Takashi Yoshii is a Tokyo native and Notre Dame grad who pursued professional tennis before getting into the shoe design world. Takashi is now the head of product at Chicago footwear startup Bucketfeet, where he spends his days turning artwork into awesome footwear.
I had the chance to sit down with Takashi and pick his brain on what goes into shoe design, his most interesting sports footwear case study, and much more.
LT: Where did you grow up?
TY: I was born in New York but moved to Tokyo when I was four, and I lived there until I graduated high school. But my family would go back to the States at least once a year. I mean my pediatrist was in NY so we clearly went back a lot haha.
LT: Wait, your podiatrist, as in foot doctor??
TY: No, haha, PED-iatrist, like kid’s doctor.
LT: Ooohhhh, gotcha, that makes way more sense haha. So how’d you end up back in the states?
TY: I was recruited to play tennis at Notre Dame and spent four years there. Talk about culture shock, going from the two biggest cities in the world to South Bend Indiana!
LT: Shit, yeah I bet that would be a shock to the system! How did you get into design?
TY: I took classes in architecture and pre-med to figure out what I wanted to do. I worked on some cool projects in industrial design and really liked it so I switched my major to that.
LT: Gotcha, wish I would’ve taken that approach…would’ve saved me a few painful years in accounting haha. So what’d you do after you graduated?
TY: After college, I pursued professional tennis and lived in Hawaii for a bit.
LT: Why tennis?
TY: My Dad was an amateur pro and he traveled the world playing so he got me into it when I was young.
LT: How old were you when you first beat him?
TY: 16! He was my coach for 13 years, but after I trained under a different coach for a few years I was able to beat him.
LT: Gotcha, so when did you get into the real world?
TY: After awhile I got tired of it and decided I wanted to get a job. I eventually landed at a small design consultancy in NYC doing high-end table tops and other types of furniture. But I knew I wanted to get into footwear, specifically performance athletic.
Takashi's Mugsy 606's cuffed to show the selvage line.
LT: Did that come from your tennis life?
TY: Yeah, from being in athletics I was always intrigued by ergonomics and biomechanics. When I was in NY, I got a certificate in performance athletic footwear from the Fashion Institute. One of the most interesting classes I took there was taught by a podiatrist MD.
LT: Is that the foot kind or the kid kind? haha
TY: The foot kind haha. The class focused on the design of shoes for specific sports and why they were made that way.
LT: What’re some examples of that?
TY: Running shoes don’t have side-to-side support, so they're only meant for straight movement. Whereas cross-training is a little bit lower to the ground and allows for lateral movement. Tennis shoes have a lot of torsion control, very similar to basketball shoes.
LT: What was the craziest case study he taught you?
TY: This one guy had a really unique foot shape that curved outwards, and he could never find shoes that fit him. He went to a sports podiatrist who had him try putting his left shoe on his right foot and his right shoe on his left foot, and it worked!
LT: Wow, that’s insane. What’s your #1 advice for picking sports shoes?
TY: The number one cause of athletic injury is from ill-fitting shoes. Just because you like the way something looks doesn’t mean you’re actually supposed to be wearing that shoe.
LT: What are some of the most important things that go into designing a shoe?
TY: A few that come to mind: The top of your foot is the most sensitive part of your foot so you don’t want too many things overlapping there. Also putting grooves in the sole of the shoe for ideal bending when you walk, like along the line of your toes.
And choosing the materials you make them with is really important...The first Nike Free’s were too flexible and caused a lot of injury so they had to change them to be more rigid.
Takashi rocking his Mugsy 606's.
LT: So there is such a thing as having too much freedom! What do you look for in a shoe?
TY: Quality and durability, a shoe that’s gonna last long. I’ve been trying to kick the habit of always getting the newest and greatest, unless something comes out that’s really unique.
LT: How many shoes do you own?
TY: Over 100.
LT: Holy shit! Where do you keep them all??
TY: In my apartment. A lot of them are shoes I designed or shoes from my tennis days.
LT: What’s your favorite, go-to shoe?
TY: Any type of workboot. They're easy to dress up and down. And Bucketfeets obviously haha.
LT: What would be your one advice for guys when shopping for shoes?
TY: Don’t discriminate against brands, look on a shoe-by-shoe basis.
LT: Last question, what's your go-to outfit?
TY: Crewneck tee, Mugsy Jeans, and workboots.