A step into the shoe industry

Posted: April 5, 2023

MA alum gives insight on designing for Adidas

Mark Lind (’13) is a footwear developer at Adidas who collaborates with high-profile celebrities, helping their ideas come to fruition. Lind graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Engineering and enjoyed running cross-country and track at Minnehaha throughout high school. In February, I had the chance to talk with Lind about how the footwear industry operates, as well as how shoe-related violence is damaging the sneaker community. Note that the Talon is not authorized to reveal the specific details regarding Adidas’ new partnership with a high-profile celebrity, given the confidentiality of the situation. The following interview is edited for clarity and brevity.

Owen: How does the recent shakeup at Adidas affect you and the shoes that you’re making?

Mark: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not just saying that, because I genuinely have no idea what the future looks like. In the meantime, I’m trying to stay busy by helping out with a new, high-profile partnership within our team. I’m also helping out with some projects that are with our team members in Germany. One thing I’m doing right now is creating new foam for shoes. All of that is keeping me busy, but at the same time giving me the opportunity to utilize the skills that I have with regards to working in a partnership model within a brand.

Owen: I know that a lot of the details regarding this exciting partnership have been under wraps, but what does that relationship look like and is there anything on the horizon?

Mark: What I can say is that we’re working hard to bring the partner’s vision to life in a responsible way which adds value not only to the Adidas brand, but also to their label. If you look at the brand’s products online, you can see a lot of the architecture, color, and silhouettes that he’s excited about. So the question is how do we take those two worlds and amplify it through the lens of what Adidas does? We make sports performance and lifestyle products for mass consumption, so how do we take what this designer does well and mix those two things together?

Owen: As someone who’s followed his designs for a long time, I’m very interested to see how this partnership plays out. That being said, his brand’s clothing is very sought after, just like the shoes that you’ve helped develop at Adidas. Shoe-related violence has been a pretty nasty and sad byproduct of the limited nature of these shoes. How does that make you feel as someone who is making shoes that are coveted and have the potential to be a source of conflict?

Mark: I mean, nobody ever wants to see that there’s violence over a product that you make. Whether it’s an iPhone, a car, books, or even ideas that cause strife and anguish, you never feel positive about people resorting to violence or deceptive tactics to try to get that product. Now, I also know that there’s challenges with how to accurately depict demand. People always bring up, “Why doesn’t the brand just make 10 million pairs so that everybody who wants the shoes can get them? It’s not necessarily that easy. It’s so difficult to accurately predict how many pairs are going to fulfill that demand, and at the same time it’s sometimes tough to even produce those products. Sometimes what people forget is that if a brand wants to make 1 million, 5 million, 10 million, even 100 million pairs, that takes time. So being able to align the product to try and get it out to people quickly, and then allowing the opportunity to make quantity is a huge challenge.

Mark: It’s definitely never fun to see that there’s violence around it. I think it’s unfortunate that people sometimes forget that it’s just material. It’s great that people are valuing the product, but I think it’s also a reflection of society’s focus on materialism and the extreme lengths to which people are willing to go to obtain a product. 

Owen: That’s really insightful and speaks to how sneaker culture oftentimes doesn’t have its priorities straight. Back to what you were saying about supply and demand, how does the process of deciding how many pairs of a shoe to make look like?

Mark: Yeah, so what you’re talking about right now is basically data analytics. So we look at how certain products sold, as well as how previous releases of a shoe sold. We look at Google searches to see how and why people are excited about a product. However, what’s more important is how we take in that data and then distill it down to a range. Maybe we look at social media trends and determine that there’s a realistic potential demand range of 100,000 to 150,000 pairs. There are also revenue targets that basically say, “We need to make X amount or more revenue for this financial quarter. How do we balance this out?”

Owen: Yeah, and what’s interesting to think is that from the consumer’s standpoint, high-profile shoes are kind of like stocks. So when a company says that they’re re-releasing a limited shoe, the consumer is immediately concerned because the price of said shoe is going to decrease. On the other hand, what the companies are mainly focused on is profit and how they can maximize revenue. One example that I’ve seen as a consumer is Adidas’ slides, because at first the public’s reaction was “Oh my goodness, those are so weird. Why are people wearing those? They didn’t have a super hot start at first, but over time they took off and started to become super popular. How does this type of progression affect the mindset of Adidas and other footwear companies when it comes to producing shoes? 

Mark: I would say it happens more often than you think. So for instance, look at a brand like New Balance. As a whole, their company has had a dramatic shift in overall demand for their products. What’s even more interesting is that the popular New Balances are all shoes that are 20 to 30 years old. They just got hot. They just got hot because the right people started wearing it and styling it in the right way. They also did collaborations with the right people. You never know how these things are going to start off. There’s a graph that represents this. It looks like a parabola where Y equals X squared. Over time there’s exponential growth. Maybe it starts out really small at the beginning, and then it gets bigger and bigger as you go down the X-axis. What brands are trying to do is attract people at certain intervals until the trend has fully immersed itself into the general public. There’s a certain percentage of people who are in the 10%. These are the people who are setting the trends and looking for what the different thing is at the moment. This 10% pushes the trends. The next 10% are the early adopters. They see those trend-setting people and they go, “Oh, that’s different. That’s cool. I’m gonna do that.” Generally speaking, if a brand can win over those two groups of people, the rest will follow exponentially.

Owen: On a similar note, how do brands influence other brands in terms of new designs and shoe production? Do they copy each other and try to benefit off of the excitement generated by another brand’s shoe? 

Mark: You know, to be honest, I see another brand doing something that’s new or exciting and nine times out of ten my response is, “Alright, they did that. How do we zag?” They zig so we zag. I don’t want to make something that someone else has already done. I would say my mentality is one where if I see Nike come out with a new shoe today and I try to copy it, I’m three years behind schedule. I’m not trying to be three years behind schedule. So that’s where if I see a product from Nike or New Balance that comes out and makes a splash, my response is, “Good job, props to you. Now how do I make the next best thing?”

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