Jeffrey Henderson

Being confident with your creativity will take you far as a designer, and this week’s guest is a perfect example of that. Jeffrey Henderson is the founder of AndThem, an NYC-based creative collective that focuses on building creativity and business within Black and brown communities.

We started off talking about plans for the summer, and then Jeffrey spoke about his innovative agency model and how he uses it to help give back to the next generation of creatives. We also talked about his 15+ year career as a footwear designer for Nike, Yeezy, and Cole Haan, and how he brings that knowledge to his current work with creating his own footwear designs. Thank you Jeffrey for being a shining example of what it means to use your talent to bring the world to your feet — literally!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So I’m Jeffrey Alan Henderson I’m a creative based in Harlem, New York, team of about 10. We take on, everything from product design to content creation.

Maurice Cherry:
How’s the year been going so far?

Jeffrey Henderson:
Oh, the year’s actually been pretty good. And we actually had a nice growth year. Not in terms of state business, business has always been pretty standard even when we went through trials and tribulations of COVID. But I think I brought in some young folks for the first time and made it official kind of last year. And so we had some growing pains in terms of people just learning how to be creatives in sort of corporate settings and non corporate setting. That was very new to a lot of us. And having an agency built like that this year has been a, I think, an extension of that. But now that everything’s opening, the team is definitely more seasoned, so a lot more exciting because of the things I know we can take on. So it’s been pretty good.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m pretty sure people listening can hear the birds in the background. So, it sounds like you’re hit like some idealist spot right now, which is good, which is good. I think after the year. After, after the year, I think all of us have had a little bit of a mother nature’s is gladly welcome at this point. Do you have any plans for the summer with the agency?

Jeffrey Henderson:
Oh, this summer where we’re trying to get back together during, I guess January of this year, we had pretty much all 10 folks in Harlem, essentially, about five of them stayed in, we have a studio here and apartment that we actually rent out as an Airbnb, but when we don’t, it’s actually our studio. So everybody was sort of working together. And that was, I guess, when the world was still kind of closed. And so we’re going to try to do a little bit out of that again, since we can’t really travel to the places we need to travel to get work done, we’re going to just come back to New York, settle down and keep growing.

Maurice Cherry:
Now with And Them and sort of the changes that have happened over the past year. I mean, you said business has been pretty steady, and I know that you do a number of different services. Can you just talk a little bit about what And Them is and how did you come up with the name And Them?

Jeffrey Henderson:
And Them comes from when I was a Nike employee in Japan. I had a lot of free time in the mornings where I would have to work with the team that was in the U S. And so during those phone calls every now and again, I’d have an hour in between and there was a creative by the name of Kevin Carroll who’d just left Nike, he’d written a book, Rules of the Red Rubber Ball. So he became sort of internet famous at that point, hired a team, he had about six people doing everything from PR to creative, strategy. He had been working with them for about three, four months and it just wasn’t clicking. He ended up calling, I think, myself, Jason Mayden who’s now at Fear of God Athletics, D’Wayne Edwards who runs PENSOLE. And he’s like can you like, just sit on these meetings and help me out, but I don’t want to threaten my team. He started introducing us as you know, was just Jeff and him. It was just D’Wayne and him kind of nonchalantly. And so the joke was, we just became an them like this [inaudible 00:06:00].

Jeffrey Henderson:
I just kept it. Kept the name because it also represented the fact that when we work with, whether it’s Yeezy or FC Harlem or local restaurant around the corner, we’re not trying to showcase our brand we’re trying to showcase your brand. We were doing something with Revision Path, it would be Revision Path and them. It’s just us trying to help out folks who sort of need, I think, a boost. I live right down the street from Harlem Hospital so there’s always a siren now and then.

Jeffrey Henderson:
In the last year we definitely picked things up because what really happened was this is probably three years ago now I was working on a project, launching Everlane’s new footwear line that they put out the tread. And while I’m working on it, Michael Price with the CEO, he keep asking me like, how do you do X, Y, Z?

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I’d be like, oh, you just call this person. And it’s like, I just saw him asking questions. And he kept looking at me like you have all these people, why don’t you set up an agency? And I was like, yeah, nah, that’s too much responsibility. Like I did all that. Like at Nike you have a report. Like it was all just too much. But a year later it was like, okay, all these people who, and it sort of came by, honestly, in that people who were working on teams individually, when I got there, they just sort of were like, yo, can I do a project with you , you have anymore? So I just kind of brought them with me. So they kind of became my and them. So I just, if we want to call it, I’d be like, yo, why don’t you sit on this call and won’t you take this and if there’s money left on the table, we’ll split it. So that’s sort of just evolved to the fact that I just had a few really talented young folk who probably weren’t either seasoned in corporate or had already tried corporate and was like some just wasn’t feeling right about it so they were like, I’d rather hang out with you, work on projects. So I became normal. So we’ll be doing a lot of product design and graphic design. And then one of my best friends, creative director, who he taught himself to be sort of art director holding the camera. He was doing, working at a not-for-profit basically counseling kids and got a camera. And we were coaching his basketball team together and he said, you know, my dream is I want to shoot the NBA in the Olympics. And he’s like, that’s my longterm dream. That’s what, that’s what I want to do in life. Three years later, he ended up doing that. Like, it was all sort of like this whirlwind of like, he worked for the Nyx, he shot for FIBA in Brazil, the Olympic basketball games, like, oh, I should’ve made my dream a little bigger than that. And so he sort of come on with his team. So all together, we tackle soup to nuts, anything from product creation, manufacturing to content creation. So that’s kind of where we are and what we do.

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like it all kind of came together pretty easily. I mean, since you had already this network of people and you had creatives that were drawn to you because of your work, it sounds like it didn’t take much to kind of build a team.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I think it really goes back to one of the things that happened In my old Nike days, it was very much this thought of you kind of were put on a track or plan to be a design manager or design director. A lot of times people would be put in design manager roles so they could kind of learn the procedures, the processes, the operations part, so that when they became a design director, they at least know what those things were as we started looking at bigger picture in terms of product creation. So I kind of took a big tune to what the operation side was. I was, I think, I learned from some really great people who just knew how to grow and manage people because I needed a lot of that because I was literally making up as I went, I didn’t have a design degree. So anybody who could help me, I was in their office, left and, trying to figure out how I screwed up. I just took those lessons and while I was working on the creative side, building all those other kind of tools and components taught me how to get the most out of people and how to help them get the most out of themselves. When I ended up in random spots, I wasn’t just worried about is the color right, is the engineering proper is the functionality working, is the design modern. It was also how you doing as a person? Are you doing the right thing? And so it really like became, I didn’t realize it was that obvious until this young woman, Lauren Divine who’s great material designers, [inaudible 00:10:18] This is probably the early days we were over in some broken down office building And I was probably in and out of LA for maybe a year and then one day, I guess I didn’t show up for three months cause I was either doing something else I didn’t didn’t need to be there and I got there, she came and gave me a big hug and she’s like, finally, you’re back our manager I was like, your what? I was over here, drawing shoes what do you mean? She’s like, no, no, no, we need like this set up and this meeting organized and this, that and the other, and this is what you do. I was like, okay, honestly, didn’t sign up for that, but the reality was I did sign up for that. I mean, I just became a mentor to a few people who just sort of needed the ins and outs every now and again, it wasn’t like I was their manager manager, but I was, I don’t know, helpful in helping them get things straight when they needed it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Especially if you weren’t in a traditional corporate environment where people were set to be your manager or mentor. So that sort of turned into an easier way to then run this sort of organization that we just pick projects and started out really me just no one, some people who were like, yo, you want to do this project? Yeah, I got nothing better to do, but I mean, it’s real. Like I ended up falling in love with things that I know nothing about just because it’s different. Like we have a project now with a friend of mine, she’s CEO at this wellness brand, wellness and beauty called ASA there and it’s all about circularity, sustainability and reality is like, I walked to the conversation, going to look, I’m not like a big sustainability dude, that’s not my thing thing. I kind of know about it and I’m more interested in it because I have learned over the last, I think two years, how much it affects black and brown communities first.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And so I have a little bit of interest in it, but I can’t say it’s like, I wake up everyday like, oh, I care about this. But ever since being in this project, like now I’m like forced to like, oh, this is real and I’m going to the grocery store I see tons of plastic and I’m like, oh, how do I fix, how do I help? How do I like live here to these compensations? So it just becomes a, I don’t know, we find ourselves in new conversations that are helpful because I think it’s, it helps us to become creative, but it also lends we have a skillset that we were using somewhere else that now we can apply it to something that we all care about.

Maurice Cherry:
I think that’s, especially when you have a, a collective like that that’s, what’s important is that you’re able to bring your expertise and the mind trust of the people that you’re working with to a project or to a brand it’s not necessarily that you’ve done it before, but the collective knowledge is enough where you can go into the project and still know what needs to be done.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I think that’s very true. I think our, I don’t know, collective unit is hard enough. I don’t know questions, concerns. We’re not people. I think some of the more senior folks on our team, like we’ve heard it before. It’s very enlightening that we have sort of like these 22 year olds who chime in knowing that look, I don’t know everything, but here’s what I’m thinking and it sort of like it brightens up our eyes to go, oh, never would have occurred to the old crowd in the room as to think about things like that because like we’re not digital natives or we’re not focusing in certain places. We don’t go to certain parties. We don’t hang out in certain worlds and I think they ended up bringing something new to the table while absorbing what we offer them so when they get to touch base and go, oh, let’s see what Lowy Frames is like a place that does fine art restoration and gilded frames. That is a new conversation for all of us. But the young folk, they don’t realize it’s new to us they just, everything is new to them. It’s kind of eyeopening to watch them grow.

Maurice Cherry:
And you know, and one thing that is really important to note here for people that are listening too, is that , these are young creatives and you’re giving them the ample space to make these sorts of decisions or determinations or comments or observations. It sounds like in a safe environment, if they say something that may not go over well with the client or something, they’re not immediately asked, I would imagine like it’s sort of a, they have a space to, to fail, which I think as a young creative is probably important to have because there can be so much out sort of like outdo pressure placed on black and brown creatives to kind of be brilliant right out the gate and not make mistakes.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I think it is sort of, I mean, the conversation we were having before we got on here about the, I think understanding of what it means to be black in any corporate environment to be brown in any corporate environment, the idea that this is like a second culture, a second language that you have to bring to the table and learn, I think often the idea of assimilation or the idea of fitting in or not making people uncomfortable. Like it was so ingrained and in the reality is I think I was trying to be part of that in the nineties, I was just, wasn’t really good at it because I was trying to go, okay, I know your music I noticed that. And I really didn’t because I really wasn’t listening to it. But I think there’s this innate need to sort of like, see if you could fit in and our group is like, we don’t really have that as much as like, you need to know this part of the culture in order to do the job. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. I mean, if you make a mistake as you’re going through, because it’s all different and it’s all new, pay attention. And I think that’s the part where I, from all my failures of walking into situations and not knowing my first days, going from Nike to cohort where it was like, I wasn’t making sports shoes and that’s all I knew to oh, now we’re making a small number. Like Nike, the minimum you could do in a shoe with like 30,000 pairs of shoes, I got the cohort and I was like, oh, we did 30,000 pair. They were like, we’ll like, I’ll be celebrating with 30,000 pair it’s just a different mindset. I didn’t know. And I think I kind of have this, I’m happy to open my mouth and sound dumb 10 times out of 10, just because let’s get it out the way cause I don’t want any assumptions of me walking out the room, not really knowing, I think having my team, watching me say stupid things all the time and I do it for almost for their entertainment. I still call it tic-tac, I still talk about things, old guy, just so they know, I’m not afraid to sound stupid in the meeting and you should be okay because as long as you know, which is supposed to know and you do your homework, you’ll be good. And I think that’s, it’s really, uplifting to see these young black and brown folk be able to hold their weight and going to conversations as well as watching whoever the client is kind of go, oh, y’all know what y’all doing. Like yes we do. That’s all good.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I think that’s, I mean, honestly just for me as, a designer, as a self-taught designer, that’s just even great to hear. I mean, I’ve had other studio owners and such that have been on the show and I’ve even talked to like just studio owners through AIGA and other design organizations and it’s true. Sometimes if there is a leading creative at the head, like you would be with, with And Them, there’s almost this need for them to come off as the creative expert. Like they have to be the captain of the ship and you are the captain of your ship, but at least what you’re showing is that you’ve built enough camaraderie with your crew. So you all can come together and work on things and it’s not just you dispatching people to do work. You know what I mean?

Jeffrey Henderson:
No, it’s definitely I think, and you talked about it, getting people to come in and do podcasts I think there’s, on top of being black or brown in the industry, I think the conversation around being a creative also comes with a certain expectation. You may actually be an introvert or you might actually just get put in boxes and the sales team and marketing team be like, oh, well don’t talk to them till you want to have something creative and cool. But then when to drag the cool out of them. And I think to me, that’s what kind of puts folks in a box they’re afraid to talk there’s like a lot of this, that and the third. And I think I was lucky enough to be placed in environments where I like for real in the last two years, that’s when my friends laugh all the time. I don’t want to be on podcasts, I don’t want to talk, I never want to hear myself talk, but it’s just what it is. But I also know that folks are like, I learned something from you can you do that more often? It’s like, all right. It’s just easier if I can’t call everybody on the phone so here’s the podcast and I’m just going to ramble on, I think for hours at a time. But I think the idea that someone can offer you an opportunity to stand up in a meeting and give your options. And I was at Nike and I do believe I should have been like not fired, but somebody should have, could have reprimanded me over and over but they were like, yo, this is, this is how you grow and these are the bullets you take, you just come in and like, say something.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I think there was quite a few people like who were Nike like, oh, didn’t say it but I kind of felt that like, oh, like Jeff’s getting run cause he’s black. Or he used to go in there. Like I could be completely wrong, but yo, that’s how I felt like thinking that. But I also know some people were like, yo he’s in the room cause he was bringing something different and all y’all had the same skillset so even if it’s not what you think is the right answer, we’re going to let them go and if it doesn’t work cool, but if it does work, it’s going to work in a much different way than you guys. And I think I was given enough room, like the fact that I went in to quit when I was at Nike, because I was feeling like this wasn’t going the right place and they sent me to basically run for [inaudible 00:19:29] in Japan. And I was like, okay, it was wild. But I think that it’s a case where there were the right people in the right rooms who were talking about this a lot, like the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and I’m kind of back in mentor mode, but I think having the idea and notion, I started understanding once I got at a higher clip at Nike that I didn’t have to be somebody who’s mental, I just need to go into rooms and be like, why aren’t you highlighting this person’s work. And basically looking at people like they were wrong, if they didn’t, I didn’t know whether they were doing good work or not I was just asking them and if they feel guilty about it, that should probably tell them something.

Jeffrey Henderson:
But I think that level of sponsorship became important and even though the mentoring was there, but I think having, and I know people who did that for me, it was either told them he asked her or I sort of knew, or I know that I would get no, no, no, no, no, then it get quiet for about a month and then next thing, Hey, we think you should do this opportunity. When somebody says something, clearly somebody says something so that I think is a part that seeing more of that from folks in or outside of corporate work, it’s just kind of important.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, And Them does a lot of different things. It’s hard to, I guess sort of pinpoint exactly what you do. Like if you go to the website for example, and click on FAQ it’s questions that sort of allude to the services that you could provide, like developing products, designing products, shooting actions, shooting commercial, shooting style, making logos, these are all services that we can do as long as you’re asking the question on what is it that we can do for you for your project.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Yo, I love you. You do all your homework. So reality is our main strengths, if we have people who help build Nike product, Yeezy product, Everlane, especially footwear, that’s our main bag. Then I kind of went out of my way, when projects and apparel came out, I was like, I need people who know how to do this. And I just saw that I literally went on LinkedIn and was like black and brown people who do apparel, please check here. The funniest joke about a member of our team, Shauna K is I was in the line at FedEx on 125th, and in walks behind me, Dapper Dan’s assistant Ashley. I look at her, she looks at me and she’s like, what do you want Jeff? I was just looking at her, like I wanted some, I was like, I need a black woman and she was like, I know who you need.

Jeffrey Henderson:
We didn’t discuss exactly what I meant by that. That could have gone a thousand different ways. But I was like, I want a black woman creative who is just starting out because we need to round out this team and we didn’t have that on a team. And she was like, you need to meet Shauna K, just finish FIT, she’s looking for work, getting a bone that was probably on a Friday. Miss Shauna came on a Tuesday, W]we had our first meeting to work on a Friday. That’s how quickly it went. But I think that’s the part where we knew we had product creation folks. I wanted more folks to kind of round that out. Then John Lopez on his side, again, shooting the Olympics, work for the NYX’s he’s dragging me around like, I just rented this $70,000 camera for a day Jeff let’s go out and have some fun, like, okay, I don’t know what that means. So being able to do those big, specific things were important, but we had both worked at meaningful places. Then we brought in Brie La Bossier who is sort of like, keeps us all saying as a kind of design manager, project manager, kind of everything. So what ends up happening people like, can you do this, can you do that and it’s like, well, I remember when I first left Cole high, I was sort of like free to do anything. I was like, I am not designing shoes ever again. That was my thing I wanted to do since high school, I was going to design shoes. So I had a good 15 year ride of doing that. I was like, yo, I’m going to do everything else I’m done to wear shoes, like start my new life.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Like I’m going to do branding, graphics, marketing, whatever it is, I’m not going to do shoes anymore. Two months after that, I was on a plane to go do Yeezy, it was just ingrained in me. But in those two months I started writing more. I started this random e-comm site with a bunch of my friends just to sell t-shirts, basically to ourselves, called Good Things. I was learning how econ works. I was learning a little bit about SEO and digital and all these other pieces that just started to round out. As I started getting deeper into conversations, I was like, oh, once you get through that first layer, you kind of know enough to be dangerous. Then we thought I’d taken on projects. And like our learning path really came with working with kind of nonprofits and small businesses because I didn’t know how to make a website or do anything.

