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The Biz! Jarrett Reynolds (Nike Apparel)

Date: January 18 2010

By: Sneaker Freaker

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Jarrett Reynolds is the Global Design Director of NSW Apparel. He’s also a mad cat lover and a reminder that not everyone at Nike is in the shoe game – there are clever people wherever you look. Jarrett’s chief talent is to make ridunkulous jackets such as the Flywire Windrunner and the beautiful Laser Runner, which we are just nuts about. How did he get there? What good is night school? You’ll have to find out...

What were your aspirations as a kid?
I was born in Boston, but lived in a ton of places before moving to Portland for Nike 6.5 years ago. Boston, San Antonio, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, New York... I even worked for Nike in Amsterdam. From as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a Ninja. Seriously. I was obsessed with movies about ninjas, their clothes and ninja stars. After my Ninja phase, I became fixated with magic, reading books, studying Houdini and practicing card tricks on my friends. I think I was kind of a weird kid. My sophomore year in high school was when I decided that I wanted to be a clothing designer. Back then, being into fashion wasn’t so cool, so I basically hid that part of my life from my friends. My mom taught me how to sew pants one summer, and it was on...

And did you study fashion at a college level?
My degree is in Art, but I took some classes at Parsons in New York and Central St. Martins in London. My parents and sister all have been fashion designers at some point in their lives. It’s weird... my family is made up of fashion designers and race car drivers. I’m not into cars so the choice was clear for me. The deal my parents made with me was that if I got a ‘real’ degree, then I could go to fashion school after. While I was getting my degree in Art, I took night classes in sewing, pattern making and draping. In each and every class I was always the only guy and the youngest by at least 40 years. Before I graduated college, I had my own clothing line and was showing at MAGIC.

And now you’re at Nike... what does it say on your card?
My official title is Global Design Director of NSW Apparel. I have a lot of duties, the most important of which is actually designing apparel, but it also includes creating a seasonal brief, pitching ideas and coming up with new technologies. I work with an amazing group of people both creative and business minded that help create the NSW collection.

I guess a lot of our readers would kill for a cool job like that... what training have you had to prepare you?
A ton of hard work. I was lucky enough for Richard Clarke (Global Creative Director) to take a chance when he hired me. I learned so much from my parents when I had my own clothing line before Nike. I worked 15 hour days, seven days a week. They instilled a crazy work ethic in me that to this day still holds strong. When you work for yourself, you have to be self motivated. If you fail, you only have yourself to blame, so straight out of college I worked non-stop. I had to figure out how to problem solve, deal with stress, you name it. That was the best training I could have ever had coming to a place like Nike.

I don’t mean to be a sucky interviewer, but I am killing your Laser Runner at the minute. It’s perfect. I think it’s also fair to say that Nike’s apparel has not always historically been on par with the footwear. Have you felt the pressure?
Glad you like the Laser Runner... it’s my favorite piece from Fall 08. There wasn’t necessarily any pressure from the beginning to make apparel as good as the footwear. When Michael Leon and I first started working together in 2005 there was actually no pressure because no one asked us to make Tech Pack. We just did it (no pun intended). In fact, we had full time jobs designing other product ranges. Tech Pack was our night job. We looked at what Jesse Leyva was doing in Tier Zero footwear and used that as a model for what we could do in apparel. As time has passed the pressure has gotten a little bit heavier, but a lot of that comes from inside our group.  We’re always trying to one up what we did last season. Make the product lighter, stronger, more breathable. It’s a good kind of pressure.

Has Tech Pack been morphed into Nike Sportswear?
Tech Pack has sort of morphed into the NSW collection. It started with Michael and myself sitting down a few years back and trying to figure out how we could make some cool apparel. The concept was simple... take the best innovation from Nike and mix it with iconic sports product. Most of the product fell into a ‘hybrid’ product zone, so with NSW we have the ability to create a full collection. Projects like our partnership with Loopwheeler wouldn’t have been possible inside the confines of Tech Pack, so we’ve got a little bit more freedom now. But we learned so much with Tech Pack, and it’s laid the foundation for NSW.

Being part of the machine also means you’re personally exposed to a lot of scrutiny. It can be a harsh and brutal world sometimes, were you prepared for that?
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t prepared. I came to Nike as an apparel designer. I never imagined that I would be giving interviews about designing NSW. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s weird to me. I’m way more comfortable sitting at my desk sketching than on stage presenting. And yeah, sometimes the feedback is harsh, but the feedback from blogs and magazines has been so positive. These are the magazines and blogs that I read everyday, so to have people excited about NSW, or to hear that you love the Laser Runner means a lot. It makes all the hard work worth it.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job and what would you say is your biggest achievement so far?
Hard question! I’m not gonna front. I’ve got the best job in the world. I work on a collection of apparel that I really love, I get to travel all over the world and work with a team full of extremely talented people. I’ve got nothing to complain about. But... if I had to pick the most satisfying part, it's designing. Putting pencil to paper and designing is the best part for me. Having an idea in your head, and somehow translating that to clothing is something I really love. I love all the projects I work on so it’s either the NSW collection or the Split jacket.

How do you judge your own performance?
I’m super critical of myself. I always want what I’m working on to be better than the season before, and sometimes I drive myself crazy. Design is one of those things in life that’s nearly impossible to judge well, and I’ve learned to stick to my guns if I truly believe in something.

What do you do for fun outside your job?
It seems the older I get, the more boring I become. Lately my life has been filled with stuff like remodelling my basement, planning my wedding and my two crazy Bengal cats that I’m obsessed with, so I spend a lot of time teaching them tricks... yeah for real. They can sit, fetch, you name it, ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you, I’m obsessed with my cats. Other than that I just bought a new bike which I’ve been riding to work a lot, I DJ a random night or two and collect vintage Nike apparel... I’ve got hundreds of crazy vintage Nike jackets. It’s the biggest collection I know of.

And finally... what jacket are you wearing right now?
I’m wearing a new jacket that’s not out yet. I wear-test each and every piece from the NSW collection to make sure it’s on point, and I’m pretty sure that you’re gonna flip when you see this one. You’ll have to wait until 2009.

This article appeared in Issue 13 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here 

Check out our in-depth NSW feature here.

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