Talk about your peripatetic childhood.
My father was a computer engineer, and his career took me to three different high schools in three years.
How did that shape your life?
I was shy and introspective. It was easier to think about things than to talk about them. On the other hand, it taught me to embrace change, the new and different. [It made me] experimental; not afraid of sudden turns.
So a career in art and design was forged?
Not immediately. I loved art, and I also loved building things. But my grandfather was an artist, and the family story was that he pretty much neglected everything for his art, and the family suffered. That was my negative view of art, and I felt I’d have to find a job in ‘something else.’
But that “ah-ha” moment was coming?
After high school, I went to Colorado for two directionless years – partying and sowing my oats. I was a house painter. I worked for Perkins Restaurant & Bakery. I dressed as a mouse for birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese. Then somebody gave me the book, ‘Do What You Love, the Money will Follow,’ and that crystallized it for me.
It helped me understand that finding satisfaction in life was less about making money and more about enjoying what you did. It encouraged me not to focus on finances, but to find a passion and pursue it. My passion, I realized, was art and design. I never looked back.
What’s the nature of your work for Red Wing Shoes?
I was hired for retail graphic design in the marketing department. But I soon realized that there was this whole 3-D space where people interact. It was so much deeper a problem to solve than just with print. I took over retail design for the company. And I loved it: combining strategy and consumer psychology and the mechanical side of my head, all of the pieces of the puzzle. Once I hit the 3-D space, my entire life came into focus – the introspective side, the art side, the graphic design side, the ability to think mechanically as well as strategically — otherwise, we’re just building a pretty space.
What was the brief for your new Penn Plaza store?
The company said, ‘We want to lease a 1600-square-foot space in Manhattan. What should we do with it?’ I started with a platform that would support our brands and heighten understanding of who Red Wing is and showcase our history and our wide range of products, as well as the processes of making quality merchandise. Most people associate us with work apparel, and the younger folks may not know the brand at all.
Those problematic millennials.
But they also value authenticity, transparency, high quality and have strong ideas about good corporate action – all things Red Wing values, as well.