INTERVIEW: MATTIAS BORG

I randomly stumbled on Mattias’s account a few months back during one of those mornings exploring Instagram. Being a shoe addict myself and obsessed with high performance gear, his work felt familiar and different. While still currently a student, Mattias has already a personal aesthetic, part influenced by his Scandinavian origins, part by his passion for industrial design he originally studied. It was enough to start a conversation and know more about his work and vision as a promising footwear designer.

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I remember reading somewhere that footwear wasn’t your original goal. How did you end up designing sneakers?
I’m coming from a skateboard background, and always have been influenced by its lifestyle, the looks and the community. Growing up, I was constantly looking at skateboard videos and tried to learn the best techniques buying skateboard brands. 
I’ve, for the most part of my youth, been surrounded by creative friends who shared the interest for skateboarding. Skateboarding quickly became more an expression of an art in motion than a sport. Everyone who skate does in its very own way and style.
After high school, I was very unsure of what to do so I took a couple of years off trying to figure things out. I had random jobs in Sweden and Norway working at some point at a ski resort snowboarding. A friend of mine recommended me to do a preparation year for fashion design. I enrolled in the fall 2013 but realized that this program has more to do industrial design. I couldn’t draw anything at that time but I decided to stay as I slowly started enjoying it.
One thing I’ve learned there was to sketch the same object over and over just to learn more in depth of how its proportions work. I started drawing shoes and fell in love with it right away, specially drawing side-views. I like this new challenge and how it became this perfect link between fashion and product design. I realized soon that sneakers and footwear offered me an unlimited source of inspiration forcing me to keep up with trends and how the business was evolving.
After that year I applied to an industrial design school called “ Umeå institute of design ” where I am currently starting my last year.

What’s your design process? Do you start with a mood boards, concepts?
I usually start my process with just setting the first mood of what I want to create, gathering pictures of shapes, colors and details that I find interesting. I usually look at architecture pieces or a lot of the cars and industrial design, especially when it comes to designing a sole. For the upper I usually look a lot at the fashion industry, to see what’s new or wasn’t implemented into footwear yet. I always find it interesting to bring another context or point of view.

Which materials do you prefer to work with?
Pen and paper are great but I’m more comfortable working with Photoshop and Illustrator. It just goes way quicker for me. I also just started building mock-ups. Manipulating the materials gives me so much more ideas than sketching. It also helps to see it in 3D in front of you and see what’s working or not. I’m now working with 3D programs and focusing more on it. It’s a good way to showcase your work but more importantly to understand how shapes and volumes are looking in a 3D space.

Looking at your sketches and prototypes, I can’t help but think of Scandinavians’ love for surgical precision and slick design. Did it have an influence on your work?
Absolutely! Being surrounded by Scandinavian architecture and landscapes did influenced me. That’s something I always have as a base while designing, although my creative process had evolved overtime adding now new styles and influences.

The first thing I immediately love about your work was the sci-fi and performance influences. Y-3, Salomon, hiking and ski boots (past and present) and obviously the magic trilogy (Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner). Were they organic references for you or just coincidences?
Thank you very much for noticing it hahaha! Ever since I started my BFA here, I started being influenced by my friends and their obsessions for the sci-fi world and cyberpunk. I wasn’t really a fan before but after watching a couple of those movies (Beyond the black rainbow, Blade Runner, Interstellar, 2001 space odyssey), I felt in love, specially with the esthetic of those movies and creative concepts developed.


You recently interned at Puma. How was it to finally be part of a commercial structure with material and productivity constraints?
Puma was a really amazing experience for me. First because it was very different from my other friends’ experiences. Most of them had internships at car or raw industrial design companies where people work for years on one specific product. So I expected my department to have designers sitting in a corner just sketching crazy concepts all day. But that wasn’t the case at all for me.
I also got to be involved with more products than I expected which was really cool. Working on the whole process from sketching to merchandising and store design felt so surreal. I also worked on different collaborations including Rhianna’s Fenty (season 2) and other sneaker categories giving me an opportunity to understand concretely the entire process from creation to fabrication.

Did you change your point of view and design practice after working there?
I wasn’t really thinking too deep into what’s doable when it comes to production before I started at Puma. Seeing how the industry is really working has definitely helped me a lot and changed my perception on how I design shoes today. I went from having a very conceptual approach to a more pragmatic process keeping in mind all sorts of technical constraints. I’m now thinking more about everything prior sketching, making sure if it’s realistic to produce or not.

One of your last prototypes reminds me the Margiela Retro Runners and more recently the new Balenciaga Triple S sneakers for their savvy mix of retro and DIY detailing. Is it that something you see as an emerging trend or more too much of a niche?
I really think everything trend comes and goes, especially in footwear. The rave trend that is really popular right know is kind of to much to be honest. Don’t feel that that it’ll last for very much longer. 
But the DIY / Retro look is something I really like and I think a lot of brands are really pushing it and taking it in the right direction at the moment. I’m hoping it will go even more deconstructed to almost look like hand-made mock-ups. I personally think that chunky soles will stay in trend for a while. I would love to see the brands not just pushing the boundaries of the height of the soles but also their length.

We recently saw a shift between Adidas and Nike, especially after the launch of the Boost sole and the Yeezy. Nobody really predicted it and we now see multiple brands trying to catch-up with Adidas. It that something you are paying attention as a footwear designer and sneaker enthusiast?
Absolutely, I try to keep up with all the new drops just to see what the different companies are doing. They are really setting the tone so it’s important to see where it’s going and which one is ahead of the competition. However, I’m not obsessing, it will be too limiting and I need to keep my creative freedom.
Most recently, I’ve been really looking into apparel and how designers are working. There is a lot to learn and get inspired from especially when it comes to materials.

What’s your favorite sneakers and why?
It’s so hard to only pick one especially with the current pace of the footwear industry. One shoe that blew my mind and specially in the lifestyle/running segment was the Adidas x Alexander Wang “RUN”. I got the chance to buy a pair when the release was but ordered in the wrong size so had to send them back hahaha 
Everything about that shoe is amazing and so spot on. It’s such a simple shoe but yet it really stands out to me. If you manage to achieve that in design, that’s the best, especially if you are implementing new types of materials, textures and treatments.

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