As we march into 2015, Reebok steps up their Certified Network x Ventilator program with this eye-popping version of their classic lightweight 90s runner. We sat down with Duk-Ki Yu, the creative director and founder of MAJOR, the Washington, D.C. sneaker boutique, to get an insight into the humble beginnings of the store and the local inspiration behind this ‘cherry blossom’ Ventilator.
Tell us the story behind MAJOR? How did you get started in the retail game?
MAJOR opened back in 2006. Prior to that, D.C. didn’t have a sneaker boutique. Despite how big the sneaker collecting scene was here, the only way to pick up sneakers was to order from boutiques in other cities. Since I was fortunate enough to be in a business where I travelled frequently, I had accumulated a lot of interesting footwear before I opened MAJOR. When I would come back home, there were so many younger kids that would ask, ‘Where’d you get those shoes?’ so the idea for the store was an extension of that.
Things have changed.
Right! Back in the early-2000s, there was no Sneaker News and no Nice Kicks – you couldn't get information other than from Sneaker Freaker and Nike Talk. People in D.C. were really thirsty for sneaker culture. I had all the right connections at the time because I worked with a number of sneaker companies on the marketing and strategic branding side of things, so when I decided to start MAJOR, everything just clicked.
Let’s talk about your upcoming Reebok Ventilator. What was your personal experience with the shoe?
Actually, in a former job I designed a tuxedo-style ‘Godfather’ Ventilator for EA Games to launch the video game adaptation of the movie. Fast-forward seven years later, and I'm doing this same shoe once again for MAJOR! The Ventilator itself is an awesome model. There are so many panels, so many cut-outs where you can really get creative. The shoe also represents how advanced Reebok was back in the 90s with their technical runners. This is still a very comfortable shoe to run in. It has an incredibly supportive structure and it's just a great shoe to work on. I had fun doing it.
It’s hard to tell from looking at the shoe, but there’s a Japanese theme there for sure. What’s the inspiration behind your design?
When Reebok gave me the tech pack for the Ventilator, I was brainstorming with my creative team. I don't even know what made me think about the annual cherry blossom season, but it’s the biggest festival in the city. It celebrates Tokyo giving D.C. a bunch of cherry trees to plant as a sign of peace and friendship throughout the years. Everyone goes down to check out the blossoms, and with various monuments in the background, it’s a postcard moment. We wanted to recreate that special feeling with our shoe. We didn't want to do something dark or black – it's not winter time – we definitely wanted something vibrant. The colour-blocking just comes from wanting a big contrast, so we have a bright ‘blossom’ colour on the toe box but we also have a very wearable premium suede treatment on the heel area.
I also like to play with prints, so when I talked to my illustrator, I told him to put a print on the shoe and I wanted it to pop with reflective 3M. Because it’s a runner, we wanted it to be highly visible in the night time. On the outsole, we used the ‘cherry blossom’ graphic, which is inspired by old posters that promoted the Festival back in the 1960s. Then on the insole, we have a picture of the Washington Monument with the water in the background and the cherry trees at full bloom.
Always nice to have a local story.
What's interesting about cherry blossoms is that they’re similar to limited edition shoes. They appear all of a sudden and then they’re gone within a week. So if you blink, you miss ‘em, and you've got to capture that moment! So I thought that was an interesting concept. Considering we’re making a limited edition shoe, we wanted people to capture that moment and create energy behind that process.
What’s the biggest thrill when it comes to doing these collaborations?
When you first get your sample back, you have this great sense of achievement. You can also relax a little bit because they’ve executed the plan and the ideas that you had, and it’s physically in front of you and you can actually wear it! Fortunately, I'm a sample size nine so I get to rock my shoes right away. There's definitely the fan aspect in my brain that really appreciates just wearing the shoe, but I would say the most gratifying part about being able to create your own shoe is the look on the customer’s face when they buy your shoe. They become a part of our store’s history, and there's this great joy you see in their face that really makes me happy. Sometimes you don't even know why they're so happy about purchasing a pair of shoes, but their reaction and just the anticipation that they have for your product, I think that's what drives every creator. I love it!