Adidas designer Robbie Fuller has one of the toughest jobs in the footwear industry. As one of the lead creative minds charged with constructing Derrick Rose’s signature sneakers, Fuller has all eyes on his work on a nightly basis. With Rose as one of the rising faces of the NBA, Fuller’s job is twofold: create a shoe that matches Rose’s level of performance while making it beautiful enough for consumers to want to snatch it off store shelves. Yet, Fuller doesn’t flake under the scrutiny. In fact, he’s used to it at this point, having been played a key role with Derrick’s footwear since the first model. Read his interview with TSS Crew member MZ as they speak on the creation of the adiZero Rose 2.5, the young Bull’s overall influence in the final product and merging function with fashion.
TSS: First of all can you introduce yourself to everyone and let them know what you do?
Robbie Fuller: I’m Robbie Fuller, Category Designer for Advanced Footwear team here in Portland. Up until about six months ago I was head of basketball design for global. I was working on shoes for Rose, Dwight (Howard), the Crazy Light and all of that other stuff.
TSS: How’d you get your start designing sneakers?
Robbie Fuller: I interned at Converse, did two stints there and got my first professional start with adidas almost eleven years ago. Worked on the cross training team for one year, then I moved to Germany and spent three years working with the running team. Came back to the states and worked with accounts, before transitioning over to basketball and I was over there for four years. Most recently, I’ve been in charge of all of the Advanced Footwear projects here in Portland.
TSS: Was designing sneakers something you’ve always wanted to do?
Robbie Fuller: It’s a dream come true. In fifth grade my report card said “a little less athletic shoe drawing might prove to be beneficial.” So I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I grew up in North Carolina which is a huge basketball state. You’ve got NC State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest all around you. So it was just non-stop hoops running through my veins, along with sneakers, and now I’m just living the dream.
TSS: That’s definitely what’s up. So how long have you been involved in designing Derrick’s line?
Robbie Fuller: I was already on the basketball team for about a year before Derrick came on and I’ve been doing the designs for all of the signature products since then.
TSS: Alright, so we’re here to talk about the adiZero Rose 2.5 which is his latest shoe. Where did the idea of the secondary shoe in the line come from?
Robbie Fuller: It’s just a part of our strategy. Whenever possible we want to be able to make quick updates, add more premium materials, add more innovations to them when they become available from our innovation team and it gives us a competitive advantage. Halfway through the year we get to re-evaluate his shoe and add features that will hopefully align him for success in the playoffs.
From the Rose 1 to the 1.5 and the 2 to the 2.5, we started with more of a luxury swag for the court and in the back half of the season we try to put him in more of a light spike. So we were able to cut weight from the 1 to the 1.5 and from the 1.5 to the 2. We were able to do it once again going from the 2 to the 2.5, which is now the lightest signature shoe he’s ever worn.
TSS: From a quick glance it looks like the midsole with the SprintWeb and SprintFrame carried over from the adiZero Rose 2. Can you tell me what’s changed between the two models?
Robbie Fuller: This one has taken more of what we’ve learned from the adiZero Crazy Light, which revolutionized the industry. We were able move from a SprintFrame that was more of a stock fit to the upper to one that fits, and can take a lot more weight as well as increase the cushioning, which makes it a lot more stable. We added more cushioning around the ankles because that’s important going into the back half of the season. To be honest, it’s really one theme for the whole year and the 2.5 is just an upgrade to what was already a great shoe.
TSS: I noticed the ankle strap didn’t make it over from the adiZero Rose 2. Was that just because you were moving on or was there something you might not have liked about it?
Robbie Fuller: No, it was really two things. I think it was the right design for the 2 because it was not only functional and gave almost like a compression fit around the ankle. But it was also the point of that shoe was inspired from Derrick, his style and his trip to Europe. It was almost like a fashion forward icon. With all of his shoes we’re trying to go from the court to the street.
With the 2.5, we’re going into the back half of the season and his minutes are increasing. We’re doing everything we can to make sure he’s in the lightest, most comfortable shoe possible. So we went back and looked at how we can do more of a memory foam or something that conforms to the ankles. We already know that he has the Speed Wraps (ankle braces), which is really locking his ankles down for him specifically, but for all of the kids out there we felt like Geofit would be the right thing for them.
