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w/ JESSE RADEMACHER - Basketball design director of Footwear

  • Jesse Rademacher:Basketball Design Director,Footwear
  • Location:Adidas HQ, Portland.

Honouring the defining movements that have made Damian Lillard the player he is today, the Dame 4 has hit the courts with more impact than ever. We caught up with one of the men behind the Dame update, adidas’s basketball footwear design director, Jesse Rademacher to get an all-exclusive scoop.

Delving deep into the making of the Dame 4, Jesse reveals how much involvement Damian Lillard had in the design of the sneaker, what’s changed since the Dame 3, how he got into the career we all envy and pretty much everything else you wanted to know about basketball sneakers.

What was the first pair of shoes you remember buying?

JR - EQT Basketball had a huge impact on me early on. The ability to swap inner socks to customise brought me into the design process and allowed kids to feel unique. The concept was clever and as a young curious kid, I loved to take things apart and put them back together to see how they were made. This shoe was made for just that. Each layer performing a certain function so the support and comfort became intuitive.

What was the first project you worked on at adidas?

JR – I joined adidas to work in skateboarding. My first week was spent in the archives at the German headquarters digging out old shoes with Lucas Puig for his first signature model. We found the original AdiCourt which became the main inspiration.

How close was Damian Lillard's involvement in the design process of the Dame 4?

JR – Damian takes a real interest in the creative process. He’s a creator both on and off the court with his music and involvement in his shoes and apparel. Because he lives in town, he comes by the studio quite frequently. Since creativity doesn’t happen at certain hours of the day, we keep the door open for him! During the season, we fly to away games to get feedback in real time. It’s great to have such an inspiring and creative partner.

Is the Dame 4 a direct evolution of the Dame 3, or do you start from a blank canvas for each iteration of a signature shoe?

JR – For performance, Dame knows what he likes. These demands create constants any time we work on his shoes. He wants to sit low in the shoe to play fast to create mismatches and unlock opportunities for his teammates. His attacking style of play formulates the approach and remains a consistent theme. Since he lives in his shoes, whether training, boxing, or in the studio, comfort is paramount. We upped our cushioning game on the Dame 4 through a new BOUNCE set up for out of the box comfort that will make it easy to wear all day. If you notice, the 1, 2, 3, and 4 all have a comfortable, sock-like fit around the ankle. This provides plush comfort he loves while allowing ankle mobility. Dame is the people’s icon so his shoes stay attainable for people from all walks of life by keeping the price down. This consistency in approach offers the design team a foundation to build off. He challenges us to make sure each shoe is unique and the story telling elements can come to life.

What is Damian Lillard like to collaborate with on a big project like this?

JR - Dame is completely down to earth which makes him amazing to work with. He doesn’t expect special treatment. When we work together, it’s all about ideas, concepts, and how he wants to inspire kids. He is highly focused and comes with strong opinions. For designers, it’s more difficult to work with people who don’t know who they are or what they want. Although we don’t always agree, opinions are always respected. We have built a report where he trusts us to handle our side of the process. Any good partnership starts with respect.


What was the first design skill you practiced?

JR – Thinking, being curious. Even before picking up a pencil to sketch, you need to have direction, a reason for creating. What problem are you trying to solve? Why does your creation deserve to exist in the world? A strong concept drives purpose, sketching, and making. As a kid, just wondering why things were built the way they are or what a tool is used for creates the curiosity to become a designer. Otherwise, you are an artist or stylist.

Did you study design at college? - If so - What did you study and where?

JR – I don’t really hold any specific designers up as a “hero.” After working with some amazing creators, you realise they are just people. Those who inspire me are the problem solvers, whether in design, engineering, art, architecture. The ones who improve the world around them. Those who enhance lives through practical solutions, most importantly for those who don’t have the means to do it for themselves. These creatives rarely get the accolades they deserve because they put energy towards others and not self-promotion.


How does designing Basketball shoes compare to any other sport? The mix of lifestyle/culture and performance is second to none, must be pretty fun.

JR – I was just in a conversation yesterday with a designer who works on our innovation team. He remarked on how Basketball is much more difficult since you have to blend a number of factors, as you mentioned. Unlike a football cleat that is designed for one specific purpose, basketball is a fusion. We must innovate relentlessly around functional solutions for the athlete, all while balancing culture to make shoes that work on different levels depending on the context or mind-set of our kid. This challenge drives us creatively. Keeping us sharp. We remain authentic to the culture of basketball, not just the sport, by blending performance with style. At adidas, we are uniquely positioned to blend these worlds given our firm standing in each. You can see why Damian is such an asset. He is a powerful creator who blends these worlds at his core through relentless focus on basketball while expressing him through his art.

What is your favourite Basketball shoe?

JR – As mentioned previously, the EQT Basketball had a huge impact on me as a kid and young creative. When talking about modern shoes, I’m all about comfort today. The Crazy Explosive 2017 has my favourite BOOST ride while the Dame 4 ranks right up there with the new BOUNCE set up. The Harden LS is a nice easy twist to mix it up off the court.

How important do you think it is that the shoe holds it's own on-court as well as off-court?

JR – It’s paramount! That’s the puzzle that motivates me, also keeps me up at night…, haha! There is never a perfect product but it doesn’t keep us from striving to create one.

Shop the full Dame 4 collection here

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