The Future of the Sneaker Industry Is Here: HEROS Footwear
October 06, 2014 at 10:48 am
Do you remember the days where you could walk into any Footlocker and buy two pairs of sneakers for only $100? I know I do. I used to live for those moments when I could go to the mall with my Dad and grab some new kicks for the upcoming school year. Those were the glory days for footwear. The sneaker industry has changed. Hypebeasts are paying $200 for the latest Lebrons, manufacturing costs are up, and overseas workers are toiling in unfit conditions. Jamien Sills is looking to change all of that through his footwear line called Heros Footwear.
Jamien has a bright mind and goals that will change the landscape of the sneaker industry. Check out my interview below of what he has in store for the world.
What inspired you to create HEROS footwear?
I have been designing shoes since I was 8 years old, it’s my lifelong passion. I fell in love with shoes the first time I saw Michael Jordan play basketball in 1988. I inadvertently created the concept of producing shoes for EVERYDAY HEROS in high school. I used to design shoes for my friends with their names on them. As a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, my thesis project for my graphic/advertising degree was simulating starting my own shoe company, which I entitled Neimaj. In that project I also depicted my classmates as endorsers for Neimaj and photoshopped shoes designed for them on their feet. So, I planted the seed for the EVERYDAY HERO/HEROS concept long before I realized it. What inspired me to actually start the company was an epiphany during my 2 year stay in China. At the time, I was employed as a creative director for a startup shoe company in Memphis, TN. They sent me to China supposedly for six weeks to work with manufacturers, developing our product. During the 6 weeks, the company transitioned out of business, and I was without a job. So, I just decided to stay in China. There I studied shoe design, development, and manufacturing. I would go out to the factories everyday to actually make shoes. During this process, I took notice of two things that did not sit well with me: the health of the factory workers and the health of the environment.
I would leave everyday with headaches from the chemicals and fumes used in the manufacturing process. I was concerned about the workers that had to endure this everyday, and there are literally tons of waste material leftover. I started talking with the manufacturers about ways to produce shoes without all the harmful chemicals and less waste. Through experimentation we came up with a process to produce eco-friendly sneakers without any harmful chemicals, no adhesives, earth-friendly materials, and much less waste material. At that point I realized it was time to start my own company. I had worked in pretty much every facet of the shoe industry from retail sales, retail management, warehouse, factory, corporate, designer, and creative director/co-owner. I felt I had the experience, and the timing was right, so I took a leap and started HEROS which was then called Neimaj.
Being a hero seems to be the main focus of your brand. What is your definition of a hero?
I think when we think of heroes, we think of Superman or Batman, or our favorite athlete, but I wanted HEROS to shine light on the people that do heroic things everyday, hence the EVERYDAY HERO. Growing up, my heroes were Michael Jordan and Bill Cosby. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that my mother was my true hero all along. Seeing her sacrifice and struggle to raise me by herself gave me a clear definition of what a hero really is. I define a hero as anyone brave enough to face themselves and do what has to be done even though it may not be exactly what they want to do, for the the good of their family, themselves, or mankind in general.
3D print design is something new and dope. How did you come up with the idea to incorporate this technology with your shoe designs?
I have been interested in 3d printing for a very long time. Years ago the printers were the size of a small room and only printed a brittle object a few inches in size. Now that the technology has advanced, the printers are smaller, can print larger, and in a variety of different materials and textures. After living in China for a few years and learning the manufacturing process along with witnessing the economic boom there I saw what I think will be issues for a small company that’s not already established there. With the Chinese economy steadily on the rise, production costs are going up, and will continue to, as well as the workers demanding higher wages and that will continue to rise as well. I also want to have complete control over our production from start to finish. I figured bringing our manufacturing back to the U.S. would solve both of these problems. The problem is, the labor cost of the extensive shoe manufacturing process in its current state would be too high to produce a cost effective product. I know that if we were to manufacture in the US, we would have to reinvent the manufacturing process, and streamline it to be much less labor intensive. I immediately thought of 3d printing, but manufacturing on a mass scale has not been done yet. So, we are conducting the R&D necessary to be able to mass produce eco-friendly, 0% waste, 3d printed shoes.
What was one of your favorite sneakers growing up? Why?
Wow, this is a tough one..lol. Before I started my own brand I was an AVID shoe collector. I started working at Champs Sports when I was 16, worked at Foot Locker, Nike, and Asics. At one point I had amassed a collection of over 520 pairs of sneakers, mostly Jordan’s and Nikes. I ended selling most of them on eBay before the retro shoe craze hit. If I had to narrow it down to one, it would most definitely be the Nike Air Mag shoe from the movie Back to the Future II. Up until 2 years ago when Nike released a limited amount of Air Mags on an eBay auction, it was a fictional shoe worn by Marty McFly and his son in the movie. This is the shoe that thunder-bolted my imagination and made me want to design shoes. I first saw it in 1989, and even now it is far ahead of it’s time. I don’t own a pair yet, but when I do get a pair, they will be framed.
As a sneaker designer, the creative process is lengthy. Can you tell us what it takes to produce a HEROS sneaker?