Jeffrey Henderson:
But there was a restaurant that I ate at pretty much, three times a month, 4 times a month. He was like, yo, I need a website. Okay. Let’s build it. Let’s figure out what that looks like. Let’s figure out all the pieces behind it. And so working with people to kind of figure out and small businesses and nonprofits to kind of learn at least the lingo, how it works, sort of brought us to the stage of, oh, now with our knowledge of, anything from Nike to the New York NYX and NBA and Yeezy, oh, okay. We can start taking this to more people in different ways and definitely either being the conversation we were having before, intentionally this is going to be a black and brown group of people working on stuff. And so you can hire us intentionally cause you want black and brown.

Jeffrey Henderson:
You can hire us intentionally because you want a diversity where you’re just hiring us because we are good, we don’t really care. We’re going to come in and it’s going to have like we jokingly laugh, we had to do a photo shoot and we’re like, who knows somebody, wait. Like we can’t just because it was for a brand. It was this wasn’t a, like we’re trying to cross over, it was like, it was literally for a brand that has, I mean, all the founders are white and it’s like, yo, we don’t want them to look like they’re doing black face by, oh, everybody in their ad is black, a brown, like this should be pretty diverse. But in order to be diverse we can through some white folks in there, like we look across the room like who do we know? But it was this funny game of like, we don’t know, no white folks, but.

Maurice Cherry:
I just have to pause there. That is, to me, that is hilarious because the inverse of that probably happens in every creative studio at least once a week. Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So we are like the exact opposite. And one of the things that’s like amazing is we had a basketball shoot and this happens pretty much with every client, especially in color. And some say it like, and they even say a day one, or they say it, at least when they get to a photo shoot a week or product on the table is that one of the models came out. We had a shoot that was supposed to go from 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM in the park. We had some gears set up or got to shoot when it got dark. We all showed up one time at two o’clock we’re getting shots in and eight o’clock it was pitch dark. This was fall. That was probably like nine o’clock. We’re still out there still shooting good night shots. One of the models, like he was leaving on a bike.

Jeffrey Henderson:
He was like, yo. And I had to record him saying, he’s like, yo, like I’ve been in shoots before. And sometimes it’s your homeboy and it’s cool. We all hang out in the end product is like, okay. Sometimes I’m at like these professional shoots and it’s all good, we all know each other and we’re good but you know, in and I’m out cause work to do. He was like, this was like the party with real work. He was like, y’all onto something. And it’s that vibe that again, we’re doing things like in ways cause we don’t know any better. We’ll do it professionally, we’ll have the call sheets up, we’ll have all the emails and testing codes, all the protocol, new we’ll look up at Brie because she’s worked at like startups and stuff.

Jeffrey Henderson:
You will look up and Brie, because she’s worked at like startups and set up organization, things like, oh, you got to sign your paperwork. They don’t do the insurance. You want to showing up. At the same time, we’ll be out there enjoying each other’s company in a way that’s relaxed and a barbecue sort of atmosphere, which a lot of folks look at, like, I don’t know, but then what ends up happening? Like we laugh, cause it’s like the young crew, they’re like, yo, they go get an internship somewhere else. And they’re like, this is not we doing over here. And I’m like, okay, well we get some more projects and we can tackle some more work for you. So we’re doing something to have a little fun, but it’s definitely, it’s definitely the other side of the coin in terms of it’s just black and brown and it’s kind of what it looks like.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean what it really sort of boils down to, I think is two things. One you’re introducing to these creatives, at sort of the beginning stages of their career, a new possibility for what work can be, which is, or for what creative work can be, which is that it’s infused with play. We’ve had a lot of people on the show that are in the advertising industry and such, and they always talk about the long hours and the shoots and none of it sounds fun. They’re able to be creative, but it doesn’t sound like they’re really enjoying the job, you know? I think the second thing is that you’re inviting in this new tradition of this is what creative work can look like. So you’re saying yes, you can do this and also it can be fun. It doesn’t have to be stuffy or bureaucratic or anything like that. Yes, there are certain protocols that have to get done, but the magic and the environment that you’re able create is how you get your best work.

Jeffrey Henderson:
This was probably midway through dependent. It was maybe three months in and the team was feeling a certain way cause we had just, well, we had set up, I was looking for a full studio for us to work out of. This was probably end of 2019. Because I wasn’t finding exactly the space I wanted I sort of was feeling a little grumpy about it, at the same time I was working with the spot on 118th Milbank Children’s Aid Society. And it’s a afterschool program set up in Harlem basketball courts and swimming pools kind of have everything. When Zion Williamson lost his shoe, he did it on the algebra courts of Milbank, but it also has these classrooms, they actually have a onsite nursing office. So it’s pretty well-developed. And so the classrooms needed a little update. So I went to the folks there I’m like, look, tell you what, instead of me paying for a regular lease, I’m just going to update one of these classrooms.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And we’re going to work here in the mornings until two, when kids show up. Would that work and they, before I could even finish, they’re like done show up whenever. So we put some big screen TVs in, we put some tables, chairs, we were getting prepared, then COVID hit. So we kind of got locked out like everybody else. So the team was still in a certain way cause they had gone to two or three meetings and would just get to know each other and they were liking the vibe, but we shut it down from soon. Brie, our project manager, also runs a community kind of center for creatives. So she was like, we gonna have book club. So Saturday mornings from nine to 11, like one Saturday morning, Saturday mornings, we started meeting and having book clubs. What was happening was there were elements that were going over the young folks head just in terms of here’s things you ought to know whether it was in design or government or sales or e-commerce, whatever things that need to be had, or we need to discuss we’d discuss it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And so she set up these meetings and buy a book. It was more like here’s an article to read or a the Netflix video to watch. And so we discuss it and three or four in, I was like, we’re taking away from their Saturdays. I was like, maybe we should turn it down a little. So we took a week off. They complained like nobody’s business. And were like, yo, why are we doing book club? Okay. And some of this was because everybody was sort of quarantined. Everybody was locked away. And so I thought, okay, we’ll do this bit because everybody’s locked away. Once we all get to go out and see the world, we’ll slow it down, did not stop. It just became this thing that everybody did together had conversations that were sort of like, this is serious and this is a safe space.

Jeffrey Henderson:
By then, we all got to know each other. So we give each other grief like nonstop, but it’s sort of a safe space for creatives to kind of, we show our work on Wednesday, Wednesday afternoon. That’s when we talked about work, work, work. But on Saturdays, and it’s not mandatory. Some people want a squad, like they’re like, no, I don’t need that. Cool. But the other half they show up religiously and the other place they go, well, let me see what the topic is. And then I’ll drop off. There was definitely this added piece of like, there’s just a conversation that, especially for creatives, especially for black and brown folks, being able to, I think, chop it up in that that sense is special. I mean, you kind of have to make space for that.

Maurice Cherry:
I liked it. There’s a section it’s not on the And Them side. I think it’s on the good thing site. That’s called book club where you sort of have some writings and things. I want to talk about that later. And I know we spent a lot of time talking about And Them, but let’s kind of shift the focus here because really this interview is about you. You’re originally from Ohio. So where you grew up, what was it like there?

Jeffrey Henderson:
That’s funny cause my wife and I laugh about this all the time is that my, wife went to stolen. So it’s a big deal. She’s from Philly. She went to Spelman. So she definitely talks about HBCU and what it meant. And it was never like my sister went to Wilberforce, going to HBCU was never anything that felt like I needed to do because, and I credit, this is like, we’re looking at 30 year anniversary. Or what is it? Yeah, 30. I graduated from high school, 30 years ago and 91. And I graduated with, out of the hundred kids in my class. It was 96, black folk, just black. Like one side of Baden was, is black, black, black, black, black, like just all black. And so, and I would joke with people like, I didn’t know, white people until I got to college, like literally, like I knew white people from the folks that went to our school weren’t that many or I saw them on TV.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So I would joke like white people were kind of imaginary. Like, it wasn’t a real thing. I learned about cultural and all that, it just didn’t really exist. And I never met anybody who was really like that. And so there’s a certain confidence that I had of being… Only having to worry about my culture. And so when I got to college, when I got to Purdue, it was very much like, oh, here’s another culture. I was like, okay, cool. But now I just care about engineering. Like, all I want to do is get into design and Nike and I’m supposed to study this so I’ve never worried about embracing anything of them, I’m just going to focus on school. And so after two years of that, I actually, at the one year I was like, yeah, I’m done would be in the middle of nowhere. Let’s go have some fun.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So I moved to Atlanta, nothing but black folk. And so that became a thing. And I think when I left and went to Nike, it was a strange sort of weird balance of me trying to figure out what was, what, and I honestly try to, and I don’t even know how to put it, I was trying to fit in, but I guess I wasn’t really trying that hard cause like everybody I knew was basketball, sports, marketing, brand Jordan. Like it was just all the black and brown people like it was. And I kind of hung out with whoever, but that’s just where I’ve found myself, other people who, I don’t even know if it was like, I found them as much as they were like, yo, we’re doing these things. You want to come hang out. And they were the normal things, like whatever, if it’s a barbecue or whatever.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it was like, cool. I don’t know that I went out of my way, but it was this confidence that none of us really settled in until I moved to Harlem like three years ago. And when I got to Harlem, I was like, yo, this feels just like, they know how this feels just like being in Atlanta. And one of the things that kind of brought it up. So we did this project with the Apollo and it was about sneakers. And about education and someone had, was like we have to tell people why we’re doing something at the Apollo around sneakers. And I was like, no, we don’t, we don’t have to tell anybody. Like, if you ask somebody about sneakers and they’re black, the culture kind of says, they’re going to tell you something about it. They will tell you they couldn’t afford something.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And they going to tell you that knew somebody who had it. They going to tell you their own personal story, but we don’t have to have a conversation about why. Cause you’re the Apollo like is blackity black, black, black, black, like it’s just there. And I think that part, going back to Jefferson township, they know high aware, like our Italian immigrant history teacher went out of his way to make sure we understood that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves because he liked black people. He went out of his way to make sure like, nah, like this is what you need to hear. And that was just a school we grew up in. So like when I got to other places, like really that’s what y’all are. Whether they were black schools, white schools, like we learned it a hundred percent the way I think is discussed now. It was never a question for me or any of my friends going up.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I would say it’s a wild ride for me. It was the best place to be from, a little too small for me. Definitely getting out to the rest of the world was meaningful, but I would not replace. Oh, by the way, they know how it has its own sort of history with crime, drugs, sneakers, and everything else to where the most prominent sneaker mall in all of America was the little mall on the west side of Dayton that had the best foot locker sales, period. When I got to Nike, sales people were like, Salem mall. They did a lot of business. If you track east St. Louis, Dayton, Ohio or Memphis, it’s where underground railroad, there were a lot of stops, three major ones. So it’s why Wilberforce the central state are there. It was a lot of black folk who work there. When drug money started coming and drugs started working their way north, those were the same three places that folks stopped. They know how it kind of grew, music and drugs. It was a big thing especially in the late seventies, early eighties.

Maurice Cherry:
We had one other person on the show from Dayton. hannah Beachler she was episode 300 back in 2019. You said that initially you kind of like said it really quickly. I was like, wait a minute, what else do I know I’m going to show has been from Dayton. Cause I remember at least one or two other people. But her specifically, I remember because of that episode, but were your parents really supportive of you going into design? I’m curious, you know, you said before, if you ask any black person about sneakers are kind of, they’re going to kind of already have a cultural connection to it. So I won’t ask you that specifically, but were your parents kind of behind you going this route with your career?

Jeffrey Henderson:
In no way, shape or form based on this. My mother was a teacher and the reality is she didn’t care what I did as long as I tried my best and did my best, she was a person who, no matter what it was, she put that art on the refrigerator because you did it and you worked really hard and she was a middle school teacher. So she kind of had that in her, you can do whatever you want. I believe in you, yada, yada, yada, to the point where you almost didn’t believe whether she meant it or not. Cause she said it like everyday at all times, but you always had someone who was in your corner. So I think my mother wanted it to happen because I wanted it to happen. But you have to realize like this was 1991, sneakers weren’t a real thing.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it was sort of a side conversation to the point where it wasn’t till I got to Cole Haan where the question is why does Nike own Cole Haan? Because it wasn’t making any money for Nike, the brand. And it was because an ADA still Knight knew that the industry common thought was if you wanted to make money and sneakers, you had to sell brown shoes, sneakers didn’t make money. And so he bought Cole Haan in order to make money. Well, fast forward, he and a few other people made sneakers like the regular topic. So sneakers weren’t a real thing and the reality is my father, who I didn’t have like the best relationship with, he didn’t say anything, he watched because I was getting this engineering degree from some prestigious schools and I had a co-op, I had an internship with AT&T and he was like, oh, Jeff is set.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So he didn’t say a word. He just let me be yada, yada yada. And so I graduated with a degree in engineering with three years of internships with AT&T. And at that time AT&T was one of the biggest design engineering companies in the U.S. And I did not pursue going to AT&T. I took a job doing blueprints in Beaverton, Oregon, and my father didn’t say a word. He didn’t say a word. The only reason I know, I mean, I know he didn’t say a word, but maybe three and a half- four years later, my parents come out to Oregon. I think by that time we had maybe had like a first kid Draymond was like a year old and they’re watching Draymond. So I come home after work and my father had come to, I don’t know if you know anything about that campus, but the Michael Jordan building is, that it’s not center of campus, but it’s middle of campus.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And right next to it is this track under the trees and there’s basketball courts right next door. And so my father ran track for university of Michigan. So I was like, you can go work out and on the track, just pull up the car and tell the guard you’re there. And no one will care. And so I guess he did that. And then when I get home, after that day, my mother’s laughing and I was like, what’s so funny. It’s your father finally gets it. And I was like, what do you mean? He gets it now? He had never said anything to me. He never complained about me working at Nike, nothing. I would sit there and shoot.

Maurice Cherry:
that’s probably why he wasn’t complaining.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I mean, he, I kind of saw it, but again, he was like, my son has an engineering degree, took his first job blueprints at Nike. And then he got a job drawing, kids, shoes at Nike, and now he’s doing basketball shoes in that, he just, it just seemed add up in his mind of what engineering degree and get like a real job in his mind, which was, being from Ohio, you can go work at a car company and do like, what are you doing out here in the Pacific Northwest? And I guess he started talking to other runners who on the track and my father was a runner and I didn’t care anything for that. So he was bonding with the people on the truck. Oh yeah. My son works over in design, like over, like in that building. Now we all know at this point, like designers at Nike are treated like they can walk on water. So when he started saying, my son works over in design, two things happened.

Jeffrey Henderson:
One, I was one of four, I don’t know, black designers in Nike, all men. So they either knew who I was or they were just Ooh, your sons at the time. And so they started talking to him and he started realizing, oh, maybe this is a thing. And so he started asking him what they do. And they were riding up, rattling off things like I just signed a deal for the NBA or I did this and all that, big that he actually understood. And at that point, that’s when he was like, oh, now because my father and I didn’t have the tightest relationships, he never said anything to me for or against. But from that point on, I knew that at least he knew that this wasn’t a mistake that I had made. He knew that like, oh, this was something that was real. So then he wore the shoes with a little more pride. Meanwhile, my brothers are walking around like, oh yeah, that’s yours. My brother designer. It didn’t matter what shoe it was. My brother did that. You know, my brother, my brother, he did everything pretty much. He did that.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me what it was like living in Atlanta when you went to Georgia tech, because you went, you lived in Atlanta during, I think it’s peak Atlanta. It is Freaknik. It’s the Olympics and I think also the burgeoning hip hop scene there with so-so Def and stuff. What was it like being in Atlanta during that time?

Jeffrey Henderson:
So I as the biggest nerd who didn’t care, just [crosstalk 00:42:56] . I’m merely to go, I’m coming down here. I’m going to find a wife. It’s chocolate city. We’re all good hanging out. And I hung out hard for three years. As the biggest nerd, not even cool whatsoever. And it was everything you just named. It was pre Olympics. Everybody was gassed up. It was… What is it? My buddy’s roommate was a bouncer at the gold club and magic city. So we would just go sit at the bar with no money, just try and pretend like we fit in like, knowing we had zero money and we just sit at the bar and order water.

Maurice Cherry:
That can still happen today in Atlanta.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And we go in cause I get bored or whatever, and it’s like nothing but rich folk in here and its like, wow, and we would just leave after like 10 minutes. We were just like, making sure everything was good. But that was the level of everybody was sort of chilling. And yeah, we went back to Atlanta maybe three years after like, yes, not the same, my boys, were still living in like, it’s different now, but it was one of those. We were also in college. There’s nothing that will compare like as an adult to those three years when we were in college with no real responsibilities, other than staying alive and making sure you took some classes. Between going to school in Atlanta and moving to Tokyo was an ex-pat life is good. But those were big time.

Maurice Cherry:
I feel you, man. Last week, actually this past weekend, I was talking to my best friend from college. So I went to Morehouse here. He and I were just talking cause his 40th birthday was last week. And my 40th birthday was a couple of months ago. And we were reminiscing on the past. We were looking at old pictures from back then and stuff. It was wild. So I was in the AUC, right near the turn of the century. I came in 99, 99 going into 2000 and stuff. And I worked for this website. I worked for this website called College Club. That was sort of a precursor to Facebook and I was one of the campus representatives. So what that entailed was that you went around and you basically captured campus life. We had these big Sony Marika, digital cameras that you had to put a three and a quarter inch floppy disc into and take pictures and stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
So we were just looking at old pictures and stuff like that from the past, like, man, it’s such a trip how Atlanta has changed since then, because yeah, when you’re here in college, I mean, and I don’t know if it was like this at Georgia tech, but certainly at Morehouse in the AUC, the clubs would send charter buses to the campus to pick you up, take you to the club, you go and do whatever you want at the club and they’ll bring you right back to campus. So you, ain’t got to worry about trying to catch Marta, trying to catch a cab or trying to bum a ride from, from somebody to get back.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And that’s come down during [inaudible 00:45:49] and they’d be like, oh, this is amazing. And I was like, no, this is terrible. Everybody’s life is traffic jam. And it’s all these people from everywhere, hanging out and it’s like, yo, I can go on a random Tuesday to Fitz Plaza and it’d be bought out like, we’re good. And it’s just the mall, like it’s just the mall.

