FASHION & DESIGN FESTIVAL: Jean-Francois Fullum of New Balance

On Tuesday afternoon, we had the pleasure of hearing Quebecois Designer Jean-François Fullum talk about his work at New Balance during the second Fashion & Design Festival Conference.

After studying Industrial Design at the University of Montreal, Fullum started his design career at Bauer as a skate designer, moving on to Nike in Portland, Oregon where he was Senior Footwear Designer when he left in 2008 to go to his present home, the New Balance headquarters in Boston.

At New Balance, Jean-François is the Design manager for the Running Innovation Studio team. A very important and complex position because not only are they designing footwear, but they’re designing them for athletes! Therefore performance is a priority and they work closely with the athletes they sponsor to make sure that their products are up to par with the demands of their sport.

To do so, they invite athletes in the company studio, to test all aspects of their feet during exercise. Using this bio-mechanic data, they construct the sneakers to fit the needs.

In creating a specific shoe, there is the design aspect, using various inspiration sources, including Ferraris in Fullum’s case, and there’s the performance aspect. Making sure that these two aspects of design mesh together perfectly is Fullum’s job. He’s also very old school when it comes to design. He likes to sketch everything out by hand!

Even though their shoes are made for specific athlete needs, 90% of their performance footwear is available to the general public to buy.

New Balance Fresh Foam Zante

Credit: Scranton Running Company/Pinterest

In terms of materials, Fullum’s team look everywhere for inspiration. Not only do they analyse what their competition is doing, but they also look at other fields, other sports and other domains entirely for new ideas. They go to trade shows and search for new and exciting materials that they could somehow integrate in the production of shoes. Either for weight, performance or production costs. Jean-François mentioned that if you only spend your time looking at what your competition is doing, you’re never going to innovate, you have to step out of the box!

Concerning trends, which like clothes, come and go in the sneaker industry, he said that the fun thing about them is that after trends dissipate, they keep the good things of all the trends and use them moving forward. You keep the good, leave the bad and keep innovating. Which is a fun way of looking at trends and fashion cycles, somewhat less relevant for clothes, but it still rings true. When a certain trend because a fashion staple, it never truly goes away. It’s too good to part with.

We realized that there is way more work that goes into the shoes on our feet than we thought (the design process can take anywhere from 2 to 6 years). We can’t wait to go into a store and get some new New Balances! The fact that they’re made in the US makes them even more appealing.

Thank you Jean-François for such an amazingly informative conference!