When Jason Mayden, former brand director of Jordan Brand and founder of Super Heroic, received the task of redesigning the Air Monarch II, he didn’t know that it would become one of Nike’s best-selling shoes. With support from Michael Jordan, Mayden designed a shoe that would become a household staple with a cult following. Following is a transcript of the video.
Jason Mayden: My first day at Nike’s campus was interesting because they didn’t give you direct instructions on where to actually go. They gave you a map and say good luck.
I get on the elevator, I go up to the fourth floor, the door’s open. I look up, there’s Larry Miller, President of Jordan brand. Look to the right, there’s Michael. I’m in complete shock, so much so that I’m pressing the button on the elevator. Unfortunately, it was the wrong button so the door is doing a awkward motion of jutting open. And as the door is doing this, MJ reaches his hand through the door, grabs my chest, and says, “Are you the intern?” So I’m nervous, I’m stuttering, I’m worried. I’m like, this is Michael Jordan touching me right now. This is crazy. But it was fascinating because he knew my journey. He knew where I came from. And he was excited to spend that moment asking me, you know, what am I going to do with this opportunity.
And then when I got to my desk, I was told that, “Hey, your assignment is to design lace tips.” I didn’t realize it was a joke. I figured, if I’m here, I have to start at the bottom. So I did a thousand sketches ’cause that was my cadence. And after about two weeks he came back to check on me ’cause he had assumed that I figured out it was a joke. Ended up getting several design patents for different ways to lace shoes. But what it showed people was my work ethic and my desire to do whatever I needed to do to be part of that team.
When I received the brief, at first my colleagues kinda made fun of me because it’s the ultimate dad shoe. It was meant for someone that was the complete opposite of the typical Nike muse. I knew, in my heart and in my mind, that I wouldn’t be able to work with an athlete if at first couldn’t work with the people in the community that actually prepared athletes to become who they are.
It wasn’t always the person who was strong and athletic. Sometimes it’s the person that was present and endearing. That was the role of the father. And what we wanted to do is use comfort as a performance feature because if this person’s on their feet all day, comfort is the number one feature they care about. They don’t have a lotta time so they wanna make a very easy and frictionless decision. JCPenney or Sears is right around the corner from their house. They want the same shoe at the same price with the same function all year long. Being able to leverage that archetype of a dad and then do something that made him feel extremely comfortable was exactly what I wanted to do to start my career.
So, step one is doing a critical analysis of areas that were already well-regarded by the consumer. We knew that the colors that they love were white and blue, all black, if they felt fashionable, all gray. So we wanted to make sure we didn’t tamper with the color. That was the first piece. Keep what works.
We also kept the widths. We knew that wide was better for this consumer. So we wanted to make sure that we improved on that.
The bold move was actually creating a logo of its own for the footwear. We wanted to brand it as if it was a signature shoe. So we brought in a different graphic element. We improved the thickness of the tongue ’cause that was something that the consumers loved. They wanted a chunkier tongue. We wanted to make sure that we took the marshmallow shape and sculpt it a little bit more to make it faster but at the same time not reduce comfort. So it was pretty fun. It was like taking a ball o’clay and just sculpting it subtly to give it a little bit more shape, a little bit more form, and just enhance everything that had worked and remove anything that caused friction for the consumer.
When I see people wearing the Monarch, we did our job. Fortunately enough, that product went on to become one of the highest grossing products in the history of footwear. Now it’s become a cultural icon which is hilarious. But back then, we were simply doing what was right to serve the local hero.