Maurice Cherry:
So I missed that Atlanta.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I mean, I can’t tell you whether it’s changed. All I know is I’m old now

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, it’s changed. It’s changed ain’t that shame. So, I mean, there, there might still be that same liveness depending on what the event is, and this is probably pre pandemic, but now we’re probably in the gunshots. There’ll probably be some kind of violence that breaks out. So it’s yeah, it’s definitely not the same.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Harlem is tying to trying to figure out where it’s going to be in that level. Which again, when I moved here it was like, oh, I’m not sure. We’ll figure it out. Yada, yada, yada. What I really loved about being in Atlanta and I think it was a combination of the immigrant culture that was there that I didn’t know was going to be there. The Atlanta population that was like, it was Atlanta. And then it was the rest of Georgia. And if you don’t know, if you just moved it, you don’t know the immigrant population, I lived off of Buford highway.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow. Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
The food was amazing. And so, that had sort of, like, if you don’t know Atlanta, those things don’t mean anything to you. Harlem is kind of the same way. And so being able to pick up those pieces of going from oh yeah, I miss it. And I didn’t really realize it until I got to Harlem and started walking around. I was like, yo, this feels like swats. I feel like there’s a mall here that’s Greenberg. I feel like there’s something here and I think that goes to the creative conversations that I’m having unapologetically. It’s kind of black folk. And then I encourage what designers, Sarah she’s from Columbia. And I’m like, yo, bring Columbia to the projects that we work on, please just bring them all in there. I want to see that. I want to feel like your home is there because folks kind of want that from a creative vision at this point. And if they don’t, I don’t know what to do with them. Like maybe they’re my clients.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So what I’m hearing is correct me if I’m wrong here, because I’m coming up to a question with this, but you grew up in Dayton, you went to Purdue, which is right across the way in Indiana and you come down to Atlanta and then after that, you’re sort of in Tokyo, what were you searching for during that time

Jeffrey Henderson:
Being in Tokyo or?

Maurice Cherry:
Talking about like the entire journey? Was there a feeling that you were chasing or what was your drive throughout that period of time?

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s this unadulterated push for something different, something new. There was a Twitter post a while ago with like when somebody go invent some new animals. Cause I want some new meats. I’m tired of eating the same meats and I’m kind of like that guy of growing up. Like I always wanted the new music, but I thought everybody else did. And then as I got older, I still wanted the new music. I wanted the new shoe. And it’s like, this is definitely like a knee of all things. Like I see somebody wearing a pair of shoes that I have. I’m like, yep. I got to put those shoes away. Everybody’s on this Jordan one thing. And I’m like, oh, I just put those away. I can’t walk out the house and it’s not because I’m a sneaker dude is because I just feel a certain way.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So going to Purdue, middle of nowhere, west Lafayette, they had what I thought I wanted, but it was also something different. Tokyo was like, yo, this is the wildest place on earth in terms of the visuals and the culture and the class and the people, language, everything was like, yo, I want to do this. And then I got done doing. I was like, yeah, we’re good. Let’s go to the next place. It just became this constant hunt for something new, which I still kind of have. But I think as I’ve gotten older, the combination of new plus know, I just like home, I like walking out the house, totally feeling like I’m at home and think all those other times it was me going what’s the next thing? When I got to Nike, the first thing I said was, I think this was a conversation with tinker.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And he was like, what do you want to do? And my first words were not basketball. Cause I grew up playing basketball. I knew basketball. It was just a second social life for me. And I was like, I want to do soccer. I want to do something I have no business doing so I can be in a whole nother world to see something totally new and meet new people or sweat up or the kids, the first place they told me the basketball, but even then I was trying to do something that I don’t know. I drove everybody crazy because I was trying to do something different. And I think what’s interesting is that question also pretty much pegs was my creative kind of processes was like. It was interesting cause Nike figured that out before I did. And so to fast-forward through all the headaches of my first five, six years at Nike, before I got to Japan was what they taught me was that if you put me in a functioning business where everything is great design is great and everything’s working, I will jack it up basically.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Cause I asked all the questions, why are we doing this? Why aren’t we doing it? What else could we be doing? Almost getting just to the point of start over. And so they figured out, yo, let’s go to places we know should be big, that need changing. But the people there aren’t ready to change it. So basically I became one of the people that Nike would throw into a situation that needed to be changed, but they didn’t know how to get the people in the business changing. And so I always say my first conversation of solving any problem is why? Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? What problem are we trying to solve? If we don’t get to the original why then we’re just putting band-aids on things. Just cover it out and go about, let it go to the next day.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And so I have this underlying question knowing at me like, yo, it could be better. It could be like better, better. It could be really better. So let’s get to the wire matter. And so I think going to new places, whether it was going to Purdue or going to Georgia tech or going to Beaverton or going to Tokyo or coming to New York City, it was always like, yo, I want to get to something new with something different. Then eventually it came to like, I’m ready to chill now. I get me. And so how can I provide opportunities for my young team? And I tell them all the time, I don’t want you here. I want you to go to your Japan. I want you to go to your mind. I want you to go to your, whatever that might be. And then you can come back if this is the right place, but go see the world. Cause it’ll make you stronger and give you new points of view that you won’t get if you just stay home.

Maurice Cherry:
What’s something about footwear or just footwear design that the average consumer doesn’t understand?

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s funny. We just had a conversation about why I do shoes and it’s always this funny business thing is that I [inaudible 00:52:46] . I will measure people from the ground up. They’d be like, what shoes you got on? And it’s not always the measurement that people think, oh, you have expensive. Like, no, no, I can kind of take you. My stereotype is nothing based on anything else you have other than look, I see what shoes you have on right now and how you’re wearing them. And I’m going to make some calls about you whether I’m right or wrong. And I think that is probably been one of the best articles I always point to for people is Tressie, McMillan, cat, and room for Zuora. I can’t remember the exact title. Cause every time I look it up, I get lost.

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s the reason poor people can’t afford to dress poor. And it talks about how the world expects you to, if you go into apply for a job that’s like at Walmart that pays nothing. If you’re black, you have to dress better than the job. You have to show up with something that you just have to otherwise, you’re not really right. That’s something that other folks don’t have to worry about. And I think to some degree that’s been sort of ingrained into my thinking, stems from Dayton, Ohio, like, this is kind of what I see. And I think working on shoes, whether it was one of the things we approached it easy with, it was like, it should be like the most democratic shoe that anybody can wear with colors that don’t distract or compliment or fight or cause fear. And then the project like I’m doing now like…

Jeffrey Henderson:
I don’t cause fear. The project I’m doing now, for personal, 99 products, it’s a basic running shoe that is meant for anybody to pull it off. Whether you’re a teacher, either student, or head of the class, in the back of the class, it’s for everybody. I think that sort of thinking goes into product that most people write off or they don’t even think about, they just go, “oh, I’ll just buy whatever shoe and I’ll wear it.” Maybe 15 years ago, you could have said that about most of America with cars; that their car really represented what they were doing or where they would going. They put a lot of effort and energy into the point where people stopped caring about cars so much.

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’d be like, “oh, I’ll just get a used car.” That still says something, it means something that people would put a lot of energy into cars. Today, people still put a lot of energy into the shoes they wear, even when they play them down.”Oh, you know, this is just like throwaway shit.” I laugh because people say, oh, I don’t really care what kind of shoes I wear.” I was like, “okay, then why don’t you wear some bright red clown shoes?” And they go, “well, that’s stupid.” I go, “oh, so you do care.” You do have a uniform. You do have an opinion of what you wear, so it’s not that you don’t care.

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s just that you don’t care to keep up with the people who you think care too much about Smith. So I think in the design process, it’s sort of identifying what people want for function, want to say about themselves and how it fits into their overall wardrobe. Shoes is something else, that you may wear a different shirt every day in a different pair of pants every day. But you might wear the same shoes every day. That’s going to say something about you, like your haircut. It’s going to say something about you and you choose to be there. When you’re designing for people, you kind of have to want to be on their person, like every day, because that’s what they might use it for.

Maurice Cherry:
So earlier you were talking about how you were working for Nike and you were sending home shoes to your dad, shoes to your brothers, how your brothers were saying, “oh yeah, my brother designed this shoe.” All these different kinds of shoes. Can you name some of the shoes you have designed? Some of the more well-known footwear designs that you’ve done?

Jeffrey Henderson:
The big ones are probably the Yeezy three 50 V2, to go on the Grand Max Plus 2009, those are probably the bigger ones. Then there’s 1,000,000,001 other shoes that made it or didn’t make it. The shoes that I’ve made that sold 10 times more that were like the shoes called the Nike Basketball Air Glide. Not to be confused with the Zoom Glide that came out 15 years later, but the basketball Glide was a $55 white leather basketball shoe that sold for three years more than anybody could count, just because it was at a price point. It’s interesting, I think less about those shoes. People always go, “you’re missing the lead, like talk about those shoes.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it’s more like, “nah,” I’m more. And maybe it’s because I’m old, I’m more interested in the people who I’ve helped become designers for them about their path and remembering when they didn’t know any better, just like I didn’t know any better and Ray Butts and Andre Doxy.”You need to work on this, and you need to work on that.” They took me under their wing and made sure I did the right thing. That’s my biggest high, I probably did that for my mother, but it’s more about the folks who I could teach and seeing what they do with it. And also them calling me back, I remember when somebody at Denver was like, “yo, I used to be mad at you when you told me to do things and now I’ve got an intern and I’m like, yo, I’m so sorry.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
It just comes full circle at some point.

Maurice Cherry:
So after Nike, you went to Cole Haan for a couple of years, but you said Nike had bought Cole Haan, correct?

Jeffrey Henderson:
Nike bought Cole Haan in 88 and then they sold Cole Haan in 2013.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Was it a big shift design-wise going from athletic footwear to a wider range of footwear that Cole Haan would offer?

Jeffrey Henderson:
I wanted it to be. It’s crazy because I went from Japan to Nike running, which was probably the biggest leap I made in terms of learning skill set of being in design and design leadership. Then I did sportswear for not even a year before, we just need to get out of Oregon and go to New York city and with Cole Haan. I was so excited to get the Cole Haan and learn more about dress shoes, and how the last word and how you all the technical benefits and leathers. And like that was like, it was a whole thing. I was going through women’s dress shoes. Like this is again me chasing something like new and different, like, so one day and probably a week in Mark Parker shows up and I had just probably no more than like a month before that we had presented like a line that kind of for at least five years changed, like the direction Nike sportswear that was received really well.

Jeffrey Henderson:
We got high fives, lots of praise, yada, yada, yada. And he was in that meeting. It was like, this is really good. So about two weeks of me being at Cole Haan and I was just visiting for like a month, I was like, yo, I’m going to learn all this figure out what’s going on. It’s going to be good. Parker shows up. And he comes into like, I had this makeshift office and I had like all these pictures plastered on the wall of like Tom Ford and Gucci and churches, like wind tips. And I was trying to learn like dress shoes. And he was like, what’s this? And I’m like, yo, I’m trying to learn like dress shoes. This is new to me. Like I’m excited. He was like, yeah, yeah, that’s cool. Why don’t you do what you did in sportswear? And I looked at him like, okay.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I knew exactly what he meant. He was like, I need you to do something different that like learn dress shoes. And he meant I should learn dress shoes. And he was also like, don’t show up and give me a wing to show up and give me something different. And so immediately we did the lunar ran light in kind of an hour because it was a marketing guy and a engineering guy were like, “yo, what if we did this? And I was like, yeah, we, I did loner for like three years in running and sportswear. Like we can do this in 10 minutes.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And so me learning everything about dress shoes and fashion, in the three years, it was all good, but it was literally like let’s do something to their credit. Everybody was right, because it became the hallmark shoe, it was the coolest shoe for all of three months. And then it just became every IT, lawyer, everybody who wanted to wear a sneaker group had to wear a dress. You wear that shoe to this day. Right. It’s still like, oh no, it’s not the coolest shoe in the world. But it’s definitely something that I don’t know. Every insurance guy has a pair.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you seen footwear design change over your career?

Jeffrey Henderson:
What’s been both. Probably. It’s kind of annoying to like some overhead to solve for where design is. One way, you go to this design school, you learned these rules, you make something and you draw it, you go into the factory and you build it. Now, to me, it’s really encouraging to watch folks who basically just Photoshop some colors together and throw some shoes together. And like it equates to, they may take the Jordan One and flip it in colors. That’s new. And the purist will be like, well, that’s not design it. Just the color. And I’m like, yeah, but at the end of the day, if somebody puts it on and gets value out of it and they feel a certain way, I think that’s valuable. Even if the shoe was already designed and someone added their own touch to it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So I don’t necessarily think negatively about it. I do know that if you want somebody to make a new shoe, you probably should pay someone who knows how to make new shoes. But also I’ve seen plenty of designers and it was true at Nike people who would draw the most amazing shoe. And then they were colors that were terrible, like completely unwearable. And you’d be like, “yeah, yeah. Just, just send that over to my guy over here, let her do it. Let, let her put some materials on it.” You did your job, you made an amazingly functional, beautiful, physical thing. Now let somebody else add the color and whatever else that makes it wearable. And that’s a whole other job. That’s a whole other skillset that just because you drew a shoe, doesn’t mean you’ve actually had that skillset. So I think seeing that become a more regular part of the industry of people being elevated, I think is very worthwhile.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you’ve done work with Allbirds before and there’s a lot of these kinds of, I thought they came about in the last few years, a lot of these minimalists kind of shoe designs, there’s Allbirds, Greats, Vesey. There’s probably a dozen or so of them. What do you think about those kinds of shoe companies?

Jeffrey Henderson:
I love the energy they bring in, my work with Allbirds is literally, they kind of thought they might want to do something. So they hired me for one small project and I was like, you guys will be big. Can I hang out with you on it? They said “We don’t want that much. We don’t want that bigger relationship.”

Maurice Cherry:
Oh wow! Okay.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I don’t need to do that. Well, and it was one of those to their credit. I think they focused on doing something that no one in the industry thought was the right thing to do. If you ask everybody in the industry, “Hey, would you make a wool shoe?” The first thing I got is it gets dirty. It gets like, don’t do that. Dave leaned in heavy and the way they did it through DTC through a community built on starting with Silicon valley and working his way to wall street.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I think they chose a community that traditional sneaker folks didn’t have an idea about. I think to the credit of a lot of those companies, a lot of them have been people who follow in those footsteps, no pun intended to do the same thing as with like, I loved like what great submission was like, just to bring something that was quality and simple. I think they may have lost track of that along the way. I think you do, you try to run with the sneakerheads, like you get lost in like the energy and the same and the cool kid and they stock X and all the other stuff, instead of just like, it’s a business, make a dish that people want. And I think there’s credit in doing that without having to follow.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I think a lot of the brands that are making stuff now, I kind of liked them. They also give people the benefit of they can walk out their house without having the same shoe. If you walk up, do you want me to house with a pair of SES on and no, one’s going to be like, oh, y’all got the same shoe. And if you do, there’s a bonding moment. But if you tried to bond with everybody who had on a pair of air max, you wouldn’t go that far.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. I can see that. I think one thing with those sorts of shoes, I don’t know if they are sitting in warehouses or if they’re made to order. But of course, I think with the rise of these are certainly an increased public perception of easy to obtain footwear that wouldn’t necessarily be through Adidas or Nike or something like that.I’ve seen shoes on Instagram that were clearly just, I don’t know if it’s a drop shipping sort of thing, but you’ll see some shoes on Instagram. They clearly are just parts glued onto a sock that they’re selling as a shoe. And you think, “oh, this might be good in these sort of still shots,” but then you actually get the shoes and they smell like industrial strength adhesive and you have to air out your apartment that may have happened to me. I’m not saying it did or didn’t, but [crosstalk 01:05:30] that may or may not have happened. I plead the fifth, it’s my show. But, I think what it does is that at least democratizes the aspect of footwear design, where you have these independent companies designing shoes that are also able to appeal to people that are different from before, the bigger brands that are well-known for designing shoes, like a Nike or Adidas.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it forces the bigger brands to innovate when they really may not have had the catalyst to do so. I would equate what Allbirds did for sneakers is exactly what Tesla did for electric vehicles. Toilet had been sitting on electric vehicles forever and they weren’t trying to make it the cool kid car. It was just an electric vehicle. We make it so what, and Tesla was like, no, we make the electric vehicle. And I think there’s going to be the evolution of anything else, you’re going to find some companies that make something that’s not all that great. And hey, if you’re going to go out there and try everything, you got to be willing to be like, if you’re the one who’s not going on the open, you’re trying every restaurant. Sometimes you go fast in here, your food, but if you’re the person who wants to be that person, who’s like, yeah. Before anybody else sees it, I’m going to try it. You may stumble upon the next thing. I’m curious, what are you wearing? What is your go-to shoe at this point?

Maurice Cherry:
My oh Jesus, oh boy. It does get personal because I hate shoe shopping. I absolutely hate it. It is up there with going to the dentist. It’s shopping for shoes. I do not like it. [crosstalk 01:07:06] I have sort of wide Flintstone, ish feet. And so as a kid, going with my mom to the store to get shoes was always a hassle because one of my feet is decidedly about a half size, bigger than the other one. And also because my feet are wide, most shoes that come in like a medium are way too small for me. Like I can’t even get my foot in it. So I’d have to get a larger size because that would then kind of widen the width of the shoe a bit. But then now I’ve got all this like floppy toe room at the end. And my mom’s like, just put a sock in it, like just stuff a sock in it.

Maurice Cherry:
So it doesn’t get the crease or whatever. But then that [crosstalk 01:07:50] hurts while you’re walking and you’re trying to run. It’s a, it’s a whole thing. So I’m not a big, [crosstalk 01:07:56] I’m not a, I’m not a big shoe shopping person. It wasn’t until I know that was well into adulthood that I saw a podiatrist and actually got like my feet measured and all this sort of stuff. And I had been wearing the wrong size for well over a decade, wrong size shoe. [crosstalk 01:08:13].

