Fresh + Creative - Matt Stevens

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Produced by: Dan Hwang
Written by: Poe

Creativity speaking, it was a way to escape from the daily grind and to tap that original inspirations which started it all. Of course, that "original inspirations" could be anything and everything, from a simple leisurely stroll on the beach to something as outrageous as a trip around the world. For Matt Stevens however, it was to reconnect with his love of illustration, its process, and his fascination with Nike Air Max. Those were the premises behind Stevens' first project, AirMax1-a-day. But when and where there is a conjuncture between art and sneaker, there is sure to be interest from other sneaker aficionados, and a lot of it. In a short order of time, this commune of shared interest became such that Stevens took this once personal project forward a bit more and made it public. With help from crowd funding site KICKSTARTER, it became known as MAX100.

Fascinated by its origination, we recently asked Matt Stevens for narrative guided tour on how MAX100 got its start. Our conversation led off as the newest installment of Fresh & Creative...

Can you talk a little bit about how you got your start as an illustrator?

Like most in creative fields, it came to me pretty early. I showed a real love for it, from the time I could hold a crayon in my hand. I'm currently a designer/illustrator. I actually went to school for both, but went hard in the direction of design and kind of left illustration behind for several years. The genesis of the MAX100 project was me looking for a way to reconnect with it. I wanted to work on something to explore lots of styles and ideas, so taking one simple thing and doing different expressions of it seemed like a good idea.


The MAX100 project was a derivative from your previous project, AirMax1-a-day. What made you realized that a book was viable?

Even after stopping at 50 entries and letting the project go quiet, I kept getting a lot of interest from people asking about the project and what was next. I had seen a few books from other designers do really well on KICKSTARTER. I knew my product was more niche, but also knew how passionate the sneaker community is about new and fresh things. My hope was that this was something that both sneakerheads and those that love design and art could enjoy.

I had also done a few of the first 50 in short run blurb books. Something about seeing them in print was really satisfying and that also motivated me to really pursue it.

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Aside from the funding and time, any unexpected obstacles you faced during the process?

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I got a good crash course in shipping and fulfillment once the books arrived. A big pallet of 1,000 books showed up on my doorstep. Just moving them from one part of the house to another was a big effort. I had set myself up at home with a postage system but I had almost 600 books to fulfill that first week between kickstarter backers and pre-orders from my MAX100 website. It was an unbelievable amount of work. I became good friends with the people at the local post office. My wife and oldest son were a huge help with packing them up.

Just the work itself of doing the 40 remaining illustrations and laying out the book for production was tough. It was a blast to work on, but it was all on top of a full time job as designer/creative director, so there were a few weeks there that were really hard. I also had spent so much time leading up to launching the project, that once it was out and I needed to start working on the illustrations, I wasn't ready. It took me a while to get back in the groove and I think I was intimidated by how much there was to be done. Once I got going though and just took them on one at a time, it became a lot of fun again.

You listed a conservative amount of $30,000 on KICKSTARTER to fund MAX100. How you came to that number?

Early on I had to figure out how many books I was printing to arrive at a production number. I priced the project off of 1,000 thinking that was enough to start getting some pricing breaks and would cover my backers. I didn't build in a lot of profit for myself at that number, but was hoping to end up with some extra books to have enough to sell. I chose a printer in Iceland (Oddi Printing) that is known for great color and tight production on art books. I could have gotten the books printed cheaper but not better. These guys did a great job. I figured I'd price the project in a way to cover higher end production and if people wanted to back it, we'd end up with a very quality product.

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Was there any issue about the legality of this project since Air Max is Nike's proprietary?

I think Nike has a culture and a tradition of encouraging people to express themselves surrounding the mythology of the brand. I thought that since I was using this object as inspiration for new ideas it fell into a different category that wasn't just imitating, but was using it as a medium for new expressions. Fortunately, they've seen it that way and have heard from many their that they love and appreciate the project.


What was it about Air Max 1? And finally, will there be other books in the future about other designs in the Air Max family?

I'm old enough to have been around in '87 for the first go round of the AM1. I just remember being fascinated with it, along with many other shoes, but that one in particular. I just think the design of it is so simple and classic. It still holds up today and doesn't look like a vintage design. I saw a video interview with Tinker Hatfield about his inspiration for designing the shoe and that really intrigued me and gave me the seed of the idea for this project.

Right now I'm just doing some things related to the book. I've been invited to a few Sneaker shows/conferences and have worked on a few collaborations based off of the project. The afew store in Dusseldorff, Germany were very supportive of the project and did a lot of cool things related to the project including, selling art prints, selling the book with a custom label and producing a 1of1 AM1.

There's an awesome shop right near where I live in North Carolina, Social Status, that I'm currently working with to do some really cool stuff related to the project. A bit early to talk about now, but there should be some news coming soon. A lot of it will be similar to what afew did, but taking it to another level.

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