, and it’s intended to inspire both children and adults. It’s a summarized version of my life story but it starts a discussion, because designers are supposed to ask big questions, but we’re not always supposed to provide answers.”
“I couldn’t pick where I started life, but I can damn sure determine where I end my life. And I’m going to end it in a beautiful way with a lot of success, with a lot of people that I’ve helped, and a lot of things that I’ve done that help people feel inspired. And that’s the goal for my life. And I hope that wherever you are, you have that same desire to live a life of purpose, dignity, gratitude, and you’ll be successful regardless of what society says you’ll be successful.”
What is your message for young kids and teenagers out there?
jason You don’t have to have the perfect next step. Just take a step forward. If you’re a sneaker enthusiast, go to sneaker shops, go and just see the sales reps from the companies, they visit sneaker shops all the time, if you’re a tattoo artists, or you aspire to become one, go hang out at an art school with people who do illustrations and learn how to draw. You always have resources in front of you, if you see it that way.
The Southside of Chicago didn’t have a lot of resources, unless I discovered the resources that existed. So museums that are free to the public, reading books, getting on the internet, those are all ways to get the information you need to become who you want to become. But it starts with believing in yourself. And just because you’re born somewhere doesn’t mean you’ll finish there. I couldn’t pick where I started life, but I can damn sure determine where I end my life. And I’m going to end it in a beautiful way with a lot of success, with a lot of people that I’ve helped, and a lot of things that I’ve done that help people feel inspired. And that’s the goal for my life. And I hope that wherever you are, you have that same desire to live a life of purpose, dignity, gratitude, and you’ll be successful regardless of what society says you’ll be successful.
Air Jordan XVII Mule
Owner: Jason Mayden