Maurice Cherry:
I wear about a size 10 extra, extra, extra, extra wide, like a 10 40. And usually what I was getting was, and I mean, you know, growing up, of course it would change as my foot change. But like right now I usually rock about an 11 is pretty good. But like if one was an 11 and the other was an 11 and a half, that would be perfect because even on the other foot, which is bigger, it’s still like very constricting and most wide shoes are hideous. You’re a footwear designer. Even talking about this, the desire for like medium shoes. I mean, the sky is the limit. You get to watch shoes and everything looks like orthopedic shoes. Why is that?

Jeffrey Henderson:
So there’s a little bit of like the bell curve. And so quite typically the design goes to, and you’ll notice that most things, when they’re in a smaller size, they can be more cute, more appealing. And so,

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, they’re dope. Like I can, like, you can get them in different colors and they look nice and then you get to the wide shoes. And it’s just like, it’s like what I call the PE teachers, which are the monarchs from Nike. Like that’s all you get. [crosstalk 01:09:27] I know, I know that’s probably,

Jeffrey Henderson:
That’d be the cool kid shoe.

Jeffrey Henderson:
But a lot of it is definitely built on again. If you’re making your money in one area, a lot of brands don’t then spend a lot of time in other areas. And so you get some brands who may find that’s a niche customer. So my guess is you bought more than your fair share of New Balance.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh my God. Yes. How did you know you’re reading my mind? Yes. There was a time in my twenties where I had not a lot of different colorways of New Balance, but the new balance, not the nine nineties, those were ones I ended up getting before. But like the, I forget the number. It’s like new balance five somethings. I had those in probably every color.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it kind of becomes your uniform and it’s time to, okay. But then when is that? What ends up happening? Two things happen. Everybody who has that same point is wearing the same thing. And then you get lumped in a box.

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And then it’s one of those, oh, you have wide feet. So you have to wear new balance and then there’s not enough, let’s do something different. [crosstalk 01:10:37] And so you have to refine the brands that sort of, I don’t know, care, or we’ll show you something different and it’s not easy.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s the new balance Five, seven fours. I had them in so many different color ways. Cause they, I mean, and on 11 they still fit. They still were pretty wide, but I had those for a long time and yeah, there was that association, which is actually why I stopped wearing them. Well, that in my podiatrist was like, you need to stop wearing these. They’re not doing any favors, like stop wear these shoes. Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So it was funny as it was a podcast or was a clubhouse and my friend Simone runs it and she had the president of Rihanna’s brand owner [crosstalk 01:11:18] and hear her talk about inclusivity and design that what Rihanna wanted. She was like, look, there were two things that quickly and easily made, making intimate wear for a diverse population of women. Important one was really easy. And that was just shades of nude. Like just what colors you chose. She was like, that was really easy. Every brain could flip that switch immediately and go from like two shades of nude to 20 shades of nude because there are different colors of people. And she was like, that was actually, it’s more of like a decision you have to make. And then it’s a supply chain thing and some operational, the blah, blah, blah. It’s pretty easy. The really difficult one is when it comes to physical shape and sizing, because one, you have to have people in the building who can relate and understand.

Jeffrey Henderson:
She was like, not everybody in intimates is the same size 16. Sometimes you’re 16 up top. Sometimes you’re 16 on bottom. Like it’s just different shapes. And if you can’t have a real conversation about it, cause the right diversity is in the room is not in the room. Then you just end up making, like, we just took the same thing and made it bigger. And then you don’t write answers and then you get what she put it. You’ve been with skinny people think that people want, and she was like, it’s not that blunt, but you also get what skinny people think super skinny people want. And she used those words. She was sort of getting like, yo, like it just doesn’t help. And they don’t know. So until you bring people in the room who have wider feet or like our last version of the, and that was one of the things Rihanna said is like, no, when you make the larger sizes, it better be just as beautiful when a person is when you make the medium size.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Like that’s just what it should, what should be done. And so when we were making the next versions of the point, I had a lot of flat, cause I know a few football players who were like a size 15 and I shoe only went up to a 14 and it was like, Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. Yeah. Like what are you doing this next batch? And it costs money. Like we had to make molds, we’ve gone up to a size 17 with these things shoes and we’ll try to go up more, but like it costs money to get there and you need people to actually support like, so I sent you a link, you’ll see it, the jokes, John. But that shoe comes in like four E in terms of width [crosstalk 01:13:34] so there, and you’ll try more and it’ll be different. And whether is your cup of tea or not? The idea is that when you wear them, you’ll notice some wind here and you’ll see like, oh, it doesn’t have to look hideous. It doesn’t have to look [inaudible 01:13:50] And it’s kind of, okay. So I think design can bring that to people, especially in shoes.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, So, so to answer your earlier question about what I’m rocking. So I do have kind of my two that I tend to sort of vary between one is like a, all black, like Reebok walking shoe. I don’t know what the name of it is, but it has like this air bubble in the sole. So like it’s very bouncing. Like I wanted some just like straight up like black minimalists sneakers that I could just throw on with anything. And then I do have a pair of monarchs and I actually had to stop wearing because the cushioning was too much. Like it was like, my foot was in like a spaceship and it’s funny. Cause I remember when I first got those shoes, I would get so many compliments on them and I’m like, thanks. And I didn’t know if it was for real, cause I honestly got them because they came in a wide with my podiatrist’s had recommended it.

Maurice Cherry:
And when I first put it on, I was like, oh, so this is what it feels like to walk without foot pain. Like now the shoe actually like, but I still have that one for every now and then, but I just bought three pairs of shoes recently.

Maurice Cherry:
I don’t know if this is because I got the vaccine and I feel like I need to go out in the world, but I got three new pairs of shoes recently and they’re different in different ways. So one is a Fila shoe.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s the Oakmont mid and my, my podiatrist, I recommended it cause it had a thick sole and he’s like, you kind of need more of like a, almost like a boot type of shoe as opposed to maybe like a low sneaker type or something. And so I have those and those are great. Those are ass-kicking shoes. Like I love those shoes. And then I got a pair of Hoka, Bondi seven. I just got those a couple of days ago actually. And I might send them back. They’re too bouncy. They feel like I’m wearing moons shoes. Like if I needed to jump and reach high things, I would probably keep them. But like I’m walking and I’m like, whoa, like I’m literally, like I literally have a spring in my step is what it feels like

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s meant to be. It’s meant to do that. So it’s good in terms of the functionality. It’s not the functionality you’re looking for.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And then I got another like honestly I got a card in the mail from DSW that was like $25 off a shoe. I’m like, let me just get some more like knock around shoes. And I got some Sketchers, like slip ons there, the ultra flex 2.0 Mercon slip on sneaker and they’re okay. But like one of the shoes fits and the other one is too small because it’s not wide enough for the other foot so I can still wear them. But they’re just like, they’re okay. And I mean, after the discount, they were like 25 bucks. So I’m like, yeah, this is, this is just something I can just throw on and like check the mail or something like that.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So we’re going to get you into some Johns. You’re going be to, you know, say nothing but good things. We gonna see you on the gram And then you had to give all praise if you like it. And if you don’t, you never heard of it. So its all good.

Maurice Cherry:
Ill Put a link to this in the show notes so people can see it. Like I’m looking at it now, the Jackson YC, John, they come in like this lemon ice, yellow, like ch like classroom, chalk yellow, which is an interesting color way. I like it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
They also come in gray suede, I think there’s a gray suede

Maurice Cherry:
Oh yeah, I see I’m scrolling down. I see now

Jeffrey Henderson:
Scroll down.

Maurice Cherry:
The yellow was interesting though!

Jeffrey Henderson:
And that was based on, so my brother, his kidneys started failing his feet, started swelling and he needed wider shoes. And so I put them in some Birkenstocks, which he was good with, but he needed like some actual real shoes to get around in. Cause he’s in Ohio and it was winter. And so I was working with his brand in China and they made the shoe for seniors. The name of the brand is Zulee’s and so, and the shoe was like, I don’t know, it’s kind of the way they created. It was very much like old people shoes.` It’s like, it just had this diet to this sort of function first and it just didn’t look cool. And I was like, yo, can we make these in first suede? And then can we make them in like some monotone colors that I don’t know, you think you like, look good?

Jeffrey Henderson:
And they were like, well, that’s not what old people want. I was like, well, how do you know? Like, and they were like, all right. So they blessed us with some pairs just to try out. [crosstalk 01:18:04] And people were like, yo, I can look good. Like, and we kept getting hit with, I don’t want to wear them out. And it was like,

Maurice Cherry:
oh, interesting.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Because they were all suede. And they were like, I don’t want to get them dirty. Cause they look so nice. It was like, like stop wearing the shoes that you hate because you can get them dirty and wear these. And it was interesting because we made our conservative desks that, you know, we’ll make them in gray and we’ll make them in yellow thinking that, you know what? People will want the gray because that’s normal. But you know, we’ll get some daring people to wear the yellow and it kept going back. Like I think we sold out of the yellows in most sizes. So you have your side, it’ll be lucky. But for the most part we have grays left cause people wanted like they wanted to stand out in the way that wasn’t like clown, but also they didn’t want to look like I am the old person I am. And I think that, again, it goes to, wasn’t so much about the design, the design should work, but sometimes it’s color and materials [crosstalk 01:19:00] that kind of plays into how people feel.

Maurice Cherry:
It is an appropriate amount of swag. Like I’m looking at the photos, like there’s this one where this dude is getting into like a rag top convertible and like his, the color of the car and his shoes are pretty much the same. I’m like, that’s kind of dope. And he’s cause he’s wearing a black jacket. It has on yellow shoes. And then you see like the black rag top in the yellow paint, like okay. Bet. All right, cool. Well, we will definitely talk about that after we stop recording. Cause I would definitely be in the market for these look, these look great. And it’s interesting that there’s this personal story behind the design too. What I get, you know, from just talking with you and learning about your history and everything is that eventually you always bring it back to the work, which I think is something that is indicative of people that really have a passion behind what it is that they do.

Maurice Cherry:
Like even with the name of your studio being “And Them” like you’re taking the onus and the focus like off of you, it’s really about how the work is being received in the world and how people are using it. Which I think is super, not just, I think super important, but also super inspirational for people to see, because I think especially for younger designers there.

Maurice Cherry:
can be this, want to kind of do the biggest flashiest stuff all the time. Or like, like that’s the stuff that they want to do that they feel like may point out the thing in their career or like put them on the map or something like that. And really if the work that you’re able to do is like really changing people’s lives and affected them. That’s hopefully just as, as good as a takeaway from the work that you do.

Jeffrey Henderson:
No, I think that’s well said. I think even the work that you’re doing, like you talked about, like it took you a number of podcasts and a number of like folks in the outside, like co-sign for credibility to be there with other people. But the reality is you are going to do it because you thought it needed to be there. And I think that’s very important. So people don’t understand that sometimes people won’t come out to you first show people won’t come out and see like the first game you play in cars may not be great. But if you know why you’re there and you keep working on your craft, you get better.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And that’d be great, but if you know why you’re there and you keep working on your craft and you get better, I think it then pays off, and it doesn’t always have to be, “Did I have the biggest show on the planet?” Sometimes it’s just about, “Did I do really good work and were people happy?”

Jeffrey Henderson:
So, no, it’s definitely whenever we can use our skills to make friends and family happier, and when they bring us new friends and family that we can work with, we’re happy to use our skillset to make other lives better.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I don’t know that we technically announced it. I guess they announced it. We’re working with this Reinvention Lab out of Texas, this group out of Teach for America to kind of… We ran a shoe contest, and they got to actually find organizations within their group to design shoes and they got to work on it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And what’s interesting is there’s going to be a winner, and we’re actually going to sell some of the shoes that they made. And they were like, “Oh yeah, we don’t care if we won any more.” Just going through the presentation process, how designers look at things, how they have conversations about things… Just the design process was new to them. And that helped them understand what they bring to education and what they bring to laying out curriculum, which I sort of, I don’t know, I hang out with Chris Emdin, whose HipHopEd, and the way he talks about pedagogy. Those are things that I take internally as normal, but they had to go through this class. They had to do this competition to take in and be like, “Oh, design thinking is not just for designers. It helps us.” And so that was really gratifying to see. Or even just our approach and our process could bring, I don’t know, something to other people.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of school, I mean, you’re on the advisory board for a school in New York, the Business of Sports School. And most recently you became a board member at Knoll. For you, what’s the importance of sitting on boards like this?

Jeffrey Henderson:
It’s… Another thing that I sort of got dragged into, and some of it’s because I’m old, I hang around old people and they are on boards and they say, “You’d be good at this.” I didn’t really know what a board did or what it meant. Now that I’m on two, I can sort of surmise that it’s definitely one of the, for most businesses, the biggest form of sponsorship you can get. Because as much as mentorship and execution are good, if the people who are sort of guiding the people who are in charge understand the entire, I think, operation and process, the better it is for the people who are doing work and the more diverse of an angle you get. And so at BOSS, this a sports school, it was…

Jeffrey Henderson:
And one of my best friends on the board, we were having this discussion around college visits. And so BOSS is a school in Hell’s Kitchen, most of the kids come from the Bronx and Harlem. In terms of who could attend, they’re changing up a little bit how who gets into the school, but it’s definitely an open enrollment. It’s not based on higher test scores and they don’t pick who they get into the school. It’s just kind of an open free-for-all in terms of kids that get to the school.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So it’s not built on kids who are automatically going to Harvard who have family history and education and college background. And so one of the things that they’ve promoted, I think for good reason, is they want to make sure that kids have an understanding of what college is, and so they go on college tours. And so the college tours were happening around junior year, and I said, “No, it’s too late.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And my friend Marie, who works for SMY, her son at the same time… I think both of our sons were in college, were in high school and around junior year at the same time. And she chimed in and was like, “No, you have to understand. My son, this is the biggest time of his life. He’s visiting all these colleges. And it’s really important. It’s shaping who they are.” And I was like, “Yeah, but your son has heard about college since he was five years old. Some of these kids, none of their family is going or has gone to college. And so this is a new concept. They’re expecting them to go work. Some of these kids, their family is wondering why they’re finishing high school, literally wondering why they’re finishing high school, when they could go work and put food on the table. It’s a different conversation. So can we please take them freshman year, even just to one college campus? Normalize the idea of college in their brains before they’re taking an ACT, before they’re taking a prep test. Can we do that?”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And what’s funny is she saw that, and she was like, “Oh.” And because this was happening at the board level, this is well before the teachers had to choose where they were spending money or where they were scheduling time, and so offering a more diversity of voice, at a school like that, I think was powerful. But there’s quite a bit of diversity on that board. When I got to Knoll, there wasn’t that much of diversity of thought on the board. And it was interesting, because when it first came up, I was like, “Are you inviting me on the board because I’m Black?” And they were like, “Well, that’s helpful.” And I was like, “Oh [crosstalk 01:26:00].

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I was like, “Well, are you inviting me on the board because I’m creative?” And they were like, “Yeah, it’s a design company, and we don’t have creative people on the board. There’s a misstep there.” And I was like, “Oh.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And then later on, someone was like, “Yeah, scary enough. You’re also young.” I was like, “Oh, I haven’t been young in a while.” But I was the youngest person on the board. And I think, again, being able to have diverse levels of thought at a board level where it’s really only about sponsorship, it’s really about giving direction to the real leaders and responsible folks who run something, being able to give them a sounding board and holding them to task on, “Are you getting the most out of your people? And by the most, are you just even listening and can you hear their voices?”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I think when boards start to diversify, I think… And I mean, the same is true in C-suite. I have a whole thing about, “I love all my friends who are D and I experts at every company, but you wouldn’t need them so much if the C-suite was diverse. You’d have other problems to fix because then those folks would make sure that there was a diverse hiring thing.” Maybe not all the time, but there’d be more folks to sort of like, “Let’s get after diversity in bigger ways.” And I think to me, the board level helps usher and push along those movements. So I’m very, very happy that folks sort of tapped me on the shoulder. One, I didn’t look like the average board person. I also went in saying I wasn’t going to act like the normal board person. And I think they were actually quite excited that I wouldn’t be. So I was blessed to end up in conversations that they wanted me there, as opposed to they felt like their hands were tied about having me.

Maurice Cherry:
So I mentioned before we started recording that I had done my research. I read through a lot of articles that you had written up on the GwoodThin.gs blog, and they’re also syndicated on Medium.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I apologize for [crosstalk 01:27:58].

Maurice Cherry:
No, no. I actually want to talk about that. What does writing do for you as a designer?

Jeffrey Henderson:
Writing is probably, and this plays into, I don’t know, the background of introversion of I stumble across my words. If I’m having a conversation, I’m one of those people who goes, “Oh, I wish I would have thought about that when we’re talking” because I can’t think on my feet like that. And so being able to write, a skill that my sister made sure I… She saw that I had a little bit of a talent. My sister’s 13 years older than me. So she saw I had a little talent and made sure my teachers knew and forced me to write more and more when I was in high school. And that just became a way for me to, almost in a journal way, sort of write down what my thoughts were when I knew I couldn’t finish them in other ways, or I really didn’t feel comfortable talking to other people.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And also allowed me to… And when you get old and have kids, you sort of see that, well, your kids aren’t always listening to you. And I, for sure, didn’t always listen to my parents or my elders, but if you write it down and leave it so that when they’re ready to take any of the information, it’s there for them. And so for me to write it down like this… And people bring up some of those Medium posts all the time like, “Oh, I read such and such.” I don’t even remember writing it. It’s from 2016. And I might’ve just copied and pasted it from a Tumblr post from 2012. But it’s more of my journal, this was kind of going on or a thought that popped up in my head that I may have wanted… or someone asked a question that I wanted to answer for that person, but also wanted to answer for multiple people.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So being able to write, to me… And it’s funny because people often talk like, “Oh, you write the same way you talk.” And it’s like, “Well, that should be the same way with everybody, I would think.” And so I don’t use complete sentences, and I’ll stop in the middle of a sentence and just go into the next thing because it’s really just my thought… And my kids hate it. They’ll read and be like, “You have no focus.” Because they took real writing classes and I’m like, [crosstalk 01:29:57]. “You’re smarter than me because I can send you to a school that you can be smarter than me, so leave me alone.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
But for me, it’s sort of this unfiltered way of throwing down whatever is in my head. And I might evolve six months past whatever I wrote, but my journal is sort of me documenting my thoughts so that if it’s helpful to somebody at a time, it’s good. And also there might be hope that there’s some things that I’m sort of fighting against or don’t want that one day it’ll be sort of useless because they’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, we don’t have those problems anymore. We’ve moved onto new problems.” But hopefully that becomes the case.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I have to say I could not stop reading. I think you’re a fantastic writer. I think you should keep it up.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Thank you. No one knows that I’m paying you in shoes to say that, right? Okay. Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
Look, I was going to say that before the shoes. No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. No seriously, though, I mean, as I read through it, I think it’s important not just as you’re talking about to push your thoughts down, but as you also said, for other people to see, and not just your kids, but for other designers to stumble upon, “This is what it’s like for an agency owner when they’re working on projects,” or, “How do you think about the work that you do in your creative process?” That kind of stuff tends to not really get shared, certainly not from other black designers in that way.

