Richard Clarke wasn’t a big fan of Portland, Oregon, when he first moved from New York to work at Nike’s head office/sports campus in Beaverton. “You couldn’t exactly call it a diverse design or social scene,” he comments. But after a short stint back in New York earlier this year, sitting in with the forecasting studio, he now appreciates why Nike stays in Oregon. The lure of unspoilt wilderness is a strong draw for the majority of Nike’s employees, a high percentage of whom are athletes of various persuasions.
“I also think it’s good for Nike to have that distance from the major trend centres,” he explains, “to have its own space and perspective. Fashion cycles move so fast and we have to think in the long term. A Nike product can be two years in development before it hits the market.”
Clarke knows all about trends, having studied fashion and environmental design before heading to New York to work for a trends research company. Then he moved to J Crew to design garments for retail and mail order.
Three years ago Clarke started talking to Nike about a job. He admits to having been drawn to Nike because of its product design philosophy. “A shoe has to be functional and comfortable and look good through 360 degrees,” he explains. Today he’s senior footwear designer for cross training; he’s designed a number of big-selling successes, including the Air Sunder and Air 120 Spiderman, and currently has a couple of personal projects up for consideration.
“Nike encourages you to put your ideas across. There’s a lot of soul-searching going on right now over core values, brands and technology, but despite being a large corporation, Nike often goes in the opposite direction to what you’d expect,” explains Clarke. He likes that unpredictability. “You could probably learn everything you need to know about design,” he continues. “You can work in whatever department you show an aptitude for as Nike doesn’t employ shoe designers, it takes on problem-solvers from all disciplines.”
Having said that, Clarke admits that he’ll move on if Nike doesn’t. A true fan of America though, he concludes, “I still believe it’s the land of opportunity.”