Shoe Designer Alexander Taylor | Grailify
Shoe Designer Alexander Taylor

Shoe Designer Alexander Taylor

London-based designer Alexander Taylor has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in modern footwear technology. He was involved in the development of the one-piece Primeknit upper, first introduced in 2012 with the Primeknit adiZero. He designed the adidas x Parley Ultraboosts, made from ocean plastic yarn, and several other innovative one-piece constructions, such as the limited edition Futurecraft Leather Superstar and the Tailored Fibre Ultraboost concept shoe. In an interview, Taylor talks about his design history and ethos at his studio in London.

Your design portfolio is very broad. You've designed coat hooks and lamps, among other things. What was special about sneakers and how did you get into this industry?
I saw a great opportunity when I was first invited to work on a shoe project with adidas, as I had never worked on shoes before. I was able to approach it in exactly the same way as any other project I had, whether it was a lamp, a chair, a table, and so on.
The "one-piece approach": The Futurecraft Leather Superstar, with Joachim de Callatay
This is what the "one-piece" approach looks like in the early stages - the actual piece of leather that later becomes the superstar on top
What was different when you worked on sneakers?
The difference was that when I worked on sneakers, I was able to use my knowledge and experience to explore technologies and processes from other industries and apply them to making shoes. Making shoes is a beautiful thing because it allows you to develop models and test the principle and develop high performance designs without a lot of investment.

One of the biggest projects you tackled was Primeknit, which came out in 2012. Before that, you had already designed a lamp for Established & Sons that was only made of a single metal sheet. What is it about your one-piece approach?
The one-piece approach is all about reducing parts and processes to design simpler, smarter objects. Production is taken seriously, which naturally translates into an intuitive object.
Primeknit patterns and prototypes - red for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
All your projects in the footwear sector have a connection to adidas. What is your personal connection to this brand?
It was like a dream job to work with adidas. Although I was not a sneaker fan, I love sports and have always been an adidas kid. I went through so many pairs of Marathon 80s. That was definitely my favourite adidas sneaker, not for the sport but just to wear every day.
A whole box of adidas x Parley prototypes.
What is it like to work for a brand that has such a great history but also designs forward-thinking shoes?
That's one of the reasons I enjoy working for adidas so much - the heritage side of the brand and the way you can always reinterpret or incorporate lines and characters that relate to classic designs and the brand's DNA without losing sight of the future.

Your three favourite models?
Stan Smith, Copa, Marathon 80.

Please tell us more about the ideas behind projects like Primeknit.
With Primeknit, it all started as a reaction to the amount of parts that were used to make shoes at the time, usually 15 to 20 different parts that were cut, glued and glued back together. It was about adding something to solve a problem and my response was to write a brief to build a shoe with the same performance characteristics from a single part and process. You have to write a brief and have some goals to guide the development work.
This is what "raw" Primeknit looks like
Does that also apply to something material-dependent like Tailored Fibre?
Something like Tailored Fibre is really an evolution of exploring the world and possibilities of textiles. We attend material fairs and explore technologies that are not the usual options that already exist in the industry. The way we work is that we now have several ongoing channels of investigation and research, and all it takes is for us to see something, maybe a pattern, to start a new direction of development.

Primeknit Futurecraft Tailored Fibre, made with a technique more commonly used for electrical equipment in the automotive and aerospace industries.
How did you come up with a solution?
Tailored Fibre Placement was just that. We found a technology typically used in the automotive and aerospace industries and took a sample from it. It was a very small sample, but it was enough to convince us that we could develop a zero-waste, complete face material that used data to show us where to place the material. You can design the material and develop programmes and machines that simply add to the shoemaking tools and technologies that adidas already has at its disposal.

Speaking of shoemaking, what is the relationship between design and manufacturing?
The designer always has to understand "how" a product is made. That is the most important thing, because the process of designing and manufacturing then guides the technology. In my opinion, it doesn't work if it's the other way around - if you have the technologies and machines and use them to guide the design. Rather than being an expert in a particular industry, it is a great advantage to understand many processes in order to collaborate with experts and build a network.
An early sample - one of the very first one-piece Primeknit shoes ever.
How do you see the future of sustainable production? Is this possible on a larger scale?
Sustainable is a difficult word. I like the idea that we all need to be responsible, and if everyone works in small steps, it can make a big difference on a large scale.

And finally, is there a common thread in all your design work?
Yes, I think there is. There is a working method that runs through all my design work. It's about practical innovation, performance-oriented simplicity and process-oriented character.

Alexander, thank you for this interview.

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