On every sneakerhead’s calender of upcoming releases, only a select number of key dates get the world really amped up. Chances are you have mid-February’s All-Star hoopla, the Air Jordan 11 staple for the holiday, and the new Nike Basketball signatures circled on your planner, but none are as profoundly impactful of the Doernbecher Freestyle, which typically releases in mid-late Fall.. This year, the Nike x Doernbecher partnership will extend to an incredible eleventh year, and even though there are months between now and the official unveil, there’s no question that we all have “DB” in mind. Since 2007, Nike’s efforts with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital were emphasized with the release of the first-ever Air Jordan II Doernbecher, and since then, a widely-celebrated tradition began; while many have their opinions as to which Doernbecher Jordan is the cream of the crop, the Air Jordan 3 designed by Cole Johanson certainly makes its case as the best ever.
Despite the publicity the Doernbecher Freestyle gets from the sneaker media, not much is known about the entire process. What we do know is that a select number of young patients from Doernbecher are chosen to design a crop of Nike footwear and one Air Jordan Retro, but there’s a lot more to the story! We chatted with Cole Johanson, who designed the 2010 Doerbecher 3, about the entire process of the Freestyle – everything from how the children get selected, the initial steps toward reaching the final design, and more. Check out this exclusive interview with Cole below, who gives us his personal experience throughout the process as well as his own opinions on the sneaker game, and give us your guesses as to what this year’s Air Jordan Doernbecher release will be!
The 2014 Nike Doernbecher Freestyle will debut in mid-late Fall.
Above: Cole poses with his original Air Jordan 3 Doerbecher design from 2010
Sneaker News: Cole, please introduce yourself to the Sneaker News readers!
Cole Johanson: Hi, my name is Cole Johanson. I’m 15 years old, and I’m a freshman at Beaverton High School in Portland, Oregon. I play tennis, soccer, and most importantly, basketball. I have a Mom, Dad, and two little brothers. In July of 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer, and spent 4 months in Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. To this day I am 100% healthy and cancer free.
SN: How were the children selected to participate in the Doernbecher Freestyle? Was there an “application” of any kind, or was it random?
CJ: The selection process for the Freestyle was completely random. I am not so sure as to how they pick the kids, but there is no application of any kind, so it is complete luck if you get picked.
SN: When you were chosen, did you get to pick what shoe you get to work on?
CJ: No. when I was chosen, I was automatically assigned the Retro 3. I think part of this was because of my love for basketball. I didn’t know exactly what the shoe was, but the fact that it was from the Jordan Brand got me excited for sure.
Left: Jake Van Daam, Jordan Brand, Middle: Cole Johanson, Right: Jayson Mayden, Jordan Brand
SN: Were you a “sneakerhead” before participating in the Doernbecher Freestyle? If so, what’s your favorite sneaker?
CJ: Before I participated in the freestyle, I was not a “sneaker head.” I knew that retros were a big thing and I did like Nike shoes, but I wasn’t into the sneaker collecting shoes type of thing. However, after going through the process of the freestyle, my love for sneakers grew. After going through that process, and especially after the re-release, I became a big sneaker guy. I’m really into the retros and all that good stuff, but I can’t quite call myself a sneaker head – being a teenager and having a very limited bank account, I spend way more time obsessing over shoes than actually getting them, but I will pick up a pair of Jordans every once in a while. My favorite sneaker is obviously the Retro 3, but I also do love the 6’s and 11’s. I also love every line of Kobe’s for playing basketball in.
SN: Before you worked on the Air Jordan 3, did you like the shoe?
CJ: Yes, I did like the look and the style of it, but I wasn’t aware of the importance of it. Of course, after going through the design process, talking to Jordan Reps and seeing how fast it sold out, I obviously figured out how big this silhouette was.
SN: What was the design process like? Who did you work with? Where did the design process take place?
CJ: The design process happened over a span of about three months. We met probably 5-6 times total, and each time it was a different step. First it was picking colors and placing them in the perfect places. Then materials, personal items (like the strength/courage on the insole or the lasering of spaghetti and chocolate inside the back flap), etc. It took place at the Jordan Building on Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. I worked with a Nike designer, who at the time was Chris Paul’s shoe designer, Jason Mayden, and Jordan Developer, Jake Van Daam. These two were so much fun to work with and I’m still good friends with them today.
Above: Cole’s original concept sketch for the Doernbecher 3
SN: What sort of changes did Nike make to your original design? Did they make any suggestions to add to what you already had planned?
CJ: My original design was just a sketch, but as I worked with them it became more complex. Nike did not make very many changes to my final design; it was pretty much just like I’d designed. The only changes they had made were pretty much the little details. For example, I said I wanted my name on the shoe, but I didn’t want it to be bold or very noticeable. They then worked their magic and laser-etched my name onto the base of the shoe in a diamond like pattern that isn’t super obvious.
They made a couple minor suggestions but really left almost all of it up to me. The colors and materials of the shoe were all my choice. One thing I considered in my design process was the importance and simplicity of the shoe – it was a shoe with a rich history, and I didn’t want to butcher it and put pink, green and purple on it. Red, silver, and black were classic jordan colors, and given the fact that there had yet to have been a red based Retro 3, I thought I could make a pretty cool shoe that was simple but eye-catching.
Above: Cole sees the final version of the Air Jordan 3 DB for the first time, just hours before the Doernbecher Freestyle event in Portland.
SN: What was the most memorable thing about design the shoe?
CJ: The most memorable part of designing the shoe was probably just the process; the fact that I was designing a colorway of a big shoe was amazing. And I was constantly working at Nike headquarters and learning the ins and outs of where a global brand started was pretty awesome. Also, it was pretty cool to see my shoes on the feet of many stars – From Dwayne Wade to Nate Robinson to Demar DeRozan to even rapper Ludacris. I was pretty lucky to have the chance to design this shoe and experience it’s impact on the sneaker world.
SN: What was your reaction like when you first saw an actual sample of the shoes?
CJ: When I saw the first sample I was blown away. It all looks good on paper but I had no idea it would turn out that great – I was pretty stunned.
SN: How has Nike treated you since the release of the DB3? Do you get free pairs of shoes? Any hook-ups?
CJ: Since the release of the DB, I haven’t gotten much “special treatment”, but I can get a free pair of my shoes when I want. I don’t get hook-ups for any other types of shoes, though.
Above: In mid-2013, Nike confirms the re-release of classic Doernbecher releases
SN: When you learned that Nike was going to re-release your DB3 design, were you happy? If not, why?
CJ: I was very happy when Nike re-released my shoe. It was fun to sort of relive the experience all over again, and it had a more meaningful impact on the social aspect this time. This time around, I was much more into social media and a lot of my peers were very into shoes, so the popularity part became pretty big for me.
SN: The DB3 is considered by some as the best Doernbecher Jordan release. How do you feel about that?
CJ: It feels pretty special to be considered as designing the best Doernbecher shoe, but the most special thing that people forget about is that ALL of the proceeds go to Doernbecher Children’s hospital and the kids in need. Just last year there was over $1 million raised for kids with life-threatening illnesses – that’s the most important thing.
Above: Cole, now 15, plays basketball for his High School team
SN: What are you up to now? What’s your favorite hobby?
CJ: My biggest current hobby is basketball. I play for Beaverton in the winter and I play for my AAU team PDX Hoops in the spring and summer. I love playing all sports just for fun, and I also play tennis and soccer for Beaverton. As most other kids my age, I love video games and sneakers!
A big thanks to Cole for taking the time to talk with us! Follow him on Instagram.