Jeffrey Henderson:
I was listening to, I think one of the interviews you had before, and I think you brought up that you could throw something in a Tweet and how deep does it go, but how long does it actually stick? It kind of gets lost in the universe.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I think when you actually write a book, there’s a little bit more staying power. And I think those long reads that challenge you to follow a story that imparts information, I think, are very powerful. And I think there’s also just… Some people would rather have the 300-page book about a topic and some people want a TikTok version of the same thing. And I think everything’s not for everyone. So how I communicate may not be for everybody. I apologize that you had to read through all those, but for some people they enjoy reading them and some people are like, “Yeah, I read the first three lines, and I was good. Way to go.” And that’s okay. [crosstalk 01:32:05].

Maurice Cherry:
No, I read through all of them because some of them you’re talking about different projects that you’ve worked on. There was one even about the recent board appointment that you had mentioned. So it was just good to sort of see it, see how you perceive the world through your eyes and your words and how that all… Because for someone like me, I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but to read your words on it, it’s like, “Oh, so that’s what it’s like.” Just to kind of see that perspective is important.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And it’s really powerful when you don’t have enough voices in jobs from people who look like you who might be able to say things and sound like you, not only for you to hear and go, “Oh, okay. This is what it’s like when I get there.” But also I think I wrote one article about of the nicest guys I know on the planet. He posted on his Instagram a photo of the Nike design offsite. It was a picture of all the Nike designers and pretty much all white folk with… You can pick out the three or four people who aren’t white.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeffrey Henderson:
And when I saw that, I had anxiety just looking at the picture. Because I remember going to those offsites going like, “This is weird,” and not knowing who to tell or who to say it to except for people who were there.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And we were all kind of looking at each other like, “Yeah. But it is what it is.” Someone just posted the phrase, “It is what it is” on Twitter. And I was sort of like, “That’s a very dark expression for Black folk because it’s almost like you’re giving up, like a loss of hope.” But “it is what it is.” It’s not what I think other people might think it means. It’s definitely like, “We’re done here. There’s nothing we can do. It is what it is.”

Jeffrey Henderson:
And I think changing that at Nike became something so many of us focused on that, I don’t know… I don’t know if we were able to put a dent in it as much as we wanted to, but it definitely some days felt it is what it is.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And that picture brought out all that anxiety. And I told him. I was like, “Yo, are you okay? I’m going to actually use the article. I’m going to write your name and say what a good dude you are but also explain this is the truth.” And it’s funny how many people who reached out to me after, on both sides who were like, “Yo, I thought this and I didn’t know how to feel, and I didn’t know what to say.” Depending on, like, on each side, which is kind of interesting. And there were some people were like, “Yo, you never acted this way when you were there.” And it’s like, “Maybe I did and you didn’t notice.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Or, “Maybe when you knew me, I was going with ‘it is what it is.’ So what’s the point in telling you about it?”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
So writing is a way to sort of, I don’t know, let people see what it really was, even if you couldn’t do it in real time.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think it can also sort of serve as a mirror back to you, particularly in terms of colloquial language. You have one post on here called Who All Gone Be There, which is so common, I think, for any person of color they’re going somewhere that’s mixed company.

Jeffrey Henderson:
[crosstalk 01:35:12] talking about.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. You’re like, “Who all gone be there? I need to know what I’m stepping into,” or something like that. Or even there’ll be posts that are named after song titles. There’s one called Shook Ones or something like that. Or even one where you’re breaking down the cost of a shoe, you know, or the materials and everything that go into it because people will, I think, certainly with the inflated sneaker economy now, people will look at a shoe and wonder why it costs that much, but not thinking of everything that has to go into it with research and materials and all that sort of stuff.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Right. And what’s funny is, I think… And I watch what’s happened in the last 20 years with journalism is that, I don’t know, maybe 20 years ago there would be, especially sports journalists, I think that’s kind of where it started with like, “Oh, this is the hip hop journalist, and he speaks in a vernacular that connects to the people and uses hip hop slang,” and yada, yada, yada. It’s one of those. Or “Y’all just letting him write and just write what he would write to his friends.” And so for me, I think that connection point of calling it Shook Ones is not… I’m not trying to connect with you. I’m not apologizing. It’s just like, “You know where it’s from. I know where it’s from. So that’s how we communicate. That’s how communication works. I don’t know any Billy Joel songs to impart to you how I’m feeling about it, so I can’t do that. And if I could, then I would connect with… Are there Billy Joel people listening?” No shade to Billy Joel, but that’s sort of… I’m just talking the way I talk in the group chats with folk.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah,

Jeffrey Henderson:
So it’s sort of… And I think that was… And writing helped me… I talk about this a lot. I grew up swearing like nobody’s business, and I don’t know if we cool. We know what you like. I could swear left or right. Writing helps me like, “All right, let’s change some of those words. Sometimes it bes what it bes.”

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And to your point, it also, you know, even, I think, as it reflected through the makeup of your team, it shows them that being able to express themselves authentically doesn’t make them any less of a professional.

Jeffrey Henderson:
You know what’s wild is… And I talk about this a lot with folks who are of my age group, who are in this weird late forties, early fifties, where we sort of went through a history of trying to code switch. And like I said, I don’t know if I’m necessarily good at it. I think I tried it enough, but I don’t know that anybody bought it. But the idea that young folks don’t care to code switch.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Jeffrey Henderson:
They just show up how they show up and talking to folks who are my age. It’s like, “Yo, don’t get caught out there code switching because the young folks would call you out on it and they ain’t listening. They don’t have time for you to be worrying about what you got a bonnet on at the airport. It’s just not [crosstalk 01:38:08].

Jeffrey Henderson:
It should just be you every day. And it’s difficult because we came from an age group where we were taught when you show up, you’re in their space. You need to respect [crosstalk 01:38:18].

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, respectability politics.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Exactly. And it’s sort of… I was lucky enough to… And I say this all the time. I have amazing credit only because when I got my Discover Card in college, it was like, “Yo, you can either pay this much or you can pay this little bit and all these other numbers about what you pay for the next six months.” And I was like, “I’m too lazy to do that. I’m just going to pay the big number.” So I never had debt because I just paid the big number. So it’s not because I was smart and knew, “Ooh, I want to get good credit.” It was I just don’t want to deal with the headache.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Same is true about… I was just like, “I don’t want to wear a tie to work ever. I don’t want one of those jobs. I’m not going to go work there. I just want to wear sneakers to work.” I just chose that, not knowing it was going to be… I didn’t choose this because it would make me money. I didn’t choose it because it would provide me money to buy a house and not have to assimilate so much. I did it because I just liked sneakers and I liked the culture. And I think young folks are more and more for the technology to exist, they get to do the same. They’re just trying to figure out what it all means because they’re being told by older people, “Oh, it’s adulthood time. So now you have to follow in line and you’ve got to wear your hair a certain way.” And they’re like, “No, thank you. But [crosstalk 01:39:33].” So I think it’s cool that people can be who they’re going to be and old people like me get to help them do that.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing?

Jeffrey Henderson:
Yo, this drives me and everyone else crazy that I want to be able to just walk down the street and not have to go anywhere and everything comes to Harlem because we made it possible. I went from, I don’t know, doing product design a few years back to ad and content creation. And now I’m missing a call right now about NFTs, which I had no idea about, but, “Okay, let’s go learn about NFTs and the process and the drops and all this other stuff.” And it’s one of those… I think the strategy mindset, the creative mindset, and a little bit of, I think, luck along the way of having some wins, folks invite us to parties, whether it’s just me or my entire team. I think people trusting my team as they get better. And the team’s starting to have their own sort of mentees below them to kind of grow the business for all of us.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And even if they go run and create their own agency, it’s all good. I kind of want this fun growth to keep, I think… I used to say making stuff was cool, and now I’m to the point where making stuff has taken a different personality, given my thoughts on sustainability. And sometimes it’s not making stuff is the answer, but figuring out how…

Jeffrey Henderson:
My biggest thing in terms of conversations in the last probably three months has been on housing justice here in New York City. And I think that’s not the standard conversation for maybe a creative, but I think the thought process and the connections and the ideation that myself and my team, the folks I hang out with and bring to the table just, I don’t know, open up the vision on some of those things. And I think that’s what I mean when I say putting things… And I’ve always said this. If you can create, I don’t know, some systemic change in Harlem and Atlanta and Oakland, in places like Detroit, I think if that starts to stick and ownership becomes a big piece of it, I think there’s some conversations that are really going to be had.

Jeffrey Henderson:
And then their less talking about, “Oh, well, I don’t know if we’ll give them a chance, but we’re good. We did this. We’re good.” And I think that’s where I’d want to be. Even if it’s not me, I’m just hanging around people who are doing those things. That’s my five years from now.

Maurice Cherry:
Well just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Jeffrey Henderson:
So definitely come hang out… For the most part, if you want to find out about all the fun we’re having, find us at GoodThin.gs, G-O-O-D-T-H-I-N.gs. I’m sure it’ll be in the bio and byline. That’s where we have our fun. That’s where we give back to the community. That’s where we show how we hang out. You want to book us for business? Definitely come to andthem.com. We keep it professional. You can write us checks and we’re all good. Ready to do stuff. And then definitely, I don’t know, we’re making some shoes. We’re doing apparel next. You can see NinetyNineProducts and Jackson YC. my guy [Royce 01:42:42] is doing Silk City. We got a few hustles going on, some fun. So please, you don’t have to read all the reading [inaudible 01:42:49] is doing. Greatly appreciate it, but you can come check out and see some of the creative stuff we’re doing.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s good reading, y’all. Don’t listen to him. It’s good reading. Jeffrey Henderson, thank you so much for coming on the show. I think, you know, from hearing your story, from looking at your work and, again, even from the research that I’ve done, to me, there is a certain deep sense of thoughtfulness that you bring to your work that perhaps I don’t know if you even recognize how thoughtful it is in terms of doing work for the community and making sure that you’re creating this nurturing space for young creatives and everything. I think it’s something that more of us need to see in the industry. We need to see, of course, I think just more Black agency owners, but also more Black agency owners that are kind of bucking the trend or changing the paradigm or showing that it’s okay to be thoughtful and do great work like this and not have to stick to, you know, any sort of archaic or a draconian style of running a business, that you can do great work and have fun and it can be a nurturing space.

Maurice Cherry:
And I definitely see that care and thoughtfulness that you bring to your work, and I’m appreciative of it. I’m sure that folks listening think that way as well. So thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jeffrey Henderson:
Thank you so much. I’m glad to be on that list of hundreds of people who you bring in, I think. Visibility too. I love what you’re doing. So however I can be a part of this, I’m happy to help. Thank you.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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Julian Williams

It’s a new month, and I am beyond excited to share with you my interview with Julian Williams. He may be young in age, but his impressive body of work rivals those of designers with years more experience. We talked a few months after he completed work on the Biden for American campaign as their lead opposition brand designer. Pretty cool!

We spoke about how he landed on the campaign, and Julian shared the differences between working with clients in the U.S. versus clients in Europe. From there, Julian took me through his history as a designer, including working for fashion designers Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Lagerfeld, a stint as an intern at &Walsh, and being a designer at Nike while in The Netherlands. Julian also shared how his passion for voguing and the ballroom scene helps influence his work, and he gives some great advice for graphic designers out there looking to find their own style. Julian’s motto is about making good work with good people — something we can all take to heart!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
So tell us who you are and what you do.

Julian Williams:
Hi. My name is Julian Williams, and I am a graphic designer and art director based in Amsterdam.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Before we get more into what you do, and your background, and everything, tell me how are you feeling right now? I know it’s late. For folks that are listening, we’re recording it’s 5:00 PM ish my time, but it’s several hours ahead where Julian is.

Julian Williams:
No. I’m feeling wonderful. We’ve had a lot of really good, sunny weather here in the Netherlands after the canals froze over about two or three weeks ago. And I think that’s been keeping my mood very, very high. I’ve been having some good work lately too. So I’m feeling quite happy and quite good.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. How has the year gone so far for you?

Julian Williams:
It’s been great, actually. I think now that kind of … in the Netherlands, we’ve been in our own lockdown. And we also have had for the majority of this year 2021, a curfew. But I think we’ve all kind of acclimated to that and are just kind of used to it. We can’t go out past a certain times and I’m just like I’ll get some projects done at home. I’ve been playing guitar a lot and writing some music when I’m not designing, or working for clients, or doing some personal work. So yeah, I’m doing pretty good. I think the year’s been going great so far.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. What would you say the general, I guess feeling is like in the city? I know that might be a little difficult to gauge.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. It’s interesting here. I’m in Amsterdam, which some people really look towards I think when they think of the Netherlands. And there’s a lot of controversy going on right now with the pandemic. There’ve been a lot of protests centered in Amsterdam of people who don’t agree with lockdown measures. And it is creating quite a bit of tension. There’s even been small instances of violence around the country based around lockdowns and stuff. So I think things feel a little tense. And also, people have kind of been doing what they want for a while and not being as careful I think, as other European countries. Like it took us longer to have a mask mandate than a lot of other countries. So yeah, I think there’s a little bit of tension in the air. But mainly, people are just kind of sticking to themselves and going about their days. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. I figured America would have a monopoly on people acting in public around-

Julian Williams:
I thought the same actually. I was like oh man. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, “I’m in Europe. We have everything together. We got it going.” And lately in the last few months, the Netherlands has also not been doing so great with their vaccine rollout. And I’ve been talking to friends in the U.S. who have gotten their shots and stuff already. And I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, it’s going to be August or something by the time I get vaccinated.”

Maurice Cherry:
I feel like it might be that way here as well. I mean, I’m in Georgia. Which is I think as of our recording, the state that is the worst in terms of vaccine rollout. If it’s not the worst, it’s one of the worst. It’s circling the bottom, 49 or 50, something like that. So we’re not doing too great either. But I can wait. Really, I was concerned about whether or not my folks got the shots and my grandparents got the shots, which they did. So I’m like I can wait. I work from home. I’ve already had to do this for a year. I can wait-

Julian Williams:
That’s the feeling I have too. I’m very fortunate with the kind of work that I have as well. So I’m quite good being at home. A lot of the stuff that I like to do, I can enjoy in my living room. So yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. Talk to me about what kind of projects you’re working on now.

Julian Williams:
Right now, it’s quite interesting because … so I have entered into the world of freelancing, which is not something that I’ve been crazy used to before, but it’s something I’m loving a lot right now. And I am actually working with a company called Meow Wolf that was started in Santa Fe, New Mexico where I went to university. And they have acquired some spaces in Las Vegas and Denver. And they make these kinds of insane, it’s so difficult to describe what I’m working on now. These insane interactive, almost museum spaces that are also story-based. Each place that they acquire kind of has its own narrative. And I’m doing work for their space that’s going to be opening later in the year in Denver, Colorado. And I’m really excited to be working on this because a lot of my colleagues are former professors and classmates of mine, who I saw all the time in Santa Fe. So it’s really been great to kind of reconnect with those people after so many years and make cool stuff like we used to.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. So you still kind of keep in touch with folks, and friends, and everything from back home?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I definitely make a point to have conversations with former classmates, and friends, and teachers about things I think are interesting and design. Because when I was in university, I really believe that those were the people and the parts of studying that gave me the most. Just talking to people about things that they were interested in. And yeah, I make an effort to keep that going, even though we’re not in school anymore. And I think people feel really engaged by that sometimes.

Maurice Cherry:
How is the design scene for you in Amsterdam?

Julian Williams:
I love it. And I feel really happy that I had the opportunity to study American design in the United States, and then just kind of get thrust into this other design world. It’s interesting because I started my career in Europe, but I was studying in the United States. I feel like there’s kind of a seriousness to design in Europe that obviously in some parts of the United States exists as well. But there’s just something about the way that people approach the execution of design that I think is quite rooted in history and design movements from the past. I mean, in the Netherlands, you can see the influences of Mondrian and quite prolific artists and designers all the time in repeated and interesting ways. So yeah, it’s interesting. It’s quite cultural here. It’s quite serious.

Julian Williams:
And then I think I’m also fortunate because I’m in Amsterdam, and it’s such a multicultural city, that it’s great to see outsiders like me come in and have a play with that kind of design language, and kind of bring our own taste into that.

Maurice Cherry:
Now I know that you just came off of a pretty big design gig. You were working for the Biden for President campaign.

Julian Williams:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
Tell me about that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Coming onto it was rather random. So pandemic is happening. I’m in my apartment in the Netherlands. I was sitting on my couch. And this person I had never met before in my life named Robyn Kanner sends me an email saying, “Hi, I’m creative advisor for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. And we’d like to talk to you about potentially coming on and working for the campaign.” And it was quite a process from that first email to signing the contract and being like okay, I’m part of the team now. But gosh, it was a fantastic, exciting, fiery, wild, interesting design experience that I feel so fortunate to have been part of. And I met incredible people working on that team on something that we all felt was so important.

Maurice Cherry:
Was it difficult working with, I would imagine the team is mostly U.S. based, but was it difficult trying to kind of acclimate to that?

