The Battle Within

The further I get into design the less I believe it is about having a “gift” or about being special.

When I was growing up my mom use to over protect me and would always be terribly concerned of me hurting my hands in some crazy way. I blame her for not having the perfect jumpshot and having to rely on this drawing skill. Just kidding. But to this day she will tell my son not to rough house with me because “my hands” are so important. He is three.

And while I appreciate her concern and her love for me and protecting what she knows as my career. I couldn’t be further from her view as to what makes great design.

Yes you need to be able to capture your ideas and thoughts and most times that is with your hands. But what really makes a great designer has nothing to actually do with your hands.

Its courage.

It is courage to try.

It is courage to create your own path.

It is courage to tell the world that it is wrong.

It is courage to show everyone what you believe is missing.

Over the years I have found that when I am most respected in my design projects it is because I am the one that is willing to stand up and prove why the idea is right. I am willing to sacrifice my time, my energy and my effort to take on whatever is needed to make an idea happen.

Courage has become a subject that I love to talk about and learn about. I love to hear how others over came or how they blindly found their way.

Over the next few posts you will be seeing the conversations that Mr. Bailey and I opened up to some of our colleagues that we respect the most. We challenged them to answer the subject in the most original way possible to them.

I believe you learn that courage comes in many forms.

To start the series we decided to share our conversation together. Daniel (MrB) and I tend to have quite a few in depth conversations via WhatsApp about this subject, amongst many others. This is a good representation as to what that stream of consciousness looks like.

In the post below Daniel’s comments are aligned to the right and mine to the left, in bold.

I hope you enjoy what this series is and please feel free to comment and contact us about how you find courage, or if you need some.


BG: This is actually a subject and conversation I have been wanting to have with you for a long time. Because to a large extent you inspired it for me.

As I get older in design, I am beginning, think that working for a corporation or an established “house” of design is the easier path. For surely the safer.

Not to say challenges don’t exist within that path but there is a safety net there.

So my first question for you is how did you end up going down the independent route?

MB: Going independent wasn’t initially the plan to be honest. I actually got into footwear with the goal of designing Basketball sneakers for Nike. Back in the day, that was the pinnacle for me, so I wanted to shoot for the top. At least that was the plan until I met the big homie, Omar Bailey at an IDSA conference in Philly.
I didn’t even realise that being an Indy footwear designer, or having your own footwear design/development agency was a thing till I met him.

BG: Why?

MB: After getting to hang around Omar, go with him on trips to China and everywhere in between, working on projects for all kinds of brands, from start-ups to established companies, I realised how much larger the industry is. It’s so much more than just design if you want it to be, so that whole experience kind of opened my eyes to the development side of things.

Also to be completely honest, I don’t think I really had the skill set straight out of college to have attracted any type of serious interested from a brand like Nike or adidas, I needed the time to develop, and during that time I was lucky to see a different side of the industry and also got the time to work on my skills.

BG: What are some of the challenges that you didn’t expect that has happened?

MB: Dealing with clients can be tricky at times, particularly when they’re not necessarily “shoe people” and don’t know much about the footwear design industry. It becomes more of a teaching process than a design one, which can be a little frustrating. So it goes without saying that we’re quite picky with who we choose to work with.

The plus side to that is that it also gives me and the team freedom to create our own projects, which is super fulfilling, but also comes with its own set of challenges. Mainly giving every project the time it truly deserves in order to create the best product possible.

Other then that when you own your own company/s, there are a lot of “other”, non-designer things you need to take care of. I write emails more than is probably healthy for my fingertips, and my sanity.

Also, make sure you have a good accountant.

BG: Where do you find the courage to continue doing what you are doing?

MB: I’m coming from a place where I felt no one was really into what I was doing, so I just thought fk it, I’ll outwork them and get better and better. Coming from a sporting background I feel confident in my work ethic and my ability to do whatever it takes to excel. I’ve also surrounded myself with people that are essentially doing the same as me (but way better) in different areas and industries, so it’s only natural that I would do the same. I guess you could say I draw my courage from them.

BG: Is it courage that you have? or is it a personality trait? Essentially do you see yourself as courageous?

MB: Not particularly courageous, I just really love what I do. I’ve always been the type of person to just “go for it” and figure things out on the way. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesnt. But, at the core of it all I love to create and either being a part of, or understand the process, in as many aspects as I can. I don’t really see that as being courageous, I just couldn’t really imagine living any differently.

Same question to you –

BG: I have always had this capability to say what I don’t want, I am not great at telling you what I want but I can always tell you what I don’t want. I don’t know if its a gift but I use it a lot. I also had parents that I would consider to be very passive. So from a young age, I learned to make decisions and figure things out.

I think that ability to make decisions, have the capability to know what not to do to figure out what I want to do; can be perceived as having courage. I find more and more as I grow into being a professional designer, customers or team members or leadership you are working for; are not just looking for your ideas but what they really want is the ideas that you believe in.

So I have learned that I have to have courage. I have to be willing to stand up and push for what is needed. And I have to do that by any means necessary.

Does it come naturally, I don’t know? I say yes because I have a hard time sitting back and letting things happen without me but I also say no because I don’t think of myself as being courageous. If I was I would have my own brand right now.

BG: In life, it is easy to fall into the cliche that life is always easier on the other side; is there ever a time where you wish you were a part of a design house?
If so, what keeps it from happening?

