MAEKAN & BYBORRE —
Redefining Comfort: Denis Dekovic

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Interview & Photos by Eugene Kan

Interview & Photos by Eugene Kan

Comfort. It’s something essential to our lives.

The degree of comfort we experience can impact how we view the world around us. Comfort can take shape in a practical sense. Are we dry? Are we able to move freely? Are we confident about how we look?

Comfort can also apply psychologically. Are we comfortable with the challenge ahead and the uncertainty of not knowing what’s next?

In abundance, some would say too much of it creates complacency. Too little of it, and you’re unable to settle into a rhythm, because you’re only focused on reducing the discomfort.

For Men’s Fashion Week 2019 this past January MAEKAN and the BYBORRE team partnered on a series of conversations with new and old friends on this concept of “Redefining Comfort.” Our conversations were candid and casual with a special interest around the inspirations of pioneers and creators who are looking to put their stamp on the world.

In this fourth episode of REDEFINING COMFORT, we connect with Denis Dekovic of adidas who plays an integral part in the brand’s Brooklyn Farm innovation studio. We connect over Denis’ process and approach towards creating and how the interactions around him during events such as fashion week play a role in his work.

We’d like to extend a special thanks to WeTransfer, GORE-TEX, The Woolmark Company, and the whole BYBORRE team for making this series happen.

At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.

Eugene: How’s it going, Denis. Good morning, early morning?

Denis:: No, I think my best the brainstorm sessions happen in car rides with friends. Yeah somehow it isolates you from everything and keeps the creative juices in.

Eugene: Yeah. And especially if you’re forced to engage in a conversation with someone. Like, especially if you’re driving, you can’t really be on your phone, right. So how’s your week been?

Denis: It’s been good. It’s busy, but it’s amazing just connecting with people, which I like.

Eugene: How do you see coming to Paris Fashion Week and then integrating, bringing the energy of that back into what is essentially a sportswear brand. Everything you do has a very stylistic element to it, but what does it mean when you bridge the gaps between high fashion or fashion in general and sportswear?

Denis: I think there was always an intersection of fashion and sport, but in the past few years, it’s even stronger. And I think you see it happening on both sides, both in sport and fashion. Sneakers and hoodies are pretty much statement pieces for every brand. But for me, actually, it always comes to people and the energy of the people. Like, yeah, you see you see collections, you see runways here, but it’s more of the conversations I have with people. That’s what I take, the energy. It’s the feeling, the instinct that they have. That’s what I like.

Eugene: Yeah. This is my first national week actually and coming here, I think there was a sense of restoration in fashion as a whole because I think that ultimately the fashion that we see out right now and the “market” is not necessarily a reflection of the people that are thinking about fashion. I think there’s definitely a lot of interesting thoughts that people are putting into it.

Denis: I think what you see on the market or on the streets right now is what we’ve been thinking of a year or two years ago. I’ve seen a little shift this week. I’ve seen a shift back to a little bit more formal, but not back to formal, boring and stiff, but still formal with that feel off like, almost sweatpants.

Eugene: In your world there is very long, like timelines in the sense you’re planning so far in advance. How do you think that has conditioned you to think? Because I think one thing that you realize that fashion, even sneakers etc., it’s always a reflection of the times and what’s relevant at any given moment in time. But when you have to project out to 12, 18, 24 months in advance, how do you think about where culture is going?

Denis: Well, there are two different approaches of two different timelines: the long term time alignment is the one around big innovations and with those, you’re are not necessarily reacting to culture you’re trying to shift the culture or push the culture forward. And then there is the other one which is like, ideas that are you know relying less on technological innovation, but more on creativity and those you try to get out as soon as possible.

Eugene: Is it challenging to have to think in different lanes because some are, like you said, you’re trying to capture a moment with creative essence and another one’s like you’re trying to shift culture.