Julian Williams:
Well yes, you are correct that it was U.S. based. I was actually the only person on the campaign based outside the United States. It was not difficult for me though, because I am quite used to adjusting my life to other time zones. My mom is German, and my dad is American, and we’ve always moved around the world as a family and had to talk to family in the states when we live in Germany, and talked to family in Germany when we’re living somewhere else. And I also told them I’m willing to adjust my entire life to work on this. If I need to sleep a few hours in the daylight and then be up all night, I will. It’s funny that’s what I thought it would be. And then it actually just ended up being I was just awake as often as possible to work on stuff. Because you never know what’s going to happen when the president gets COVID and then you have to make content based on that or not make content based on that.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And you were working specifically with opposition research, right?

Julian Williams:
Yes. So in my interview, it was funny. I remember Robyn Kanner asking me, “How would you feel about designing content that I don’t know, maybe attacks the president of the United States?” I was just laughing. I was just like, “I feel amazing about doing that. And I also have a bunch of content that I’ve been making for years on my personal platforms showing that not only can I do it, but I can do it quickly, and I can do it in interesting ways. So let’s get to it.”

Julian Williams:
And yeah, then I was hired as a middleweight designer on the campaign, and then I was quickly promoted to lead opposition brand designer. And I developed with Robyn the art direction for how the Biden campaign talked about the Trump administration and the things that the president had and mainly hadn’t done.

Julian Williams:
It was a really interesting opportunity for me because I have a large background in really graphic design, a little bit of art direction. But I loved this because I have quite a political background. Before I just decided to study graphic design, I actually wanted to go to West Point and study political science, serve in the military, and then go into politics. That was my plan. And I had been talking to my parents about it for a lot of time up until my last semester of high school when I did a complete 180 and I was like, “No, I’m going to be working with something visual for sure. Or I’ll go crazy.” But I’m so happy I got to do this because a large part I feel of what I was doing was strategy-based. Stuff would happen and we had to react to it quite quickly, especially around debate time. And I actually really loved the engagement and almost weirdly thrill of having to quickly concepts visualize and then execute designs based on things happening in real time. I loved it. It was quite interesting.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a shift. And I’ll ask you what it was just growing up and everything. But yeah, that’s a go from wanting to be in the military and politics to switching over to graphic design, that feels very sort of left brain, right brain in a way.

Julian Williams:
In high school, actually I did a lot of things in high school. I was in theater, I was running cross country. I was in choir. I was like, “Let me do everything.” But my actual kind of baby was speech and debate. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the NFL, the National Forensics League.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Julian Williams:
So the National Forensics League is this thing in universities and high schools. It’s an institution in the United States that is the main program for public speaking debates and extemporaneous speaking in the United States. And when I was in high school, I participated in debate tournaments around Texas. And in my last year, I forgot if I represented El Paso or Texas in the national competition in Birmingham, Alabama. I loved to debate. And my specific category was CX debate, which is evidence based debate. And I loved it. And I’m really happy that I did that when I did, because I think that has made me quite comfortable going from verbal communication to visual communication. And then talking about that visual communication when I need to.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s interesting that you were able to kind of transfer those skills over like that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. It really worked out like that.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at your time on the campaign, what do you remember most?

Julian Williams:
I remember working with really strong women and a really diverse team of people. A lot of colors on our team. A lot of gender identities, a lot of sexual identities. My bosses Robyn Kanner and Carahna Magwood are two amazing, intelligent women. Also just really inspiring. Carahna is a mom. She was deputy design director of our team. And now she’s working at the White House I believe as creative director. She’s running creative at the White House. I forgot what the official title is. But she’s raising a five-year-old and guiding an entire team of designers, reacting to content, driving her kid to school while on meetings with us. And I remember just thinking, “Gosh, this woman is Wonder Woman. Wow, I’m so inspired by this.” And it really became this little family. And it was also so interesting because no presidential campaign has ever been like this, and hopefully no one ever will be.

Julian Williams:
A bunch of us never met. I was on the other side of the world getting on phone calls with people who are just waking up. We had a morning meeting every day. We had an evening meeting every day, every single day. Every single day for four months that I worked on the campaign. And I’m so happy we worked the way … for something that serious, I feel like we didn’t have a choice but to work as a family. And I think the thing that I just remember is just how diverse, and engaging, and interesting, and fun, and exciting this family was.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Folks that have listened to the show knows that I’ve worked on a political campaign before. It was just a mayoral campaign. And I was on there for I think from February to November. So 10 months-ish doing design, and new media, and everything. And this was back in, I’m dating myself. This was 2009. So this was right after Obama got elected. And this was the first set of real municipal races in the country that saw what Obama did with social media, and with great graphic design, and everything. And they wanted that. I’d say every candidate that I had run across including the one that I worked for, they wanted that Obama sort of shine and everything. And it was so interesting trying to navigate that time because there was no handbook.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, the people that did that first campaign, some of them of course went off to the White House. But nobody really knew how to do any of this stuff. I mean, now it’s common. Now if you’re running, you have to have all these things kind of in your toolbox, in your campaign toolbox. But back then, I had found some girl on BlackPlanet that did custom MySpace pages. Again, dating myself. We had a custom MySpace page. We had a Flickr page and a Meetup page. We tried to get on every sort of social network that we thought we could find constituents on or at least try to connect with people on. And it was just such a different time from then and now.

Maurice Cherry:
But I know what you mean about those daily meetings. And you really get close with those people in a very short amount of time. I mean, I feel like any campaign, it’s like a little mini company in a way. And then of course once the campaign ends, everyone kind of goes their separate ways. Some go with the candidates, some don’t. For me, I was at that time also starting out with my own studio. And it was so beneficial to me afterwards. Because I had now this Rolodex of contacts that I could reach out to.

Julian Williams:
I do feel like that as well. It’s also interesting that you mentioned people wanting what Obama had on his campaign in their campaigns. Because I think in the world of design that happens, and it did happen for our campaign, with really simple things. Like after Obama’s campaign, everyone wanted to use the font Gotham. A bunch of people were using Gotham. And it’s interesting something that we did. So before I entered the Biden campaign, I hated gradients. Just gradients. I was like, “I’m not putting gradients on anything that I make. They’re hideous, no place for them.” And freaking Robyn Kanner made me fall in love with gradients, made our entire team fall in love with gradients. And she was constantly talking about how gradients were so she used the word luscious. It’s actually kind of an inside joke within our campaign, this thing of luscious gradients or something that we applied to a lot of the visuals that we made. And then kind of towards the end of the campaign and after our campaign, a bunch of other campaigns like the runoff election in Georgia, they were using gradients as well. Which is not something that’s very common to I think a lot of political campaigns before. So it’s interesting how this stuff becomes cyclical and these influences kind of trickle down. They wrote the book. So let’s work in the way that they worked.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. No, I think we’re starting to see a lot more … I mean, this is probably a weird observation, but we’re starting to see a lot more design in politics in several different ways. I think one, of course in the way that we’re talking about, which is for advertising a candidate or particular cause. Usually a candidate is using some combination of red, white, and blue in a very sort of discrete fashion where you don’t see things like different topography, or gradients, or halftones, or any of that other sort of stuff. But I think also what we can see from just what’s happened in this country over the past few years is how design can be used in a negative fashion to disinform people to have wrong information out there, all that sort of stuff. So I think it’s kind of always around, but it feels like it’s certainly become a lot more prevalent and known to more people over the past few years just how much design has been kind of a double-edged sword in politics.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. That was something that I had to, I feel I applied a lot of that kind of research into the way I went about creating the art direction for the opposition of the campaign. And it comes directly back to the debate world that I was talking about before. In CX debates, often there’s a topic every year. And at the time when I was a senior, it was transportation infrastructure. And the main topic for the entire country or all schools the entire year was should the United States increase investment in its transportation infrastructure? And you actually have to learn to both affirm and negate that statement. You have to play both sides. And I always feel like understanding that is so vital in getting your message across.

Julian Williams:
Often now, I find myself telling younger designers when they’re making something, like if they’re making a poster, don’t go to designers asking for the opinions. Obviously you should, you should get as much help as you can. But in a way, the people who aren’t designers are the ones who you’re communicating to. And that was something I tried to always keep in the back of my mind to think about it’s best if we get as many votes from everyone so it’s good to understand the viewpoint of everyone and the way that people view the current president, if I’m trying to create content that is attacking him, and decreasing his power, and making him look smaller than he is. That was something that my team and I felt maybe hadn’t been explored as much in previous campaigns.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And also, I have to say of course you all did a fantastic job. After the campaign ended, did you have an opportunity to work for the administration, or did you just decide to sort of stay freelance?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. So I actually did a little bit of work for the inauguration just for a hot second. That was really nice. And everyone had the opportunity to kind of apply to positions at the White House. I kind of wanted to get back to making more connections. And I think that’s kind of the way that I’m approaching the work that I look for right now. I say that my biggest dream is to make good work with good people. And I think this last year, that’s really become a reality, and I’ve had a taste of how amazing that is. And I want to just keep meeting more people and working on diverse things. And I do definitely see myself coming back to the political world in the future. Although, I think the thing that drove me to do it this year, with this last year was just the urgency of this campaign had to go the way that it did, or so much would have gone wrong.

Julian Williams:
And I’m really happy that they hired me because I brought a whole different perspective anyone else who was working on the campaign I feel, in the sense that I was telling my coworkers, “This affects the whole world. If this man remains president, there are people in the Middle East who are going to have a lot of problems.” My two countries had a fantastic relationship with each other before Donald Trump was president. And it actually really pains me to see the two leaders of the countries that I’m from having the conflict that they do.

Julian Williams:
So there was a whole lot of other things kind of riding on this election for me. And to have an opportunity to be a direct part of effecting that in any way was really important to me. So I feel myself being drawn towards working in politics in the future. I kind of hope that I don’t feel such a drive and need to be involved in politics in the way that I did last.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s probably for the best. I’m sort of speaking from experience. Again, not at the level that you have. But yeah, it’s good to have that experience to be able to work in that sort of crucible of creating work, but it’s so much better to be outside of it. You just gain a different perspective. So yeah. You mentioned Santa Fe. Is that where you grew up?

Julian Williams:
Where I grew up is a loaded question. Okay. How much time do you have? So I was born in the Southwest of Germany in a place called Kaiserslautern. My mom and I’s hometown is Ramstein-Miesenbach, which is right next to Kaiserslautern. And I lived there for five years. And then my family moved to El Paso, Texas. And El Paso has always kind of been what I consider to be my American hometown. We spent a lot of time in Germany and El Paso because my dad was in the army for 30 years.

Julian Williams:
So we were in Germany. Then we went to Texas. We were in Virginia a bit, we went back to Germany. And then high school time, ended up back in El Paso, Texas. So I was in the Southwest. And that’s kind of what got my eye towards Santa Fe. And Santa Fe, New Mexico one is my favorite place that I’ve been to in the United States. And I think it’s the most beautiful place. And it definitely was where I needed to be.

Julian Williams:
I have a special connection to Santa Fe, Mexico City, And Amsterdam. I also spent a lot of university time traveling to Mexico City. My school had a sister school in Mexico. And a lot of my friends live in Mexico City and got quite close to that city. But those three places, I just had this feeling. Whenever I was there, I was like, “I’m meant to be here right now.” And it’s not a feeling I’ve had about anywhere else that I’ve lived or been. And yeah, I feel really fortunate to have been in Santa Fe when I was there. It’s such an amazing place. And Santa Fe University of Art and Design, I kind of describe it as a lovely experiment gone wrong. Because unfortunately, the school closed down the year after I graduated. But for the time that I was there, it was fantastic. That such talented engaging students and teachers, we were kind of like this little artist colony. Just making stuff, just wiling out on some art. It was great.

Maurice Cherry:
How many people have asked you if you know the way to Santa Fe?

Julian Williams:
I feel like actually only people in New Mexico ask me that question.

Maurice Cherry:
Interesting. Okay. So with all of this kind of moving around and this really sort of melding and meshing of cultures, I would imagine that you were exposed to a lot of design probably just through all of these different stimuli.

Julian Williams:
Oh yeah. Yeah. And I think I’m really, really fortunate for that to be the case. I mean, I do kind of feel like I have to acknowledge that there’s a little bit of privilege that is associated with that. In the sense that me being a citizen of two countries has a lot of privilege behind it. I can work anywhere in the EU. I can work anywhere in the United States. So now in the last year, I’ve been giving a lot of talks to university students. And I always make sure that I mention that, because it’s not always so easy I feel for people to have some of the experiences that I’ve had. I mean, I definitely have things going against me like working as a Black person in the creative world obviously has its drawbacks around the world. But being a citizen of these places does give me some advantages of having lots of different cultural influence in my work, opportunities to meet people, and work with people, which I feel very fortunate to be a part of. And I hope the stuff that I’m doing is giving back to people around the world in some way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I was curious about kind of your influences. Because when I look at your work, like the work that you have on Instagram, the work that you have on your website, it’s so strongly topography based.

Julian Williams:
That’s very funny to hear. Sorry, go ahead.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you heard that before?

Julian Williams:
No, it’s so interesting. When I was in university, everyone was afraid of topography. We had a wonderful topography instructor named Arlyn Nathan. Bless her. A fantastic, fantastic teacher. I believe she attended Yale. And all of us were always so scared of typography. Topography is like the most difficult part of graphic design. And I think I still feel some of that. I still feel quite intimidated by typography. But I often find myself engaging with things that intimidate me. So maybe that’s what you’re seeing is me being a bit of a masochist maybe.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, I mean there’s that. I think the way that you approach it certainly is in a very kind of I don’t know if I want to say brutalist. First of all, I didn’t go to design school, so I don’t know these terms. But when I see it, it’s in your face. You don’t miss it. There’s no subtlety about it. Which I like. I like that.

Julian Williams:
My actual introduction to design and typography, when I went to university in Santa Fe, I barely actually knew how to navigate the internet. A home computer wasn’t something that … my parents were a little strict. So they were like, “Yeah, do something that’s not on the computer.” So when I got to university, I was quite intimidated because it seemed like everyone knew Photoshop, and people knew their way around the internet. And I definitely didn’t and didn’t even know how to hold a Wacom pen.

Julian Williams:
And actually when I got to university, the thing that I gravitated towards was graffiti and spray paint. My dad was in the military. I wasn’t running around at home with cans of paint, getting into trouble. Because I would have problems when I come home. But when I got to university, it was something I was really interested in. And I think that is kind of my first jump into the world of typography, and communication specifically. I was meeting graffiti writers in Santa Fe. I was spray painting legally, sometimes not so legally, and doing quite in your face messaging things. And I think that is maybe what I see in my work now. My relationship with typography is quite loud and informative, I think. And it’s been quite an evolution from those freshmen days of messing around with some cheap spray paint cans. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Graffiti. That’s interesting. I don’t know why I’m not thinking that there would be graffiti in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But-

Julian Williams:
It’s great. It’s great. And also, New Mexico has a large native population. and that comes into the work a lot as well. I’ve met quite a few native graffiti writers around Santa Fe. Really awesome stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, one of the first design gigs that you scored right out of college was actually pretty big. You worked for Nike, or you interned for Nike, and then you later worked for Nike. Is that right?

Julian Williams:
Correct. Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
How was your experience?

Julian Williams:
It was really fantastic, interesting, challenging at times. I think definitely the hardest point in my career. I got interested in Nike as a student because Bijan Berahimi, a designer who runs a studio in Portland called FISK, fantastic design studio, came to my university and gave a workshop with his friend Chris Burnett based around Nike because they had both worked at Nike previously. And we made all this interesting work. I remember being really stressed out about the work for some reason. I was just thinking I have to make the most amazing thing. Because this is based on Nike, and they’re such a big place. And I stayed up until 4:00 AM working on this little poster I was making. And I left the lab crying because I just hated what I made. And I went back to my dorm room, and actually someone had set off like the water sprinkler in the dorm. And all me and my friends had to sleep in this brightly lit storage shed off the side of our dorm for an entire night. It was just the worst night of university ever.

Julian Williams:
But I talked to Bijan a lot at that workshop, and he actually reached out to me a little bit later to work on some freelance work for Nike. And my mind was just like, “Man, Nike. I really feel good when I work on this stuff. And I’m so interested in it.” And I saw that they were hiring a design intern in Europe. And I applied, I had an interview, and I got the job. It was so funny. When I got the phone call, it was 4:00 AM in New Mexico. And some number I didn’t recognize called me, and the person on the phone was like, “Hi, are you Julian? You’re going to come to Amsterdam and work for Nike.” And out loud on the phone I said, “Fuck.” It was the first thing out of my mouth. I was just like I’m in New Mexico right now. I’m about to get on a plane to a place I know nothing about.

Julian Williams:
But I did it. And I came to the Netherlands. Nike’s European headquarters is in a village called Hilversum a few minutes away from Amsterdam. And it was really challenging. I think I was still working on my thesis. I was halfway through my last year of university at the time. So that was another thing. I was still working on schoolwork while working for one of the biggest companies in the world as my first career thing ever. But I also feel like in that time, I was kind of relearning how to be European and how to engage with Europeans on a creative level, on just conversational level as well. I feel like I kind of in a way, had a little bit of an American handicap when I started working at Nike.

Julian Williams:
But there was a point where I just kind of pushed through and stopped worrying so much about this stuff, and was just making work in the way that I had learned to in university. My design professor David Grey, who he was kind of a mentor of mine in university. He really had us just kind of sit down and make things without worrying. Obviously we have to think about the process at some point. But our really early design practices revolved around making. And that was also something that we did in our workshop with Bijan. And I started working in that way and also bringing a bit of analog stuff in. And stuff just started clicking, and I stopped worrying about stuff. And all the things that you learn about how to present decks, and how to talk to clients and stuff just kind of came naturally.

Julian Williams:
It is difficult though, working in that kind of world. So I finished my internship, and then I was hired as a brand designer at Nike. I do feel that Nike has a very large hierarchy problem. I think that titles matter to people a lot. And I don’t think I realized it at the time that it was actually quite toxic. I think it still is quite toxic, which is unfortunate because Nike is my favorite brand. They produce some of my favorite design work in the world. However, yeah, just this kind of ranking stuff was not something I was aware of until I later left Nike and worked at other places and realized it’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not supposed to feel my opinion maybe doesn’t matter as much as this person because they have a higher salary than me.