MB: I wouldn’t say I’ve ever wished I was part of a design house, but I’ve definitely entertained the thought of joining one. To be honest though, right now I’m kind of in a zone to where I want to create my own design house, filled with super talented peers, which I’m in the process of building slowly right now.

For me, freedom is the most valuable currency.

I’ve had the honour of being approached by some of the top brands in the industry. And though I’m always flattered, I generally say thanks, but I’m not interested right now. There have, however been a couple times where I’ve entertained the idea.

Marc Dolce actually hit me up a few times about the BK Farm. After expressing a couple times that, though I was flattered I wasn’t really interested, I started to question whether choosing to not give the opportunity a chance was actually the easy option, so we set up a meeting in Nuremberg.
I don’t know if I’d have ever actually taken a position with them, it would have for sure have taken a lot for me to do that, regardless I clearly had a little too many other things going on for their liking because we didn’t continue talks after the meeting. I kind of stressed my need to carry on designing my own products and also continue with ConceptKicks, which they totally understood and respected. I think that would be the only way I could ever work with a larger design house, I would need to maintain a high level of freedom, which isn’t something anyone’s really been able to offer me to the level I have by myself right now.

At the end of the day though, I want to learn and get better, so if I think a situation can offer something that I can learn from and grow, I’ll try and at least give it some thought. But the bottom line for me is that if you’re going to put me in shackles, I’m not about it.

How about you, do you ever wish you were fully independent?

BG: Oh boy, that is a tough question, yes I do and no I don’t. It is the ultimate dream. But it brings great risk and fear too.

It is easy to say that independent would be easier because you don’t have as many voices inputting on thoughts and ideas but I also think some of those voices are necessary and help balance many evils. I know that my best ideas are when I work with others. It isn’t just me developing a design for myself. I enjoy doing that immensely but I need others to be able to validate and make sure that I am not only designing for myself.

At the end of my career, I want to look back at having the freedom to work on what inspires me. To go back to the courage question, I think it takes a lot of that to be willing to be free. Because it means that you have to be willing to be independent and blaze a path that is great for you and bring others with you.

MB: What would have to happen for you to take the dive and go fully indy?

BG: If I am being honest it is me fully believing in myself. The only thing that stops anyone from doing anything is themselves.

What is slowing me is happiness.

I love what I am doing right now on every level so I don’t want to give it up.

Realistic thoughts that make me apprehensive is that I have a good set up. As I mentioned I am happy. There are challenges at times but I am happy. And I know that I can provide for my family in a great way with what I have going now. So it is very hard to give that up without having a full plan in place.

MB: You’ve always been outspoken about the industry, where has the confidence come from to continually put your honest opinions out to the world?

BG: My confidence comes in having a voice and constantly admiring others who use their voice properly. I believe honesty is a virtue and I believe if you aren’t honest and are in a position to influence then you are doing nothing but polluting the world and ultimately your sole.

What also made me confident is I don’t view myself as media/blogger/influencer or whatever term you want to throw at for speaking about footwear. I saw myself as sharing a voice for my passion that didn’t exist. Outside of Kicksology and yourself, what I started speaking about all the way back in 2009 didn’t exist on the internet and I could argue still doesn’t. What gave me the confidence to boldly speak out about product and the industry though as that it wasn’t my source of income.

So views, ad dollars and any sort of revenue generating never entered my mind. I didn’t have to rely on it and never planned to, so in a way it was freeing.

MB: Have you ever received any backlash from people within the industry for your comments?

BG: It is no secret that I was being seeded product by brands at one point. That has all ended. Like dead. And very likely never coming back.

I never viewed myself as an influencer but I got pulled into that life because brands liked my views and knowledge and how I approached sharing it.

I don’t think it ended because I was too honest but it did end because I wouldn’t just post up every press release or on product, that I didn’t have anything to say about. When I started receiving really bad product like say a Jordan Son of Mars, I would just flat out give it away to someone and never once speak about it. I had the confidence to do because of what I mentioned already. I can’t fake anything. I literally couldn’t craft up a single story to remotely stand by on that shoe.

I can’t speak for other brands but I do think I still have a very strong relationship with most of them. And I think it is because the people that are genuine with their product, which is Jordan, Nike and adidas; except what is said. They don’t align themselves with people they don’t value. So I never burned bridges but I also don’t help them reach mass numbers because I am unwilling to talk about the subjects that most are interested in. I spoke to a very, very, very small demographic within a very, very small demographic.

MB: What does courage look like doing what you’re currently doing?

BG: This is something that is shifting for me right now. 2-5 years ago I would have told you it was fighting for design and getting everyone to create products that havn’t been done before and are revolutionary and are going to change the world and all that fun shit.

But now it is actually instilling confidence and belief in others to keep them going on their journey. The fundamentals of design have always come very easy to me, that is not to say it doesn’t challenge me or that I am a perfect designer. It is to say that the skills that are needed to create a design I was lucky to have. What I found very quickly in my career is that a lot of people in our industry have that but what I lot don’t have is the willingness to share information and build connections through it.

So courage to me right now is building bridges with those that don’t know how.


Brett Golliff

Designer | Blogger | Footwear Extraordinaire | @golliff

Join the conversation

  • Ilyas Darakchiev - 3 years ago

    …”So courage to me right now is building bridges with those that don’t know how.” …

    Totally agree with Brett. It’s harder than just draw some cool pictures.
    Thank you for this interwiev! And for all “Battle within” articles!