From Sneakerhead to adidas Designer

For Charlie Kirihara (B.F.A. 15 Graphic Design) the love of sneakers started at a young age, “In elementary school I got a subscription to Eastbay and would cut out my favorite models and pin them up in my room hoping that my parents would see them.” Now Kirihara is an assistant color and materials designer for football and lacrosse at adidas, and one of the primary designers on adidas’ Freak franchise. 

In this interview, we catch up with Kirihara on what he’s up to and how he landed his dream job.

Can you tell us a bit about what types of projects you work on for adidas?

“My manager and I work hand-in-hand with two footwear designers to create our range of products. We define stories, build hype moments, and create products for athletes from grade school to the NFL. I also handle the newly launched Freak franchise, which Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is the face of.

Additionally, I work on our promo product, which is specifically created for our NCAA and NFL athletes. With my background of painting I am able to bring something new to the table for our NFL product. In fact, adidas is the only brand in this industry that paints cleats for its athletes. Each week this season Von Miller and Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will wear special pregame cleats; some are painted, some are designed and created in the factory, and some are our hype moments like the Unearthed products.”

2017 Freak x KEVLAR® one of adidas Football's Unearthed Pack

2017 Freak x KEVLAR® one of adidas Football’s Unearthed Pack

What’s your favorite custom cleat that you’ve created so far?

“Personally, the Sabrina cleats for DeAndre Hopkins are my favorite because of the social cause behind it. Seeing Von Miller’s reaction on Snapchat to his Money Bag Gang cleats also puts them pretty high on my list. The Moccasin cleats for DeAndre Hopkins were also a unique challenge.”

adidas Sabrina cleats - Photo from Charlie Kirihara

adidas Sabrina cleats created for Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins

Where do you get the inspiration for your custom pieces?

“Everything has a story and when a design gets its inspiration from something meaningful, it resonates with the audience. Of course, at the end of the day, if your story doesn’t result in a good looking shoe, it’s a failed design. It just takes time and experience to work through the challenges and develop your process.”

adidas "Money Bag Gang" created for Von Miller

adidas Money Bag Gang warm-up cleats created for Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller

What advice do you have for College of Design students trying to figure out their next career step?

“Try things that are different and things that you have no experience in! While you have opportunities to study a range of topics at the University of Minnesota, it’s good to be open to things outside of school. I started painting sneakers because I was bored. I saw other customizers painting and thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’ I never thought that I would do it as part of a full-time profession.”

adidas "Mocassins" cleats created for Von Miller

adidas Moccasins cleats created for DeAndre Hopkins

To see more of Charlie’s amazing creations, check out his website and Instagram account.

All photos via @adidasfballus

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