Freshness Conversations: Lee Holman, Vice President of Nike Apparel Design

“Obsessive Perfectionists” isn’t a new psychoanalytical term, rather it is a general description for designers at Nike. You can easily spot them on the company’s Beaverton campus. They are usually that dreary bunch in the cafeteria, never content about any designs, be that Nike’s own or competitors’…
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“Obsessive Perfectionists” isn’t a new psychoanalytical term, rather it is a general description for designers at Nike. You can easily spot them on the company’s Beaverton campus. They are usually that dreary bunch in the cafeteria, never content about any designs, be that Nike’s own or competitors’…

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“Obsessive Perfectionists” isn’t a new psychoanalytical term, rather it is a general description for designers at Nike. You can easily spot them on the company’s Beaverton campus. They are usually that dreary bunch in the cafeteria, never content about any designs, be that Nike’s own or competitors’. But what you won’t find them doing is sitting around complaining. Instead, they’re constantly hurrying between workstations, the Innovation Kitchen, new material suppliers, and production facilities oversea, all for the process of discovering that “next best thing.” Such was the route that led to the new Nike Tech Fleece, the Swoosh’s rendition of a sports staple.

Before embarking on the task to re-imagine an entire sportswear category, designers at Nike Sportswear simplified their mission into three essentials – Fit, Feel, and

Function. Through each tweak, each alteration, the three Fs reminded them on how the end product should be. What the team came away with was a tri-layer construct featuring a thin foam layer sandwiched between two layers of cotton jersey. Counterintuitive at first glance, Nike found that not only the new fleece wicked moisture and insulated better than the traditional cotton ones, it was lighter since less materials went into its production. That and other interesting revelations were presented recently by Lee Holman, Vice President of Nike Apparel Design, during the Nike Tech Fleece Collection’s exclusive invite-only unveiling in Hong Kong back in May 2013.

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With a Master Degree in Fashion Design from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Holman horned his skills first as an assistant to the quintessential modern British tailor, Sir Paul Smith. Onward, the young haberdasher worked his way to Levi’s Strauss & Co., where he oversaw the vintage-inspired Levi’s Red Tab Line. A stint with Abercrombie & Fitch led Holman to Burberry as its Creative Director, all before an offer from denim speciality brand Habitual. Around the same time, Nike was in search of someone with extensive experience around the fashion industry and Holman was on board in no time.

Though not a “Nike Lifer,” Holman’s deft ambidexterity on both creativity and the business of fashion was crucial to the growth of Nike Apparel, an unruly sector with a myriad of categories that some equates it to Hydra, the multi-headed serpent in Greek mythology. To understand the division’s long term goals and what to expect in the months ahead, we had a brief conversation with the Nike Designer/Executive recently.

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Thanks for your time, Mr. Holman. You joined Nike in 2010. Over the last three years, what were some of the biggest changes you saw in sportswear designs, be them in Nike or the industry as a whole?

For me personally and us as a group, the biggest change is the creative process. Not that we didn’t do this before, but more often now, we’re working in 3D rather than 2D. That was especially true in this project (Nike Tech Fleece) here. We did modeling, fitting, went to the factory for three weeks, came home and went back again for another three weeks. Instead of relying on sketches, our design team worked along side with pattern makers, the folks from Innovation Kitchen, and other related teams to get everything right. We’re just obsessive on what we do. To us, there will always be a problem that needs a solution.

In the last two decades, especially in the past five years, the sportswear category has made the jump from locker rooms to fashion shows. A large part of this mash-up of fashion and functions was done by a new generation of designers like Christopher Raeburn and J.W. Anderson. Will Nike Sportswear be heading towards the same design direction as well?

Our approach is somewhat different when it comes to sportswear designs. At the core of Nike’s design DNA, we see ourselves as problem solvers. What we like to do is to work side-by-side with athletes of any skill level and address their needs through innovation. However, this is not to discount the importance of product lines such as the Made In Italy Collection. They are crucial to the design process as well because they allow our designers to study Old World craftsmanship up close. They also install new creative avenues for future inspirations.

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So going forward, will we see more designs from Nike like the Made In Italy Collection or the Gyakusou Collection with Jun Takahashi and UNDERCOVER?

Yes, it is likely you will. Actually, this is just the first chapter of our Innovation For Life design initiative. Currently we are working on collections for 2014-2015, so you’re going to see new designs and innovations not just in each season, but in each product category too.

Last but not least, in terms of the most recent season, what can consumers expect from Nike Sportswear this Fall and Winter? Any particular items they should be on the lookout for?

The Nike Tech Fleece Collection is certainly one that they should lookout for since it brings a brand new innovation into the sportswear category. The fabrication, the finish, along with its capability to regulate temperature, moisture, and fit are just some of the collection’s unique features. They are also what people are looking for in sportswear, which in return serves as a great platform for our next designs.

Thanks for your time!