The man who makes shoes for LeBron

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Basketball shoe legend Aaron Cooper has been creating footwear for athletes, and the public, for over 20 years.

You have a cool job don’t you?
I love it. I keep getting speeding tickets on my way to work.

How many pairs of sneakers do you own?
I literally have no collection of sneakers, because I don’t look at what’s happening in the market place now. I’d rather make something new and fresh. You have to zig when other people are zagging.

What trends are you zigging with now?
Certainly 3D design, rapid printing and rapid prototyping. The key is not to stay on trend, but to immerse yourself in cultures around the world, be like a sponge and appreciate things that others don’t see. If other people are seeing it and discussing it then you’re probably too late.

Is it difficult to design something for a professional athlete that the public can also wear off the court?
Nike does a great job of finding athletes who are the best in the world at what they do. But these athletes have the same needs in a shoe that a lot of other people want. Some people might see them as one in a million, but I have to see them as one of a million. What sports stars want, many people want the same thing.

Such as?
When I started working with LeBron James I asked him what’s the most important thing he needs from a performance standpoint and he said “comfort”. The first time he put them on he said, “Coop, these are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.” But really, who doesn’t want a comfortable shoe, right?

Do the athletes have design input or do you hold their hand and say, “no you can’t have gold wings on the side”?
Ha, that sounds awesome. Athletes I’ve worked with appreciate the process and it’s about getting to know who they are as a person and trying to embody that in the shoe. If I filled a room full of Nike shoes and brought in people who love sneakers, they should be able to pull one out and say this is Kevin Durant’s shoe, this is Kobe’s shoe, this one’s LeBron’s.

Is it hard to mix performance and style? Do you sacrifice one for the other?
That’s that big thing and the easy answer would be yes, but I think we push the hardest not to compromise and to try and find a blend where art and science meet. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s what we’re always striving for.

The public is more likely to wear Nikes when not playing sports though, right?
Yes, there’s been a transcendence of sports performance products finding their way off the courts and onto the street and now the office place. Sneakers are part of the fashion world, but that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the sports influence.

Are the materials you use changing?
There is more sensitivity around environmentally friendly and recyclable materials. Because of that you are seeing a lot more sneakers with knitted materials because those fibres can be altered and woven together more easily than synthetic ones.

What’s the shoe you’d recommend as the best all-rounder?
I’m currently working on that, and what I think of as a modern sneaker of sport. We’re pushing into that space.

For Edgar magazine – March 2017

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