ARTICLE BY Audrey Bugeja, Amber De Luca-Tao

Tola Oseni Celebrates the Clarks Wallabee Through ONE School's Design Challenge

Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni

The Clarks Wallabee is one of the most storied shoes in the world, with cultural connections that run deep. Now Clarks are expanding upon that long legacy through the power of collaboration, while heroing the next generation of creatives.

In partnership with ONE School – the first of its kind, 16-week-long portfolio program for black creatives – developed by The One Club for Creativity, students were given the opportunity to design a concept for their very own Wallabee, from sketch through to production. After receiving submissions from a group of 60 graduates across New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, the top prize was awarded to designer and art director, Tola Oseni – winner of the innovative student design challenge. Drawing upon her personal 'love/hate' relationship with New York City, she created two pairs, each detailed with multicoloured embroidery and lush tonal lettering that speaks to her inspiration.

We spoke to Oseni on her growing connection to Clarks and the Wallabee, her design process, as well as what it means to 'really know New York'. Check it out below.

Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni
Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni
Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni

How did this relationship with Clarks come to life?
Last year, I attended ONE School, the first online portfolio school for Black creatives. During our 16 weeks in the program, we learned the ins and outs of advertising, hearing from top players in the industry and gained new art direction and copywriting skills to answer 10 unique briefs. Every week we focused on a different marketing channel (social, OOH, data driven, experiential, film etc.), all while devoting time outside of class to perfecting our creative process. During the sixth week, our week on product design, we received a live brief from Clarks! The task? ‘Design a Clarks Originals Wallabee boot that is inspired by the city of New York.’

The most exciting part of the brief was learning that Clarks would review all of our school’s submissions and pick a shoe design that would actually go into production. From there the rest is history. I got the chance to work closely with the team – eventually seeing my sketches turn into a reality.

What’s your connection to the brand and the Wallabee?
Initially, I actually wasn’t that familiar with the Clarks brand. After I received the brief I truly came to understand the great cultural impact and history of the Wallabee – not only in New York City, but globally.

The more time went by, the more stories I quickly picked up from people in the city and their relationship to the brand (especially in regards to hip-hop culture and Jamaica), as well as from my neighbours, friends, and even my Nigerian mother. As she remembers it, she wore Clarks daily in Abeokuta, Nigeria to go with her school uniform.

And just being able to work with the incredible and passionate team at Clarks was so rewarding. Their vigour for good storytelling and paying homage to Clarks’ roots and culture at large was truly awe inspiring.

Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni
Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni

Talk us through your design process.
So the shoe design really evolved from this love-hate concept: ‘Ask any New Yorker about their feelings towards the city and they’ll probably explain it as something like a love-hate relationship.’

Everyone from NYC pretty much agrees that the energy of NY is unlike any other. And while there is much to boast about by being from the city, every New Yorker will also have some complaints. It's a love-hate relationship – but it’s what makes New York, New York and most wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Being able to call on the things you ‘hate’ about New York isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s how natives talk and if anything when you learn to appreciate the good with the bad, that’s truly a sign that you really know New York.

From there, I drew some colour inspiration from Radio Raheem’s ‘Bed-Stuy Do or Die’ t-shirt, worn in Do the Right Thing (1989). I believe Radio Raheem is a character who brilliantly captures NY life, hip-hop culture, and the cyclical battle between love and hate. His shirt also screams NYC pride like no other.

Almost every part of the shoe has an element that says ‘I’m proud of being from New York’ – whether it's the loud and vibrant patterned heel and collar, the colourful borough-specific tags, ‘ONLY IN NYC’ stitched on the back, the golden embroidered outline of the city, ‘5 BOROUGHS, 1 CITY’ imprinted on the inside heel, or the oh-so-subtle tonal white-on-white ‘New York’ script on the suede front.

‘In keeping with the love-hate motif, I designed these Wallabees to celebrate the duality of New York and the eclectic soundtrack of the city. This way, every step a person takes with the shoes is just as loud, proud and vibrant as the city-dwellers themselves.’ – Tola Oseni
Clarks ONE School Tola Oseni

What is the importance of this NYC theme for you?
New York City was one of the first places I felt like my true self after moving away from Maryland. New York taught me to be free. It grounded me in patience but also vigour. And it showed me everyday that the dreams I had in my head were worth living for. New York feels like home away from home. The people, the culture, the energy. Whenever I’m away for too long, it always brings me back in.

Tola Oseni's Clarks Wallabees will be available to purchase starting June 24 for $170 via the Clarks USA webstore, and at select retail locations.

For a collection of in-depth interviews and features, head over to <Platform> – an inclusive space created by Sneaker Freaker, which aims to champion the women who are breaking barriers and are helping to shape the sneaker and streetwear industry.

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