Julian Williams:
I also feel like sometimes if you’re a minority working in creative at Nike, sometimes your expertise in certain cultural things might not get taken advantage of in a correct way. I mean, I was 21 and 22 when I was at Nike. I was the target audience. Young, male, interested in street wear and sports. And I don’t know, I wasn’t trying to go around being this loud intern like, “Listen to me. I know.” But I feel like maybe it’s just the thing of missed opportunities.

Julian Williams:
I also feel like, and just to be quite candid, I think it would be difficult to work as a creative at Nike if I were a woman. Without getting too into that, just Nike is a boys club. It’s a straight, cisgender white boys club. I mean I worked in the European headquarters. I witnessed it there. But I actually heard it echoed heavily in Portland where the global headquarters is. And I think it’s a big problem. And I think it’s come to light a lot in recent years. And I hope that things are being done to change that.

Julian Williams:
And also interestingly enough, I lost my job at Nike. I was fired actually. Which at the time was really devastating. And now, I’m actually very thankful for it, and thankful for the opportunity to talk to young designers about this. And the reason I was fired interestingly enough, I had been about 10 months into working as a brand designer. And I was asked to give a design talk to a university in the United States. And my Instagram at the time was all personal design work. I was making a lot of posters based around political things that were happening in the world, stuff that Donald Trump was tweeting. Or just poems songs, honestly whatever I felt like. It’s just a typical design Instagram. And I gave this talk, and the talk was about me studying in Santa Fe, getting my job at Nike, the way that happened. I actually made a poster based on that phone call I mentioned earlier where I was like, “Fuck.” And I took the word fuck, and I put it on top of the Nike swoosh. And I posted it to Instagram. And the caption I wrote was, “Just finished wrapping up a wonderful talk with my former professor and his new students at university of so-and-so about my wild life at Nike.” And I tagged Nike.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no. I think I see where this is going.

Julian Williams:
So I think I gave the talk on the Thursday, posted that on Friday, came into work on Monday, worked all day, got asked to come into the back Nike office, and was just told, “Yeah, we have a zero tolerance social media policy. We have to take your laptop. We have to take your hard drive. We have to escort you off campus, and we’re terminating your contract.” And I was 22. Yeah. In hindsight, I do sometimes kind of wonder. Because at the time, it was wintertime, things were really busy, and the environment was quite tumultuous. And I wonder if there were other things that maybe influenced a decision. Because my team was devastated. They were actually talking to our leadership basically saying, “This is ridiculous. There’s no reason why you can’t give this person a warning. They obviously love this brand.”

Maurice Cherry:
Did they even give you a chance to explain the context?

Julian Williams:
I was shocked and I said, “You can read this caption right there. It’s very obvious that I have no malicious intent with this design.” At the time, it really sucked. I asked a random person to take a photo of me standing, at the time, Nike was having their just do it campaign with Colin Kaepernick where he says, “Stand for something. Even if,” I forget the phrase of the campaign. It won a bunch of awards, it was brilliant. But there was a big poster of Colin Kaepernick. And I was being escorted to the main office to be taken off campus. And I asked some random lady to take a photo of me in front of that for some reason. And I actually show that photo when I give talks. Now it’s just me looking devastated in front of Colin Kaepernick because I just lost my dream job.

Julian Williams:
Now though I have to say, I am extremely thankful that that happened. Because I think when you’re a student, sometimes people look at Nike as the end all to the design world. It’s the top of what you can be. And then when I got into it, I realized no. The thing that I love is working with cool people. And I’ve met some cool people at Nike, and I’ve met some not so cool people at Nike. So I want to see where the other cool people are. And I think if I hadn’t been fired actually, I would probably still be in that world because I didn’t know any better at the time. And yeah, nowadays I feel really thankful that that happened, because some amazing stuff happened after that. [inaudible 00:43:44] first though.

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, I told you kind of before we started recording that I’ve had a few other black designers that worked at Nike on the show before. And they’ve all kind of pretty much said the same thing about just how the work culture is and everything. So it’s sad that that’s the case from such a prolific brand. But I have to say, you said you were 22 when that happened?

Julian Williams:
Yep.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s the best time for that kind of stuff to happen in your career is. No seriously, at the beginning, that is the best time. And I don’t know what it is, and I guess I’m sort of looking at my own story here too. I also got fired from a job for it wasn’t a social media post. It was a blog. Actually, it was several blog posts. I’ll tell you after we stop recording. But yeah, I got fired in a very similar fashion from a job. And I wasn’t a designer. I was doing customer service or something like that. But it was after I got fired from that job that I got my first real design gig that then sort of kick-started my career. So I mean sometimes, you have to have a setback to have a comeback.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. And I also really established my own personal design practice at that time. Because to be honest, after I got fired from Nike, for a few months, life got quite hard. It just so happened that the time I lost my job was also the time the contract for the apartment I was living in was ending. So I wasn’t job secure. So then I became not house secure as well. And I ended up couch hopping for a few months. And I hated being a burden to other people. My friends were quite helpful. And to them, it wasn’t a big deal at all to have me on their couch for a week or so. But I just felt so bad.

Julian Williams:
But what I will say is in this time, I was making design work like crazy. And just for no reason at all. And the kind of mindset that I had, I was giving myself ridiculous design briefs. I was like I’m going to design a passport for the moon for the future when we colonize the moon, and I’m going to create a rave poster for the planet Venus in a made up language. And the kind of mindset that I had, because I had only worked for Nike. So all the work I had to show was from Nike. And I didn’t like that. I was like if I’m going to interviews and stuff, I need to be able to show some different kind of stuff. I mean, I can make a bunch of different things for Nike, but I don’t want to just have swooshes all over my portfolio.

Julian Williams:
And going into interviews, I was showing this personal work actually as if it were real work. I wasn’t even mentioning, “I just made this one.” I just showed the things. And I was like, “Obviously, no one’s asked me to make this. But I’m showing you that if someone did ask me insanely to design a passport for the moon, I would be able to do that. And if I can do that, I can do whatever you want me to do for your brand. I can design a website for you. I can design a clothing line. Let’s get to work.” And I was making stuff like every single day. I was like if I’m not going to be working, I’m going to be working for myself. And I’m going to have some tools in my back pocket to show people what I love to do. And yeah, I’m really happy that I did.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s good that you kept on kind of designing and sort of honing your craft at this time, even when you sort of had this other insecurity, just in terms of where you’re going to stay and where money is coming from. That didn’t deter you from still creating.

Julian Williams:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Now you also have worked as a graphic designer in the fashion industry for a few well-known designers. Was it different doing design work for a fashion brand versus more of a sports brand like Nike was?

Julian Williams:
Definitely. Actually, the first job I did after losing my job at Nike, I worked as a freelance designer for Karl Lagerfeld for quite some months. I have an interesting story about that as well. I got the interview with Karl Lagerfeld. I had actually used the last of my money to move everything I own into a storage unit. And I was staying at a friend’s place. I ran back to the storage unit, got whatever the nicest outfit was that I could put together, which was quite nice if I do say so myself. I had some Nike shoes and some things. They were just in storage. I went to Karl Lagerfeld office, had my interview.

Julian Williams:
A few days later, I get a phone call. “Hi, we loved you. We’re looking forward to work with you. We’d love for you to come in and start on Monday.” I said, “Fantastic.” This is not a lie. I put my phone down. I went to use the bathroom. I came back, I picked my phone up. I opened Instagram. The first thing that pops up, Complex News, Karl Lagerfeld has died. And I was like, “Is it me? Am I cursed?” That is not a lie. It happened exactly like that. A few minutes later, I got a phone call back from the project manager saying, “Hey, don’t worry. We still want to work with you. Can we move your booking by one week? Because everything is on fire.” And I was like, “Yep, completely understand. Let’s do it.”

Julian Williams:
I loved working for Karl Lagerfeld. I got to do a lot of things that I hadn’t been introduced to before, like art directing some product photo shoots. They gave me a lot of creative freedom because they at the time wanted to revamp a lot of digital and social content. And I think that’s one of the reasons that they went with me. I think that like you said, it’s a fashion brand. It’s not sportswear. They might have some sportswear items every now and then. But I think they were looking for someone like me who had had a different kind of experience to bring a bit more interesting content.

Julian Williams:
And then I went on to work for Tommy Hilfiger, which I felt kind of walked the line of the two worlds that I had worked. Sportswear, and then a bit more fashion-y stuff. And I really loved working for Tommy Hilfiger. I think they did the opposite of what I was missing at Nike. They appreciated who I was as a person, the interests that I had. And thought how can we apply this to our work? An important part of my life actually outside of design. So I Vogue. And maybe some people don’t know what that means when I say that I Vogue.

Julian Williams:
But voguing is a community and a culture of people that was started by people of color in New York, in the United States. And these people gather to have kind of these competitions/performances called balls that incorporate a bunch of different things like fashion, and dancing, and creating outfits, and sometimes drag. And at the time, I had been voguing for about a year or so, maybe a year and a half. I had started voguing because voguers have things called houses, which are basically groups of people who compete together at these competitions, at these balls. And the main house of the Netherlands is called the House of Vineyard. It was started by Ms. Amber Vineyard who came to give a voguing workshop at Nike, spotted me. And she came up to me. And when you participate in these balls, it’s called walking. And you walk different categories. There are categories like face, and you have to show your beautiful face. Or there’s body. And you have to show that you have a luscious or muscular body. And there are performance categories like Vogue femme, which is a fantastic expressive dance and performance style.

Julian Williams:
And Ms. Amber Vineyard spotted me at her workshop and in the crowd. And she came up to me and she said, “You need to come to my balls. You need to come to my classes and meet my ballroom children. I see you walking this category and this category.” And gosh, it just thrust me into this insane, fantastic, beautiful world of queer Black arts. And I met so many talented people, and it became such an important part of my life. I really see a lot of these people as family who I see all the time, we confide in each other. We actually have we call them mothers and fathers. They’re the ones who kind of like lead the houses and the ballroom children. And that is something that I became quite comfortable talking about in my work.

Julian Williams:
And when I have interviews with people, when I went to interview at Tommy Hilfiger, my eventual bosses who I was interviewing with asked me, “What do you do?” When I worked at Nike, it had also kind of become known that I Vogue. And at the time I was a little like I maybe don’t like so much that everyone knows that I do this. So I was going to try to kind of keep it a little on the down well when I started working at a new place. But I was like, “It’s an interview, whatever. It’s fine. I can tell them.” And I told them, “I Vogue. And I vogued around Europe and around North America.” And on my first day of work, a bunch of people came by my desk and they’re like, “You’re the voguer, right? You do this and this.”

Julian Williams:
And Tommy Hilfiger head of influencer marketing actually came to my desk and was, “I need you to tell me who the interesting people are in Amsterdam right now. Because we want to work with these people in the correct way.” Which I appreciated so much. Because I feel like in the world of fashion and these brands and stuff, ballroom is becoming quite popular right now. .It’s becoming quite marketable. And a lot of times, people do it the incorrect way. So it makes me quite comfortable when people approach people within the scene, so that they make sure that they’re doing it the correct way.

Julian Williams:
And when I worked at Tommy Hilfiger, I managed to get some really close friends of mine booked as models for campaigns. Because they actually came up to me and they were like, “We want you in the campaign.” And I was like, “No, no, no, no. I’ve been voguing for about a year and a half. I know people in the scene who this has been their life for years. And if you want them to turn the party, I have some dancers set up for you, and some performers, and some beautiful, fantastic people. Let’s go.” And I can’t describe how amazing it feels to go to a fitting and see your friend who is perhaps queer like you and maybe a person of color like you. And we don’t always get these opportunities that other people have. And see them smiling back at you in full head to toe gear from this world famous brand. And then the next day, they’re on a photo-shoot voguing doing the thing that they love. And they’re getting paid for it. That to me was, I was just like this is what this is all about. When stuff like this happens, I’m so happy about the field that I went into.

Maurice Cherry:
Look at you putting on the homeys and everything.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I keep people booked and busy.

Maurice Cherry:
So basically, season three or Pose is going to be about you.

Julian Williams:
Can we talk about it? Can we talk about how Pose is ending and it’s just so sad? Actually, Tommy Hilfiger, right before I left Tommy Hilfiger … gosh, I really feel thankful for my team at Tommy Hilfiger because they wanted to hear what I had to say about things. And it feels so good when you’ve come from somewhere where maybe that hasn’t always been the opportunity. And we were doing a campaign when I was there that was honestly based around working with underrepresented voices and amplifying those voices. And we ended up working with people in the ballroom scene. We worked with Indya Moore. The campaign is live right now actually at Tommy Hilfiger. We worked with Indya Moore who plays Angel on pose. They’re a fantastic part of the ballroom scene and a queer icon. And we worked with [Kittie Smile 00:55:26] who is also in the ballroom scene in Paris and throughout Europe. And my team was asking me the correct way to reference things that they didn’t know about. Spent a lot of time talking to my team about the correct use of people’s pronouns. It’s just great when people, and it always felt authentic and genuine. It never felt like a cash grab. Because the stuff we were making was cool too at the end of the day. And I think people appreciated that as well. It was really an experience that I enjoyed.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s awesome to hear because oftentimes when you see, I think probably from the consumer standpoint, when you see brands start to venture into, I don’t even necessarily want to say venture into what’s cool. But I think certainly when they end up venturing into ethnic or queer content or something like that, people always sort of wince like, “What is this going to be?” One, because I think they’re just protective of their individual communities. And two, they just want to make sure that it’s done right and with respect and homage. And it’s not a cheap knockoff or something like that.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. One thing that was interesting in one meeting, and I’m really happy that people listened to me on this. So we were doing this project to amplify certain people’s voices. And it was kind of brought up. Someone was like, “Yeah. And if we work with Indya, maybe they will want us to put on a ball. And we have all these ballroom performance.” And I told them, “You know what? You need to ask this person what they want to do. Because in your head, what you’re doing right now is projecting. You may have a projection of what you imagine this person will want to do. And you may think Indya wants to put on a ball for this community. And then you go and talk to Indya and they say, ‘I want to have a talk show where I bring on queer people and talk to them about what they think needs to be changed in the world around us to make their lives better.'”

Julian Williams:
I was like, “You never know.” And that was another thing that I felt comfortable voicing. And people were comfortable receiving that feedback, and applying it, and making the work better. And I’ve been gay and Black my whole life. I think I know this world. So it’s great that people recognize that and understand that maybe, I have something to offer. It also feels good that the fact that being a queer Black person in Europe and the United States has not always been easy or fun. And it’s great when it is. And it’s something awesome. I mean to me, being queer and Black is fun and great all the time. Maybe not to other people, but that’s their problem.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, I should also mention that while you were doing this at Tommy Hilfiger during the day, you were also interning somewhere else at night. Is that right?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Sorry. So I was working for Tommy Hilfiger. And then around February of 2020, I was contacted by Jessica Walsh of the studio &Walsh and formerly a part of the studio Sagmeister & Walsh. And Jessica Walsh and Stefan Sagmeister have honestly just been huge inspirations to me since I started studying design. I feel like when I was a student, I was like, “These two are pushing communication to where I want it to go. They’re doing interesting things.” Also a thing that I really respected and that inspired me was that they would make projects just because. They would make projects not to get paid for anything, just because they want to do stuff. And I always felt that that’s so important to just make things because you love design. I hope if you’re in the world of design, you’re doing it because you enjoy doing that.

Julian Williams:
So I was sitting on my couch. I had been working at Tommy Hilfiger for quite a long time actually. And I got an email from Jessica Walsh asking me if I wanted to intern remotely for &Walsh. And I jumped about 10 feet in the air and emailed yes back immediately. So for about three months, I would work during the day for Tommy Hilfiger. And I would come home and remotely work for &Walsh as an intern. And it was fantastic. It was just like wow, what an amazing team. what an intelligent team. What a diverse team, which I already knew this before working for Walsh. But working there really cemented in me that diversity breeds better creative work. It just makes sense just to have that many cultural, and intelligent, and visual backgrounds coming together to make awesome stuff. Yeah, it works.

Maurice Cherry:
Your inbox must be the place to be. You’re getting all of these amazing offers and stuff. This is wild. And then of course after you’re working with &Walsh, that’s when you started with the Biden campaign.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. Yeah. And it was another one of those kinds of, I was on my couch and I get this email that changes your life. I actually later found out that Robyn Kanner my boss at Biden approached Jessica Walsh asking for a designer. Because I interned for about three months. And then I freelanced for a little bit of time for &Walsh as well. And Robyn approached Jessica asking about a designer, and my name came up. And I think that’s what led to me interviewing for the position of designer with Biden for America. And I feel very thankful for people who just kind of put my name out there and stuff. I really love designing so much. And I love getting to make work with great people for great causes whenever I can. It’s not always possible, but I try to strive to be a part of that stuff as often as I can.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at the entirety of your career so far from interning at Nike, to Lagerfeld, and Hilfiger, &Walsh and everything, and even the Biden campaign, what did those experiences teach you as well?

Julian Williams:
Again, I get to talk to students now. And I’ve been having … oh God, I really love these talks because the questions that these students have just get more and more interesting and more and more personal and engaging. And I think that it would be so crappy of me to give a talk and then not give someone something that they can work with. I’ve had this in the past where I’ve been to a talk with a creative, and it just kind of feels like them talking about themselves the entire time.

Julian Williams:
I actually have three things that I tell people. One is to make things. And I feel like maybe the three things I have to say are quite obvious things. But I’ve met so many older designers who are just like, “You’re going to get older and you’re just going to get tired of design.” Because they see me making all this personal work and they just … and I just do not accept that. I love what I do. And I feel that just because I work, doesn’t mean that I can’t also make things just for the hell of it. Make stuff for no reason. Make stuff not to sell something. So I tell people to make things as often as I can, as often as they’re able to. Something else I say is to, and this is something I … I always was able to do this even before getting into the professional world.