TSS: I know you mentioned earlier that the adiZero Rose 2.5 is your lightest shoe for Derrick ever and you guys were able to shave 1.4 ounces off of the weight from the Rose 2 (down to 11 ounces.) But at the same time it looks a lot sturdier. How were you able to achieve that?
Robbie Fuller: Magic.
Robbie Fuller: Just from continuously innovating. We’ve not just got designers and developers working for Derrick. He’s also got scientists and polymer experts working just as hard. Derrick’s team isn’t just the Bulls, he’s got a team of 50-60 strong to innovate and solve problems for him, both on the court and off. We were able to be more efficient with the parts that are on the shoe. They all have a specific purpose and everything we would take away from the shoe we did. That left us with a sturdy, really strong shoe.
TSS: Does the adiZero Rose 2.5 introduce any new technology or materials to the line?
Robbie Fuller: Oh yeah. Technology wise, this is his first one to have the stitched SprintFrame, which like I said is a more efficient way to build a shoe. It’s a smart SprintFrame, so it’s micoach compatible if you get the bundle package. That way you can put the pod in the shoe and your able to do some of the workouts and drills that Derrick does to train. In the future, there will be more and more things that you’ll be able to brag about.
I think it’s consistent from the Rose 2 with the SprintWeb and the clean nature of the shoe. On the signature side, I think it’s his most signature shoe with how tied he is to the story. Like the red shoe, the Brenda, which is not only his mom’s favorite color but it’s came out on Valentine’s Day, which is a nice story for the red color drop.
TSS: Were you ever able to speak with Rose’s mother about the shoe before or after it debuted? Or was it a surprise for her as well?
Robbie Fuller: That’s a good question. To be honest, I think it was more of a surprise, which is kind of how Valentine’s Day works right? You get the present and take it to her. I’ll have to get with Rose and see if he presented it to her like a gift.
TSS: What inspired the overall design of the 2.5?
Robbie Fuller: Like I said, it’s part of one central story for the whole year. It’s carried over from the Rose 2 with the All Flights Cancelled theme. On the sock liner it says “All Cleared For Take Off,” which is all inspired by Derrick and how he went from being the first pick to being a superstar. He’s an MVP and now he’s basically taking over everything.
His idea is that if he’s going to be MVP for the next 10 years and win all of these championships then everyone else’s goals and legacies are basically cancelled. That’s his outlook on the game: “why can’t I be the best?” That inspired this whole line and the Rose 2.5 is the takeoff: the progression of being up in the air looking over Chicago. So once you get the shoe, you’ll see that there’s a satellite print on the toe box. The design team got together and literally thought about him being up in air. The black colorway is literally the runway – the takeoff so to speak – and he’s at cruising altitude looking over Englewood and what he would see.
So we were kind of inspired by that story and created the satellite image that you see wrapped all over the shoe. We thought it was a clean way to bring detail to the shoe and also link it back to Derrick.
TSS: Yeah, because if you look at the toe it kind of just looks like a weird, funky kind of leather.
Robbie Fuller: Derrick’s moves are signature. He’s got his push floater and his little bull charge through the lane that he does when there are five or six seconds left on the shot clock. So we didn’t want to just pick materials out of the book or that others were using. So that’s just one element that you’ll throughout the Rose lineup. That’s one of the things that we’ve tasked ourselves with. To give him little things that is specific only to his signature line.
TSS: Now when I think of adidas, I always think of shoes with great technical performance and specs with aesthetics not always given the same attention. I know Derrick wants his shoes to look good off court as well. Was it difficult for you to strike a balance between form and function?
Robbie Fuller: I think the best example of that with the adiZero range, which started with the Crazy Light, is that we start from zero. It’s purely a functional mission to create the fastest or the lightest or the quickest. With Derrick we approach it a little bit different. So we know that the shoe has to deliver functionally. If you look at the way he plays, it has to stand up to how fast he can cut and spin. That in itself is a challenge, but to add the style to it another thing. I think we’ve done a great job with that so far.
