This week, we get in touch with Myles O’Meally, founder of Areté, a progressive product creation company focused on footwear design and engineering. We talk about his career path, beginning with his tenure in Nike as a Footwear Developer in various locations, to his recent work with Raf Simons and Areté.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Could you share a little bit about your background working for Nike in Amsterdam?
Towards the end of my Masters in 2013, I was fortunate enough to get a job at Nike as a Footwear Developer. The job was with the Western Europe Product Creation (WEPC) team at the Nike European HQ in Hilversum, just outside of Amsterdam. The WEPC team was in charge of creating product for the Western Europe market. We did not create new product but re-created existing models using materials, color and graphic plays specifically for the Western Europe key accounts. We worked on city packs as well as in-store specials for accounts like JD, Footlocker and Size?.
What was it like moving to Vietnam as part of your job with Nike? What are some of the things you learned working in a different country?
The funny thing about the Vietnam opportunity is that it only came about because the WEPC team was being closed down. At that time, Nike was shutting all of it’s regional project creation centers and centralizing everything to Portland. This was in 2015.
While in Vietnam I only worked on new product: creating new soles and new uppers only. I was in the factories every day for three years, so I was exposed to a lot of technical learning and a lot of different kind of product on a daily basis. This is where I really felt my knowledge on creating footwear grew. You’re working in the factory every day so you really start to understand the business side of the industry. You’re seeing the numbers, the quantity of products created, the cost of raw materials, how to scale, and even opportunities to integrate more sustainable practices. I really learned the full process of product creation and to truly value the amazingly talented and skilled people who work within these factories doing some incredible work. It was a very eye opening experience.
What made you decide to move forward and pursue working on your own company?
During my last year at Nike, I was really trying to find a role within the company where I could utilize my multiple interests and skills. The skill set I learned during my time at Ho Chi Minh was very niche. I was also keen to move back to Europe. Most of my options were in Portland or in Asia again, so I decided the only way I could achieve this was if I set it up myself.
This also coincided with the shifting of the sporting goods industry and the luxury good/fashion industry; the two industries were drawing closer and closer together. The sneaker industry in particular was booming as fashion brands were collaborating with sporting brands on a higher and more frequent level. However I saw that when many of these brands tried to make sports inspired footwear by themselves they often struggled. Making footwear is very technical and has many challenges and barriers. I saw an opportunity there. I left Nike at the end of 2018.
How would you describe your current venture, Areté? How different is it from your past projects?
I started Areté in July 2019. It is a progressive product creation company focused on the creation of footwear. I set the company up to help remove some of the barriers existing in the footwear industry. I wanted to build an organization capable of creating footwear programs for existing fashion brands at the same level and using the same technical knowledge as existing footwear brands. The structure of the organization is actually not much different to a Nike product creation team.
We currently have one designer, Nathan Alexander-Walker, and was due to hire a second before Covid-19 hit. I have a production partner based in Hong Kong and the Areté team works with the brand and my production partners team. The major difference is that I get to use my multiple interests on a daily basis and working with different brands provides different challenges and a wide range of different design practices. I naturally have a lot more to do now but I also have a lot more freedom in my work which I thoroughly enjoy.
We saw your work for Raf Simons AW20. Could you describe to us your work with Raf Simons? Was he someone you've always wanted to work with?
The way he creates concepts and envisions ideas is truly unique, the areas he draws his references from are completely different to anything I’ve experienced before. It’s an amazing process working with him and his team on creating product. The incredible work ethic they have is infectious and I enjoy the process of applying his concepts and ideas through my more technical thinking. It shows you the level you need to be at and the work you need to put in to be successful.
How can someone move into a career in footwear design and engineering? Do you have any tips that you can share?
I would say the best way is to begin with studying product, whether it be Industrial Design, Engineering Design, Mechanical Engineering, Architecture, Product Design etc. Give yourself a solid foundation. Don’t restrict yourself to only footwear when studying and learning; the principles of design and engineering are the same regardless of the product and what you learn in studying one product/field can be easily transferred across on to another product/field with great effect. Practice in your own time and grow a portfolio with great variation. I almost feel like it is even more competitive now, through the use of social media everyone can get their work out there so easily. You need to stand out, and showing a variety of skills and interest within the design and engineering fields will help with that.