Correct, the process is very lengthy, and a lot more goes into it than most people know. For us, we are problem solvers for the EVERYDAY HERO, so we start with a problem that has to be solved. We seek feedback and input from the EVERYDAY HERO to assess what their needs are and how the product needs to function. Once we have this information we form the design around how the shoe needs to function. The initial design and ideation process is my favorite part of the process, because it’s so open and boundless. It’s simply thought and art blending together to create a tangible product that helps people do their job. We use the functionality of the shoe to build a design story, and the story dictates the aesthetic design process. The design process varies drastically in length and has a lot of variables based on the complexity of the problem we’re trying to solve. Once the design is finished and spec’ed, it’s sent to our manufacturers in China to begin the sample making process. This process is easier and much faster when I am present in China (in the future we’ll have full time staff there). We communicate back and forth through email and Skype until we get a working sample.
Samples are sent to the U.S. for evaluation and testing. Again, this process varies in length depending on the number of revisions that have to be made. When the sample process is complete and approved, the shoe is ready for production. Production runs typically take about 90-120 days. So, the length of the entire process varies from shoe to shoe. It can be anywhere from a month to 5 years. For example, our first order ever was to make custom shoes for rock stars from the groups, Shinedown and Saving Abel. Since these were not mass produced, we were able to complete the entire process in 2 months. With our EXO safety boots that will debut later this year, the process has taken us 3 years to complete due to the complexity and technological innovation.
Nike and Adidas are popular footwear brands. What sets HEROS footwear apart from them?
What set’s HEROS apart from other companies is the company’s ethos and core value of providing footwear solutions for the EVERYDAY HERO. We are not a typical shoe company, All of our products will derive directly from the needs, input, and feedback of the EVERYDAY HERO. We understand that there is a huge untapped market out there that doesn’t aspire to be the next Lebron James, or that are not willing to spend $200+ on a high quality attractive shoe. That market is who we call the EVERYDAY HERO. In our society athletes and celebrities are put on a pedestal and revered, while the real heroes (doctors, policeman, fireman, soldiers, labor workers, teachers, etc.) go completely unnoticed. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a shoe company that made an exclusive shoe that addresses the needs of nurses that stand on their feet 14 hours a day? Or what about the FedEx worker that has to endure harsh conditions and a dangerous environment to ensure we get our precious parcels on time? We believe that it is time for these EVERYDAY HEROS to be acknowledged and have a company that genuinely cares about their needs, and is dedicated to solving their footwear needs.
What is your favorite sneaker to wear from your HEROS line? Why?
My favorite is the HEROS O1 running/training shoe that released last year. They are extremely comfortable and lightweight. The upper is made of mesh and very breathable, and they feel great with no socks. I workout twice a day now mixing cardio, weightlifting, and running, and these versatile shoes are perfect for transitioning between different styles of fitness activity. A very close second are my Qi 3d printed prototypes, they’ll be my favorite once they are done!
What do you struggle with the most as an entrepreneur?
There are many things entrepreneurs struggle with, and that is just part of the thrill of the challenge. But flat out, the most difficult aspect is finding ENOUGH funding. We have received some funding in the past, but if you’re an entrepreneur, you can attest to the fact that you always need more. Our company is inventory based which requires upfront funding vs. a tech startup which requires no inventory be purchase up front. We are exploring various methods of funding to launch our EXO safety boot including, crowdfunding. As difficult as it has been to procure funding, I am glad we didn’t receive too much too soon. We would not have learned and grown from the struggles we have endured, our mistakes have not been “expensive” mistakes, and it makes us appreciate the entire process and journey.
Do you have any advice for our young sneaker designers out there?
My advice to young sneaker designers is to live with passion! Love what you do! Hone your craft, practice, practice, practice. Open your mind’s eye and seek inspiration where it’s not typically derived from. Stay a kid at heart and view the world with the wonder of a child’s eyes. Observe and absorb everything around you, the world is a designer’s sketchbook. Be persistent in your quest to fulfill your dreams. Never stop learning and never stop looking to better your skills as well as yourself. Have fun, we have the coolest job in the world! Well….except Lebron…..besides Lebron, we have the coolest job!!
What does the future look like for HEROS footwear?
The future for HEROS looks like us being a global brand with manufacturing in the US and China. Producing an abundance of footwear solutions for EVERYDAY HEROS worldwide. We will be producing a monthly comic book that will feature an EVERYDAY HERO that we select from stories sent in through our website and social media. We will design a shoe specifically for that month’s HERO and that is the shoe that will release to the public for that month. The innovations and technology that we are envisioning now will come to fruition and change the landscape of the shoe industry. Our Qi Footwear will allow the EVERYDAY HERO to get a completely customized pair of shoes made exactly to their foot, that they will help design 3d printed on the spot. We will make shoes with a purpose for people that live purposefully. Every product we create will improve the quality of life for every person that touches it, from the EVERYDAY HERO, to the factory workers, to the shippers. Our company will always be focused on improving the quality of life and well being of the EVERYDAY HERO.
Jamien is in the process of creating a new lane for footwear. He has traveled far and has experienced things that have inspired and changed him. He has decided to come back to the United States to leave an impact on the sneaker industry. If you want to be part of the future, you can keep up with Jamien and Heros Footwear below!