Julian Williams:
But it’s worth it to invest in learning how to talk about yourself and your work. And I also, I always add onto that, I know that it’s not easy for everyone to get on a soap box, and talk about themselves, and things that they’ve done. But what I think is maybe a little more within reach for a lot of us is talking to our colleagues, and our friends, and our classmates about the things that we’re interested in, the things that we’re not interested in. And then that facilitates language about the way we think about work and maybe kind of guides us towards talking about our work. Because you can be the best designer, the most creative, innovative designer in the world. But if you aren’t able to kind of put yourself out there and talk about yourself and work, I think sometimes that may lead to problems.

Julian Williams:
And the last thing, which has honestly become my design manifesto in recent years is people matter. So don’t be an asshole. That also may seem quite simple. But I think one of the most important things I realized is that lots of the time, I feel the people matter more than the work in multiple ways.

Julian Williams:
One thing I tell students is, “When you go in to an interview, the people have seen your work. They know it. They’ve seen your Instagram, they’ve seen your website. The thing that they’re looking for is who you are. Because you’re essentially making a contract with them to be with them for a long period of time. So they want to see if you’re going to get along, if your values align.” And I think understanding that is important, and also just understanding that we should always carry ourselves with empathy. And I don’t know, just not being a jerk. That seems really simple.

Julian Williams:
But this isn’t related to the question that you just asked, but I do want to mention it. Something I end with is another kind of fortune cookie kind of lame thing to say. But it’s never too late to do anything. And I actually usually end my talks with students talking about my dad. Because my dad, he served in the Army for 30 years. He retired from the Army two years ago at the rank of command sergeant major. And I really feel appreciative of my dad. I mean, he supported his family for years. And I really think that my dad is an example of what a soldier should be.

Julian Williams:
I’m not a very pro military person, not a very pro United States military person. I think that my dad embodies what a soldier should strive to be. My dad was like, “My country is a world superpower. I’m here for my country if I’m needed. And I’m here to educate young soldiers about the ways that they should carry themselves with respect and treat other people with respect around the world.” And my dad has been so helpful to women within his ranks, and people of color, and queer people. And I feel so happy that people like my dad are there, because they often aren’t in the United States.

Julian Williams:
But my dad originally joined the Army to get money to go to art school. When I grew up, he was always drawing in sketchbooks and stuff. Well now that he’s retired, my dad has started studying graphic design at the age of 50. And I can’t begin to talk about how amazing this is. I was actually invited, so my dad is studying right now at community college. I think he may transfer to university later. But I was invited to give a talk to his class. And it was just the most incredible thing ever. And having conversations with my dad about what I do and giving him advice on work is … I think he tells me he’s inspired by me, and I’m just incredibly inspired by him doing what he wants because he loves to and understanding that it’s never too late. And he doesn’t care if he’s in a class with 19 and 20 year olds learning about design. He’s so excited about everything. And he’s learning some stuff that I don’t know about. My dad knows more about after effects than I do now. I need to catch up to Command Sergeant Major Williams.

Maurice Cherry:
Look at that. So you even had an opportunity to speak to your dad’s class?

Julian Williams:
Yes. And it was fantastic. And the questions they asked were really great. They were asking, because we’re living in this Zoom call world right now. And they were really asking me ways to kind of stay inspired and what I make content about. It was just wild to having my dad be my student for an hour.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m curious, have there been any kind of particular challenges that you’ve had to face, I would say as a black designer in Europe. But aside from that, you’re working between Europe, between the United States. I would imagine even just the volume and the quality of work might be different. Have you run into any challenges thus far? I don’t want to say thus far in your design career, because you have, because you’ve mentioned them. But I guess as it sort of breaks down among certain identities, like you mentioned you’re Black, you’re queer, you’re American, you’re German. Have there been particular challenges that have come with that for you as a designer?

Julian Williams:
Yeah. I think I’ll kind of just start talking about from racial, nationality view. So I always grew up between United States and Europe. And the way that racism exists in those places, their origins and the way it exists now is different in different ways. I feel that more outright directly racist in your face, things happen in the United States. And I’m actually nowadays quite fearful of those things, because they’re amplified by things like people being able to purchase weapons. So in a sense, if someone’s racist to me in the United States, I may hold my tongue about it because my mind is kind of like, “Well, they may have a gun if I say something.” Really, I fear for my life.

Julian Williams:
And I also tell people, because people in Europe ask me about my experience as a person of color in the U.S. And I tell them I feel like I think about my race every single day that I’m in the United States. In Europe, I don’t think about it every day, but I do think about it often. And also, the ways that racism happens to me, especially in the Netherlands is different. Do you know what Black Pete is?

Maurice Cherry:
Yes.

Julian Williams:
Yeah. And that’s such a weird thing that is always a conversation here in the Netherlands. So yeah, just in case people may not know, there is a caricature here in the Netherlands. In Dutch, he’s called Zwarte Piet. And he is basically a Golliwog. He is a Black person who kind of accompanies the Dutch version of Santa Claus. I’m mixing languages. Santa Claus is called Sinterklaas. And it’s tied to the origins of slavery. And people here in the Netherlands will cover themselves in blackface, draw on red lips. White Dutch people will draw on red lips, put on an afro, and gold hoop earrings. And it’s really ingrained in the culture here and is a conversation every single year. And black people in the Netherlands and decent people are explaining, “No, this isn’t okay.” There’s a whole campaign called Zwarte Piet Is Racisme, which is Black Pete is racism, that comes up every year. And there are people who say, “It’s part of our culture.”

Julian Williams:
So here, it’s funny. That is not life-threatening racism to me. But in a sense when stuff like that happens, often the excuse that people use is, “It’s not so bad. We’re not the United States. Our police aren’t killing Black people,” even though they are in lots of places in Europe. So I’m kind of told to silence myself a little bit.

Julian Williams:
I’ve also in the professional world have had experiences here. I mean, I’ve always physically worked as a designer in Europe. I had a little bit of freelance work when I was a student in the U.S. But for example, something that I really vividly remember, I went to have an interview for a little freelance gig in Amsterdam. And I was waiting in kind of the main lobby of the office building. And I could see the person who was going to interview me come down, but she didn’t know what I looked like. And it was raining outside. And a man came into the building, and you needed a key card to come in. And he buzzed himself in. And he was a white man. He had an umbrella, he had just gotten into the building. And the woman who was interviewing me came down and she stopped. She looked at me and then she looked at the man who came in and she said, “Julian?” So I was already like well, I’m obviously not her visual representation of what she thinks someone who would fill this position is. And I’m pretty sure it’s because of my physical appearance, because I am a Black man with dreadlocks. And somehow, that means that I can’t accomplish my job.

Julian Williams:
Which now I’m kind of like, “Well, that’s their loss.” But it’s unfortunate when you realize that kind of stuff. When you realize that that is the way that people go about … and it’s rancid to me because I definitely don’t ever think like that. I don’t think that someone’s physical appearance is going to affect how they can accomplish work.

Julian Williams:
So it’s interesting my kind of experience and relationship with racism in the countries that I’ve lived in and am a citizen of throughout my life, and the kind of give and take that I have to deal with personally and professionally. But one thing that I refuse to do is silence myself anywhere.

Julian Williams:
So actually, it was interesting this last year, Black Lives Matter protests obviously, I won’t even say erupted because I was in Black Lives Matter protests in Santa Fe when I was a student. But I feel like they were on quite a global kind of stage last year. And we had Black Lives Matters demonstrations in Amsterdam and in Belgium. And I made sure that I was a part of those because I felt that it’s important. Especially here where the kind of relationship with racism is, “It’s not as bad as in other places. So deal with it.” And the POC communities here are fed up and we’re like, “No, we need to have these same conversations.”

Maurice Cherry:
You mentioned earlier when you were talking about your work with Tommy Hilfiger being into voguing, being in the ballroom community. How has that influenced your work?

Julian Williams:
So ballroom has a lot of interesting language that has kind of shifted through various communities. I feel like a lot of terms that maybe people, adopt or appropriate, different people might say different things, come from ballroom language. Like for example, the phrase reading. If you read someone, you’re kind of insulting them maybe in a roundabout way. That’s something that comes from ballroom. There actually used to be a category called reading where two people would stand apart from each other and they would just say vicious things to each other. And whoever said the most vicious things won. That’s a kind of like mainstream phrase now. I hear more people saying things like reading, what’s the tea, oh girl. And this kind of language, it’s very important to ballroom. But it’s also vital to queer people. Throughout the world, queer people and Black people have created coded language to survive. That is a fact dating back to the days of slavery. It’s a fact dating back to the ’80s in England and the United States for people to survive.

Julian Williams:
My relationship with the ballroom world and what I’m really thankful for about the ballroom world is that the seniors, the teachers of ballroom who are older, who lived through that nonsense, who lived through the AIDS epidemic, are doing a fantastic job of making sure that the young people entering into the ballroom scene understand where they’re coming from. That this is not just a competition. It’s not just us dancing. This is about us being alive and living our truth.

Julian Williams:
And I try to reflect that language and that communication in my work. Something else I’ll say that’s important about ballroom is the entire idea of ballroom. I maybe mentioned this a bit earlier, is that minority communities don’t often have the same opportunities that straight, white, cisgender male dominated people enjoy. And ballroom is kind of a play on that.

Julian Williams:
For example, there’s a category called executive realness. And there are categories called realness, which are about … realness is kind of like, a category called male figure realness is about a maybe gay, effeminate man who goes up and portrays himself as his straight counterpart. And that is a direct commentary on the fact that gay people in the real world outside of the ballroom very often have to do this to stay alive. They have to pretend to be heterosexual to be alive. So ballroom is always kind of about embodying the lives that we don’t have the opportunities to have as queer people of color. Executive realness is a category where you walk up to the judges dressed in a suit. Maybe you have a briefcase. You’re trying to show yourself as an executive, as an owner of a company. Which I mean we can see what the owners of companies and CEOs look like. They don’t very often look like people like me. And ballroom kind of challenges that, and gives us an opportunity to show that if we have the same opportunities as you, I could be an executive. Because I can dress like this, and I can walk the walk, and I can talk the talk, and I can present myself that way.

Julian Williams:
And it’s made me have some interesting thoughts about how I apply language to my work, how I apply typography. It’s also given me an interesting relationship with fashion. I’m very interested in fashion. My interest in fashion has evolved through my life. When I was living in Texas and stuff, I did not know anything about Jean Paul Gaultier or Saint Laurent. And it was actually kind of a joke when I joined Nike and other fashion brands that I didn’t know this. But I came from this world that kind of wanted to touch that. And ballroom people also are people who want to touch that fashion world, but maybe can’t because the lives that they live. So we’re driven to create stuff ourselves, to create amazing outfits that could be on the runways in Paris. And now we’re seeing with things like Pose and a lot of ballroom people are walking fashion shows in Paris and New York and stuff, that now it’s coming back. Now people want us. Now they’re seeing they’ve had it right the whole time. And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ve known this. It’s nice that you’re catching up.”

Maurice Cherry:
What’s the best advice that you’ve been given about design?

Julian Williams:
It’s funny. Something I think about often kind of contradicts some of my own advice. But I think there’s kind of give or take with both of them. One of the piece of advice I was given is you can stand next to your poster. Basically saying once you make something as a visual communicator, ideally, someone will look at the thing that you’ve made and understand the message that you’re trying to convey. So you can’t stand next to something you’ve made and explain it. Which maybe goes a little bit against how I’m saying you should be able to talk about your work. But that’s, I think can apply to different things like the process and stuff. But that is an idea that I often come back to that you can’t stand next to your poster. You can’t stand next to your work and explain it to someone. So create always keeping in the back of your mind that this is for someone who knows nothing about what you’re making.

Julian Williams:
And kind of an offshoot of that, another good piece of advice I got at Nike actually was sometimes we would be in meetings. And when you work at Nike, you drink the Nike Kool-Aid. Everyone knows the brands. We all have our little acronyms for different stuff when we work there and stuff. Something one of my bosses said in a meeting that I found to be quite profound and I ended up saying it in other companies I worked for was, “Guys, let’s take the Nike glasses off. Let’s look at this as if we weren’t working here and we knew nothing about this.” And I think that is super powerful. And I’ve actually found myself in meetings with places I worked on in the future saying this. And I think it has a power to change a room, to have people look at projects differently. And understand at the end of the day, we are visual communicators. We have a job to accomplish. We have messages to communicate. And if we don’t do that successfully, we aren’t doing our job.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days?

Julian Williams:
These days? I already talked about my dad. And that is something that lately I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.” But I think talking to younger people and seeing the way that they engage with social … oh my God. I’m saying younger people and I’m 25. Just to put that on there. Oh my God. Am I saying younger people already? Oh man. No, I am a millennial though. And the way that Generation Z interacts with technology, the fact that they have access to so much information so early is, I think other people are afraid of it. I’m like, “Hell yes, let’s turn the party. Make some cool stuff when you’re five years old.” That’s awesome.

Julian Williams:
But also the way that they’re involved with social things. Like after working in politics and stuff, I do wish that it would speed up a bit. But I don’t feel so much worry for when I’m 40. Because I know that the people behind me have their heads in the right place. They know what’s wrong and what’s right. And they understand how the world should be. And I think that they’re really making an effort to educate one another about what’s right and wrong, and the barriers that they need to break once they kind of get to the ages that we are at, where we’re more able to make some of that change. And some of them are saying screw that, we’re going to start making change now even though we’re 10, 12 years old. Because the internet and technology allows us to do that kind of stuff, to communicate with like-minded people. That’s what keeps me inspired. Maybe that’s not so much on a design level. But on a social change level and maybe creating content in the future, that’s what inspires me.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s what, 2026. You’ll be 30 years old. What kind of work do you, I didn’t mean to scare you there. But what kind of work do you see yourself doing?

Julian Williams:
I react to whatever is happening. When I finished the Biden campaign, I didn’t know what the next step was. I think there’s two things I’m interested in. One of them will definitely happen I know for sure. The other one I’m not so sure. The one I’m not so sure about is I would like to have a design studio of my own with other people. I’m also quite curious in that studio being a remote worldly design studio working with people all over. I’ve seen in the last year how common that’s become now because of the world that we’re living in right now. And it works. And I think it’s creating some interesting work. So having design studio might be interested.

Julian Williams:
The other thing that I definitely will do at some point in the future is I want to be an educator. I want to be a teacher in the field of graphic design. I actually feel like I have an ethical obligation to do so. I think it would be incorrect, I can say I’m quite happy with the career that I’ve had so far. I think that I’ve gotten to do some amazing things. I’ve definitely done some things that have been dreams of mine. And I feel so humbled, and fortunate, and privileged to have been able to do those things. And I think it would be incorrect for me to not pass on what I learned or the ways that I came to do that kind of stuff to other people. I actually feel like I need to be teaching at some point.

Julian Williams:
Even though I feel like it is an obligation, I also am very, very, very excited to do that. Especially after talking to students. I’ve never really given a proper design talk until this last year after I finished with Biden. I talked to my dad, I talked to some schools in New Mexico. I just spoke to the University of Arkansas who have some wonderful students who ask some really engaging questions. And it’s making me so excited. Because the best way to learn from people is to have conversations about what interests them and stuff they’re working on. That was the way that I learned about design when I was at university. No syllabus, no lesson plan is ever going to be more valuable than talking to your mates I think.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know what you mean there. I mean, I’ve got this podcast where I get to talk to people from all over the world, which is great. So I definitely get a chance to … I have to say that’s the one thing that really kind of helped me get through even just this whole pandemic is being able to still connect with other creatives and talk about their work, and what they’re doing, and things like that. So, yeah. Well just to wrap things up here Julian, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work online?

Julian Williams:
So my website, which maybe it’s due for an update is J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F .com. That’s where you can find my kind of portfolio stuff. If you want to see the really fun stuff, follow me on Instagram @joofwoof. That’s @ J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F. You can find some voguing there, mainly design. I post a lot of my personal work on there. I talk about Phoebe Bridgers a lot who is a musician that I love and am a bit obsessed with. And I often find myself talking about her in these talks I give to students, and there’s always some students who feel the same way I do. So that’s really exciting. And you can follow me on Twitter @joofwoof J-O-O-F-W-O-O-F as well for some fun, maybe weird wild content.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well Julian Williams, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Even just as the time that I spent just researching and finding out about what you do and about your story and everything, I’m like, “This young man is so talented.” I cannot wait to see what kind of work you are doing in the next five, 10 years, whatever. I mean, even just the work that you’ve done so far, the fact that you have all these cultural references and experiences that you can pull from. I mean, I’m captivated by your story. I hope that people listening to this are captivated as well. So just keep on doing what you’re doing. Because it’s working, man. But again, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Julian Williams:
Oh gosh. Thank you so much. [German 01:25:51].

Sponsored by State of Black Design Conference

State of Black Design Conference

Texas State University’s Communication Design Program and the Common Experience are excited to announce the State of Black Design Conference, presented by IBM, April 9-10.

The theme of the conference is “Black Design: Past. Present. Future,” and the event will bring together aspiring designers with academic and industry professionals for networking opportunities, career development workshops, and important panel discussions with leaders in the field.

If you are a company looking to diversify your workforce, or a designer of color looking for your next role, be sure to attend the State of Black Design Conference. Recruiters have until April 5 to register.

Get your ticket today at https://txstate.edu/blackdesign, and follow the event online on Instagram or Twitter.

The State of Black Design Conference is presented by IBM, with additional sponsorship from Adobe, Civilla, AIGA, Texas State’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, and the School of Art and Design.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit

Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

Brevity & Wit — creative excellence without the grind.

Jason Murphy is a legend in the design industry. He’s most known as being one of a half dozen design directors who oversaw the brand for Nike, but he’s also created concepts for BET, SEIU, Discovery, and many other companies and brands. Now Jason is doing his own thing as a creative director and chief creative officer, so we had a great conversation not just about his past success, but also about the future.

Jason walked me through a typical day for him, and we spoke about his talk earlier this year at the AIGA Design Conference and went from there into his time at Nike with the Nike Equality Campaign. Jason also spoke about how the Organization of Black Designers influenced him, shared what it was like working at BET in its heyday, and talked about the design scene in Portland and what he wants to do next. Jason calls himself a lover of all design, and after this interview, I couldn’t agree more!


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