Sneaker design is no walk in the park. There are those of us who are in love with the idea but are too afraid to take the extra step. There will always be those of us tinkering with Nike By You and changing up colorways, but to design your own sneakers? As in take it from scratch and build one? It takes raw talent, some science maybe, and a whole lot of character to get on it.
Enter Kaito Choy of We Are Underdogs (WAU), a shoe company that sheds light on those who have the chops to step up to the industry plate. The brand aims to be a platform for designers, content creators and artists.
In a way, the “Underdogs” part of their name is really fitting as they are rooting for the individuals who don’t have a voice within the mainstream circles. These include creating sneakers for YouTube sneaker personalities like Seth Fowler, Chris “Nightwing” and Qias Omar – individuals who are real sneaker personalities, in fact worthy underdogs in their own right.
Kaito Choy is one of us, an underdog with a design bite that can intimidate even the most ferocious of design giants. A full time Industrial Designer by day and Footwear Designer by night. Born in Hong Kong and raised in southside Chicago since the age of 10, he started designing when he was around 12 years old.
With the COMMA and the APOSTROPHE shoe silhouettes as well as his other collaborations, he maintains his position as the main Underdog in charge of special projects at the We Are Underdogs (WAU) HQ.
Be inspired as we strike a conversation with one of the most humble personalities we’ve interviewed so far. Please welcome Kaito Choy of We Are Underdogs (WAU).
First off, how did you discover that you had the chops in designing sneakers? Can you give us a brief rundown of how you got into it?
I have always been sketching and drawing for as long as I can remember. The sneaker passion hit when I was pursuing Industrial Design at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the topic of footwear was full of intrigue and culture so I submitted an application to Pensole Footwear Academy and went through the fall program in 2013. The biggest take away of that experience was storytelling through design, a sneaker or any product should be a vehicle to the bigger message.
Can you tell us something about how you go through a shoe design process?
My general philosophy is to run deep early and immerse myself in the inspiration/ story. So early on in the process, I find a ton of inspirational images or motifs that I can base my design on, sort through the aesthetic I have in mind and just start sketching and let these ideas take form. I often find myself focusing on 1-2 details that make my design unique and grow the rest of the shoe around those elements. With the help of quick tape ups and hands on prototyping, I then refine all sides of the design with illustrator and create a techpack with material callouts and construction. And while this may sound like a lot of work, this is only the beginning of the design process. The real ground work comes in during the discussion with the pattern maker and refinement of the samples, and that’s just constant dialogue and exchange. I put a lot of trust in We Are Underdog’s team as they are expert craftsmans in the factory, I learn a lot from them and they keep me out of trouble haha can’t say my design always makes sense in reality.
Please name us your top shoe design inspirations from existing brands.
Y-3 – top of the list always. Bold silhouettes, nuanced details, love what the team is doing. Some of my favorites: James Harden BYW, Kaiwa, Qasa, Noci low, Notoma
Nike ISPA – that whole branch with there philosophy of Improvise, scavenge, protect, adapt 👌 Some of my favorites: ISPA 720, Roadwarrior, Overreact.
How do you apply the name “We Are Underdogs” to your daily life?
The message runs deep. As an immigrant in the states at a young age, every opportunity is fought through dedication and grind. For my daily life, my full time job is home appliance design and I design sneakers at night and weekends. I strive to make more with what I got, and that to me is the spirit of the Underdog.
Please cite 5 top designs that you made for WAU.
Top 5 is tough, I will give you one of my favorites though. Let see, I have the Comma, Apostrophe, Hyphen (in development) as my signatures.
And QIAS’s Dreamqrew and Nightwing’s NW1s & Hella Fire as content creator collaborations. The design that means the most to me has got to be the Comma Voids, something about the first debut makes it extra special for me.
Among your design creations, is there a certain “Kaito Choy” look that you aim for in your designs?
A specific style, not really. From the perspective of inspiration and philosophy, you will always find a touch of asian flair in my work, mainly the minimal break up of panels and flowing pieces. For We Are Underdogs, its important for me to show off their level of craftsmanship and premium materials.
As a fellow Asian, what do you think are the biggest hurdles in entering the sneaker design scene?
This is a great question and I can probably go about it many different ways. One of them being Mindset. As first gen asian immigrants, my upbringing tends to be more survival oriented, lay low, make money and stir no shit. That mindset in a way makes it challenging for me to push and confront certain aspects of design sometimes. To just make mistakes and experiment is not a luxury I have growing up, but making mistakes and experiment is also what it’s all about, it’s the process.
Shoutouts? Greetings to your Philippine brand followers and readers of This Is Hype?
Thank you Paulo from We Are Underdogs (WAU) for trusting the vision of the creators from myself to many other content creators. Big shout out to all the craftsmen and pattern makers behind the scenes, design sometimes takes way too much credit. Thank you for reaching out.
Thank you Kaito!
Speaking of sneaker design, check out our Top 5 Unusual Nike Innovations List here!