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Tate Kuerbis is more than well-seasoned in the realm of sneaker design; a veteran in every sense of the word. Boasting a 28-year career with The Swoosh, Kuerbis has helmed the design process behind nine Air Jordan signature silhouettes, dating back to 2003s Lamborghini Murciélago-inspired Air Jordan 18, to most recently proffering the widely-regarded cushioning system found within the Air Jordan 36. The designer’s next venture, however, couldn’t be further removed from the hardwood with Jordan Brand announcing its latest sneaker built from the ground up, the kids-exclusive Jordan 23/7.
 
Constructed specifically in mind for the youth’s diverse array of activities – from crawling to churning up bark chips on the playground – the recently unveiled 23/7 comes spearheaded by the notion of easy-access tooling, prominently displaying a drop-in construction that requires just a singular adjustment to its enlarged forefoot strap. Crafting the upper utilizing a two-way stretch textile, a duo of pull tabs in tandem with the silhouette’s wide-mouthed build renders a dynamic slip-on aesthetic reserved for only the youngest Jumpman athletes, logging the latest in a series of modernized models devoid of any connections to the iconic Air Jordan series.
 
Having spent the better part of the past half-decade serving as the brand’s Senior Footwear Designer for the Jordan Game shoe, February of 2021 saw Kuerbis transition to helm the brand’s strategic emphasis placed upon expanding their kids’ division’s efforts. While the Air Jordan 1 most notably extends a bridge between the next generation and MJ’s greatness, the continued exploration of youth-exclusive offerings has been years in the making, and an opportunity that’s provided Kuerbis with a more freeing journey than that of his signature silhouettes.
 
For the launch of his latest design at Jordan Brand, we spoke with Kuerbis over Zoom about the transition to his role, breaking down the design process behind the 23/7 and the future of Jordan Kids footwear.
  • Jordan 23/7 Available January 16th

 
Sneaker News: Where and when did the idea for an easy-access silhouette for the youth come from?
 
Tate Kuerbis: When I came into the role, we didn’t really have a lot of like new creations for Jordan kids, especially around footwear. We had a lot of like, baby Air Jordans and kids Air Jordans, but we didn’t really have KSA product – which is the Kids Stand Alone product. And this was really an opportunity to really grow that part of the business; to create new designs specifically just for kids. To make it more flexible, to make it more comfortable, and really to make it easier to get on and off, because we all know a lot of the shoes – legacy shoes – aren’t that easy to get on. So those are three big priorities that we wanted to focus on, especially around when we’re creating a new design.
 
SN: The sneaker overall is extremely lightweight and simplistic but it also has to remain durable to keep up with kids’ wide-ranging activities. What did balancing those two properties look like with the 23/7?
 
TK: Yeah, that was very important. And at this price point, you don’t have a lot of money to spend on a lot of technologies. So we’re really utilizing the main things we could play around with, like where we were going to put the rubber. We decided to put the focus on the rubber in the forefoot and the heel, and leave foam in the midfoot where you don’t really need as much traction or durability. And even in the rubber, we decided to cut some pretty big flex grooves out of it so that it remains super flexible. So just really going back to the priorities of putting things where they needed to be and then taking things away where you didn’t need to have extra stuff. We just really focused on simplicity and then still taking some of those ideas from the game shoe where you’re wanting to create something that is visually iconic.
 

  • Jordan 23/7 Available January 16th

SN: Where did the inspiration for a two-piece construction of the forefoot and heel come from?
 
TK: Just thinking about the kid and how kids put on shoes. You know, a lot of times they want to wedge their foot in there, and most of the time, not even bend over to touch the shoe at all. We put pull tabs on it so maybe they could use the pull tabs to kind of spread it open and get their foot in. But most likely, I was really excited about maybe the kid could just slide their foot in. And this shape kind of allows that motion of the foot to just kind of go in and then the front opens up quite a bit and they’re separated. It’s like a giant mouth where you just want to put your foot in and it just sucks in over your foot.
 
And then of course, we have the really large Velcro strap, which is really easy for the kid to kind of grab a hold of and and adjust. But hopefully they would only need to adjust it once and then never have to touch it again.
 
SN: You had a hand in the design process from the AJ 18 to the AJ 36. What experiences from that time period did you harken upon for this youth-exclusive silhouette?
 
TK: I think the most challenging part that I had to get adjusted to was of course, the game shoes is $185. You have a more healthy budget to look at technologies and materials and molded components. It’s really your dream project because you can really put the kitchen sink into the design of the shoe, whereas this one you have to be very mindful and almost like strategic about the materials you use, the piecing, the patterning. I almost felt like it was more challenging, in some regards, when you have less things to use in your toolbox or your palette to apply to the shoe.
 
SN: Was there a specific portion of the silhouette that took some time to get right?
 
TK: I remember working a lot on making sure that the strap was in the correct position, that it didn’t like hit the top of the foot, especially for toddlers. Toddler feet are just like a potato and they have these chubby ankles and just trying to get that in the shoe. And then it goes all the way up to preschool where the foot is more anatomical; it’s starting to grow and the kid can get the shoe on and off themselves.
 
It took a little bit of inspiration from some past game shoes, I won’t mention which one but I have some things in the tool chest that I remember worked well. I think like the heel being that icon of the shoe, especially for some of the color blockings you can really play up the heel along with the waviness of the tooling. So you’ll see you’ll see some fun colorways and different materials and blockings come out with this, which I think will be really cool.”
 

  • Jordan 23/7 Available January 16th

SN: What did the conversations with the next generation look like for crafting the 23/7?
 
TK: It’s fun to talk with the kids because they’re just so open to crazy ideas, and they’re not just kind of stuck on the Air Jordans one through five or whatever. They certainly have their favorites already because I think parents kind of pass down the knowledge of what they like to their kid and the kid starts wearing Jordan sometimes through their parents. But they’re still creative and thinking about new ideas.
 
Kids product doesn’t get a lot of love, and I think the excitement that we have in the Jordan Brand now around Jordan Kids and the business itself – to be able to go beyond Legacy product and Air Jordans and create new product – I think people are really getting excited.
 
SN: What’s been the most fulfilling aspect for you during this journey with the silhouette?
 
TK: We’ve done a few KSA products in the past, but this is probably one of the biggest ones that the brand is really getting behind. There’s a lot of excitement around it and it really did feel like a kids game shoe in that regards. This is a big deal.
 
I’ll be excited to see kids wearing it and knowing all the problem solving that went into it, it’s just fun to kind of like be a little bit more free. The pressure of the game shoe is just unbelievable whereas this one, there’s a little less pressure but at the same time you want to get it right. But there was a little bit more freedom to express yourself and just be a little bit more free.
 

  • Jordan 23/7 Available January 16th