From Design Director at Nike to Lead Designer of one of the most iconic New Balance silhouettes to date, Stephanie Howard has had her fair share of successes throughout her career, and it hasn’t stopped there. We sat down with the footwear designer to discuss her favourite sneaker designs, how to stand out in a competitive market as a designer and her latest venture, Endstate. Check out our latest interview with the talented, Stephanie Howard now live over on our Instagram page.
Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what it is that you do?
Yeah! So by trade, I'm an industrial designer. I have over 25 years of experience designing, mostly in the footwear industry. I've worked in design director positions at Nike and New Balance, and I've worked at Reebok. Then about a year ago I began a startup and co-founded it and we are called End State.
What was your journey into the industry and how did it all begin?
In high school I was really interested in art and I didn't know that much about sneakers, that wasn't part of my plan. I was just really excited about art, and a teacher brought up the concept of industrial design to me because I liked art and was also strong in maths and science and I was thinking about engineering but had passion for creating things. I learned about industrial design, making products, and thought that's really exciting. So once I graduated with that degree, I was looking for jobs. The openings in Boston area, which is where I lived around, there was a bunch of companies in the footwear space. So I ended up landing my first job at New Balance.
What has been your favorite sneaker to design to date? I know this probably going to be hard but I'm really curious!
It's definitely a hard question. I suppose my first answer is the most recent one. So I just designed it for my new startup, the Endstate drop zero. I think we'll talk about that a little bit later. But I do think the 850s really represent a lot for me in terms of my growth. It was really early on in my career and it was a product where I really pushed boundaries.
So one thing I want to touch on is that you're on the board of Women in Sports Tech, which seeks to find opportunities for women in the sports tech space. So what advice would you give to someone or women looking to follow this career path?
Just look for advocates because they're out there. If you're working hard and you're doing innovative things, there are going to be people who support you. And so WIST - women in sports tech, we call it Wist - exists to drive growth opportunities for women at all stages of their careers. So they're the advocates, right? It's like a big team of people that are out there creating space and opportunities.
You recently featured at Sneakers Unboxed in London. But what has been your career highlight?
I don't know if there's just one. I feel like with the launch of the 850 was when people started being interested in my design history. And so that alone has just been an honor. But now that I'm doing this work in the startup world and building a brand from scratch, building products - as much as the recognition is nice, the building of something new is always more exciting to me. So my career highlight is always whatever I'm doing next, whatever I'm building, that's that's where I get excited.
What's been a hurdle or hurdles that you've had to overcome and how have you done that?
Design is not an easy or obvious solution, like there's no one right answer. So my hurdles are, like many other creatives, in that we have to create a story that really resonates with people, that's relevant in the world right now and get a whole bunch of people on board to agree with you, like that's the one that we should launch.
For anyone looking to get into footwear or design, what would you say could help someone stand out in the current competitive climate?
Yes, it's definitely competitive! I think being purposeful in your intentions and having them grounded in insights. Show the thinking process through your sketches, do a range of ideas, don't just land at one right away, and then take us behind the scenes of your work. Let us see how you're building and what that thinking process is.
You're one of the co-founders of Endstate. Could you tell us a little bit more about what Endstate is and how it works?
We are marrying physical products with NFTs. So we don't just make NFTs, everything that we're making in the digital world has a physical counterpart. We're starting with sneakers and we're partnering with creators and brands to bring their stories to life by making these products to wear and their digital twins.
How can people get involved with that? What would you say is the best way to get involved in that?
I think the best place is to join our discord. We are at @Endstate on Instagram and Twitter, and you can find our discord links. That is really the best way to join the community.
Who is your biggest female inspiration or someone that's doing amazing things in industry right now or in the past few years?
The first person I have to mention has passed and she's not famous, but her name is Edith Harmon, and she was at New Balance for many years. She was a pioneer in her own right. She was studying engineering at MIT way before people thought women could be engineers. So I think as we look for female inspirations, it doesn't have to be a famous person, but we can look for the people around us who are creating that space and giving us voices.