The word 'genius' is bandied about so much nowadays that it's devoid of any gravitas. Kanye West is a musical genius. Donald Trump is an evil genius. Emily Ratajkowski is a babe genius. So here's another one to add to the pantheon of modern geniuses: Kohei Hagio is a footwear genius. As the bright spark behind the tight spikes that Usain Bolt runs to glory in, he is more deserving of savant status than most. Hagio is Puma's Senior Head of Global Running PLM Footwear and he's still tinkering in the lab to ensure that Bolt bows out of the Olympics with a bang – he has helped craft the new evoSPEED Disc Spike for Usain and the comfy Puma DISC IGNITE for us plebs who just wanna take it at our own pace. We caught up with the Japanese-bred, Boston-based footwear head honcho on our recent jaunt to Jamaica and hammered him with the hard Qs.
What's good, Kohei? Why do you think Japanese designers are so in demand across the world?
People always want to know what's happening in New York, what's happening in London, what's happening in Tokyo. Those are the hot markets. People go to Japan to see the trends, looking for something new in Tokyo street culture. So as a designer you're inspired by what's going on in the city and also inspired by there being so much interest in the city. Tokyo is a dynamic city.
Definitely. Now you're living in America, though. so where do you get inspiration from?
We're based in Boston, it's a very aesthetic city. There's the history of running, the marathons. And then there's New York City not so far away, so it's easy for us to see what's coming next. We look for new technologies that are popular, new colour trends, material trends. For example; look at the mesh of the DISC IGNITE, it looks simple but it's really not, we create depths with different mesh. Insole technology is really important to us too, the comfort of the shoe.
Most brands work with trends when designing new ranges, but Puma has a habit of taking chances on designs that feel pretty damn original ...
Puma likes taking risks, that's the brand we are. We like to follow market trends, for sure, but we always want to bring new ideas, the Puma taste to it. We have to be the game changer. We want to take risks and scare people, for sure. We like to mix the on-trend and completely new ideas.
The Puma DISC IGNITE is an iconoclastic design, no doubt about it. Are you shitting yourself at all that no one will buy it?
[Laughs] Maybe this type of shoe is a love it or hate it. That's good. We need to bring something new. Not everyone will like it.
Well if it's any indication, I got more compliments in one day wearing this shoe than any other in recent memory. They certainly demand to be commented on. I'm interested, are you prepared to take a loss on a shoe release, knowing that its mere existence is conditioning people in the future to be more accepting of similar designs?
Yeah. It's a Slip-on, bootie type of shoe, so in spring and summer they're coming into trend. But it's not a traditional slip-on, a traditional bootie, it's something different.
For sure. What I mean, though, is when the Yeezy Boost first came out, it freaked people out. A lot of folk thought it was trash and would never be worn by anyone. But over time, it's become normalised thanks to the bold early adopters wearing it. Nowadays it's no big deal to see it worn. I feel that could happen with the DISC IGNITE. So, are there a lot of other ways you could alter this silhouette in the future to capitalise on that potential?
Yeah we could do a lot with this shoe. We could change the midsole, change colours, different designs and meshes. It's a simple design platform. We'll be sticking with this style for a while.
Perfect. Do you think Usain will wear the Evo Speed? I've heard he can be a creature of habit, and maybe even a bit superstitious.
He's still testing it. He put it on, he ran in it, he likes the shoes. He needs to try it more and more in different training phases and be completely confident with the spikes. His Evo spikes have his specific foot shape moulded. He just need to keep trying.
Is he gonna win at the Olympics?
Yes. 100 percent. 100 percent!
There is a lot of talk about what events he'll do. Do you think he'll still compete at both the 100 metres and 200 metres?
Yes. 200 is his event. 100, yes of course, he's still the fastest.
Thanks for yabbering with us, Kohei. Let's go grab some tucker and turps.