The winner of the inaugural Drapers Footwear Graduate of the Year Award talks shoes, ecological fashion and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
A worthy winner of Drapers first Graduate of the Year Award in partnership with CAT at the 2015 Drapers Footwear Awards, Tobias Rush impressed the judges with his professionalism, knowledge of the industry and above all his fresh and innovative designs. Challenged with reworking the iconic CAT Colorado boot, Rush designed a 1990s-inspired trainer boot with a sole made from renewable cork that was on trend and sustainable.
Why did you enter the competition?
I entered as I felt that the design task was a great opportunity to really be creative. The industry is obviously very commercially focused, so it is refreshing to explore a concept that has very few constraints, which really shows my design handwriting.
How did it feel to win?
It was really uplifting to receive some positive recognition in the professional footwear community. It’s encouraging to have such great feedback from high-profile judges for my opinion on the future of footwear design.
Tell us about your design.
The original Colorado silhouette has been reworked and refreshed into a hybrid sneaker-inspired outdoor boot, evoking a sustainable story through renewable cork and emotional attachment. In addition to renewable cork in the construction of the upper, a cork in-sock moulds perfectly to the shape of the foot over time, encouraging prolonged life and usage of the shoe.
What was it about the CAT Colorado boot that inspired you?
The CAT Colorado is known for its durability and iconic styling, which makes for a difficult task to update the design without compromising the identity of the shoe. The boot originated from the construction industry, which formed the basis of the cork oak story. To further take this into the lifestyle category, I decided to merge it with the current trend of 1990s running silhouettes, which are dominating the market in terms of colour and material updates. I figured that this would be a great way to make the most out of the sneakerboot concept commercially.
Who do you design for?
I currently design for the Ellesse footwear range at Focus International (part of the JD Group), as we continue to relaunch the iconic Italian sportswear brand. Ellesse has a rich heritage from the 1950s through to the early 1990s and I have been fortunate enough to work on premium and reissue projects as the brand continues to gain momentum in the sports and lifestyle market.
Is there anyone you would like to see wearing your designs?
[Former The Only Way Is Essex star] Lucy Mecklenburgh has recently been spotted in a pair of development samples in her latest photo shoot, so hopefully that will continue as she is great ambassador for the women’s fitness range. I would also like to see Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff recreating the old Ellesse photo shoot from the early 1990s, wearing a pair of retro-inspired runners I’ve been working on.
Have you always wanted to design footwear?
Although I have always been a sneakerhead, I first decided I wanted to get into footwear design when I was studying a sports performance course at college. It wasn’t until I took the innovation for sport module that I started thinking about sports products from a design perspective.
What has prepped you for this job?
I enrolled on the BSc Sports Product Design course at the University of Brighton after leaving college. In 2010 I was fortunate enough to be presented with an opportunity to take my industrial placement year in a combined role as a football coach and in-house designer for Global Premier Soccer in Boston, US. Then in 2012, after an eight-month sustainable design project with Puma and the University of Brighton, I was awarded a graduate role rotating through different footwear design departments in the Puma design offices in Germany and London.
What was the best piece of advice you have been given?
“They are just shoes”, by Joshua Fronda [senior footwear developer at Lacoste], 2013.
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
What I enjoy most about my current role is the challenge of building a successful Ellesse Heritage footwear range. In particular, evolving archive silhouettes into modern last shapes and updated panelling, to give the brand that retro appeal with a refreshed outlook.
What’s your favourite type of footwear?
For me it’s all about the comfort. Uncomfortable shoes should be considered a design flaw. Nike Roshe Run, Adidas [and Kanye West’s] Yeezy Boost and Nike Huarache NM are great examples of shoes that give you that glove-like fit. I own two out of those three; I bet you can guess which ones I won’t be able to get my hands on [The Yeezy sneakers sold out within minutes of their launch].
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
Too many. I’d trade them all for a pair of Yeezy’s.
What’s your most treasured pair of shoes?
Puma R698 Snow Splatter White/Silver Reflective. My first project to make it to market from my time at the Puma London office.
If you could only wear one pair of shoes for the rest of your life what would they be?
The CAT Colorado Sneakerboot, haven’t you heard? They’re super long lasting.
Who do you admire most in the industry?
Enrico Carbonere and Yoshiaki Yoshimura are two designers that I admire the most in the industry from my time with Puma. They’ve helped set me up for what I hope to be a long and fulfilling career in sports and lifestyle footwear.
If you didn’t work in the fashion industry, what would you do?
I would most likely go on to get my UEFA B football coaching licence and continue down the coaching route. It’s a good back-up should everyone realise it’s better to spend your life barefoot…