One little story is that one our guys was in NYC for the Knicks game when we debuted the Brenda colorway. He was in one of the stores and he sees this kid: 12 years old, wearing like a size 13 and he was trying on the 2.5. He was like “I see you’re trying on that Rose shoe, you’re going to be a big baller when you grow up.” The kid replied “Nah, I don’t play ball.” “They’re just cool.”
TSS: That’s what you want right there.
Robbie Fuller: So to us that’s just a sign that Rose legitimizes the product to the kids. His efforts and style transcends it from the court to the street. At this point he has fans everywhere.
TSS: So how involved is Derrick in coming up with designs for his line?
Robbie Fuller: Well with the first couple of shoes he was kind of more quiet, more reserved in the meetings. Kind of like his interviews when he first got in the league. Now he’s really starting to take a stance and drive us toward complicity. To make sure that we tell one story and we’re real clear with it. It’s all about function, but he definitely reminds us early and often that when he was growing up he wasn’t able to get five pairs of shoes. He had to have one shoe that looked right to play ball or go out on a date. So we really embraced that and used it as our North Star when creating products for Rose. Whether it’s footwear, jackets, shorts or whatever it is. It’s got to be a duel threat.
TSS: Looks like it’s worked. I’ve seen him putting up a lot of 30 point games since he started lacing these up.
Robbie Fuller: I know, I know. It’s great. I was telling someone now that the pressure is on us to create something for him to score 40 in (Laughs).
TSS: Without giving too much away, can you tell us anything about where you & Derrick would like to take his line in the future?
Robbie Fuller: I don’t think Derrick is going to change the way his personality is or his focus. The story is always going to be about fast, because to be honest with you he’s fast. It’s always going to echo what he’s doing on court. We’re going to continue to push that on court/off court relevance with look, texture and finish because we know it’s important to him. So it’s important to us. Without giving too much away, the focus is always going to be on competitive advantage. Trends come and go, but winning is always cool. Gold medals are always cool. First class is always cool. So without giving anything away (Laughs), that’s what we’re trying to do with Derrick.
TSS: I saw a couple of pics floating around the net of what was rumored to be the Rose 3, how far along are you guys with those?
Robbie Fuller: We’ve finished that one up and we’re on the next on so to speak. With our innovation group we’re getting really far ahead to make sure that we’re not taking any chances with the Rose product. We’re looking for the most elite, tested product that we can possibly make. You’ll continue to see that unique branding on the back of it but beyond that he’s going to be the launch pad of everything we do that is state of the art.
TSS: How do you think Derrick’s shoes will tie into his legacy in Chicago, as well as with the sneaker community as a whole?
Robbie Fuller: Literally everything we put pen to paper to is part of his legacy. What are people going to look back on 20 years from now? I think for us it’s about carving out a unique point of view which I think fast is clearly that. Fast and light. I think we’re in the early stages but we’re being really consistent and sticking to the message that Derrick is fast. But how do we make him faster and lighter? We’re going to continue to evolve and build on it. People are going look back in 10-20 years, however long he stays healthy in the league and I just hope that we go from being respected to being loved.
TSS: Lastly, we know and love our sneakers but we’re primarily a music blog. What kind of music are you listening to right now and how does it tie into your design process.
Robbie Fuller: I’ve been listening to a lot of soundtracks. Just the beats and not the words because I feel that I can be more creative when I’m not caught up in the words. That way I can bring my own ideas to the beat. I’ve been listening a lot to Eminem’s latest CD a lot. “On Fire” is the beat I like the most. Especially in our design studio, we always have music playing. We put on Pandora, start with Hova and let it go from there.
TSS: Was there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Robbie Fuller: Uhm, not really. Just the last thing is I’ve heard the shoe is doing really well from the numbers that we’re hearing and just blowing away all of our expectations.
TSS: Well congratulations and good look in your future endeavors. Thanks for the interview.
Robbie Fuller: Thank you sir.
The adizero Rose 2.5 is available in the “Brenda,” home and away colorways at Foot Locker, Eastbay and www.shopadidas.com. The All-Star 2.5 is currently up for pre-order now on Eastbay. The shoe will roll out in several additional colorways through April so stay tuned to the adidas Basketball Facebook page for additional images and content.