Denis: No, it’s not really difficult because both lanes live under the same umbrella, which is your long term vision. I like to think about what the timeline is for the next 10 years. I want to be aware of where big investors are investing their money for research in terms of science, technology etc. etc., but also be aware of what’s happening right now. So having a long term vision, everything shapes that.

Eugene: Obviously you’ve been in the footwear industry for a long time. Do you think that your ability to model what something looks like in 10 years is a little more clear as you get older?

Denis: You know, when I was younger, it was all from the instinct or from my gut feeling and that was based on what surrounded me. But then through years, I learned how to breathe not only what surrounds me, but the layers behind it and that shapes the big vision. So it’s not age, it’s probably maturity and experience that helps you see a bigger picture.

Eugene: What do you believe are things that you look for. Because you mentioned science and technology and research. How do those industries infiltrate and or influence what you do.

Denis: You know, I look at things less from an aesthetic point of view, so I’m not thinking “are we gonna go back to big pants?” I don’t think about the style. I think about where are we going as humans, so where I would like us to go as humans. So it’s pretty much about humanity to me and where I want to go is somewhere—it’s a good place.

Eugene: Well it’s interesting too because sometimes people look at the output like, “oh, it’s just clothes it’s just sneakers.” But increasingly, I think that there’s a lot of big fingers like yourself that are trying to utilize what might be you know something superficial, but I think there’s a lot of value in the output of that because you know the one thing that I love what sort of crystallized a lot of the past few days is that when you look at fashion, I guess that fashion is one of the most relevant creative industries because it captures the moment and you need to understand where culture is to put something out that other people understand and appreciate.

So it’s like it’s definitely a challenge to have that ability to do that.

Denis: Yeah, but it’s all about the story, right? The story is what what drives you and the stories what’s going to inspire the consumers or your audience. Without this story, a shoe is just a piece of fabric and plastic or leather and a hoodie is just a piece of content or whatever material you’re using. You need a story and the story I like is a story of optimism. It’s the story that this planet is a beautiful place and it’s not a dark place like paint in the news and so on. I really think that we have the power to shape the future through our own creativity and imagination. So it goes well beyond the shoe and the shirt.

Eugene: Yeah, I think that what you’ve just said is something I’ve started to feel a lot in regards to people like yourself that have a lot of influence and have also not only the influence, but the ability to see where we can go and start creating moments where, “hey, let’s actually make this tangible” because you’re right. I think that the dystopian view that we like to—or the media likes to—force upon ourselves, I think that if you if you’re just overly focused on that. There’s so many things that get lost that are actually as you mentioned positive.

I think I’m excited for like, despite the fact that might some of you might see it as just like, “oh, it’s sneakers whatever it’s for kids.” I think that the realm you guys work in actually has, as you mentioned, a lot of opportunity to influence.

You need a story and the story I like is a story of optimism. It's the story that this planet is a beautiful place and it's not a dark place like paint in the news and so on. I really think that we have the power to shape the future through our own creativity and imagination. So it goes well beyond the shoe and the shirt.

Denis: Yeah. You know I wouldn’t be who I am without the influences that hit me. You know the people that I chose or that I gravitated to to be influenced by shaped me, inspired me to become a designer and to become a dreamer. So there’s definitely a power in storytelling, there’s a power of doing a great work that can inspire others.

Again, I really believe that if I want to shape a certain kind of future and I lay that vision down, it may not be me that executes it, it may be a kid 10 years from now, but if I influence him, that’s amazing.

Eugene: How did you originally connect with Borre and BYBORRE?

Denis: You know a few people ask this question now, like “how do you do Borre?” I know him because the work he’s doing is amazing. That’s why I know him. People that that love quality and great thinkers gravitate to each other. So, the gravity of his work, that’s how I know him.

Eugene: It’s been nothing short of amazing to see his trajectory because I think that you also recognize when you’re doing things that are previously unseen or never before done, it just takes longer for things to be adopted and people understand it.

But one thing that we’ve been curious about over the course of your various interviews we’ve done is just this idea of comfort and redefining comfort. How do you look at that idea of comfort?

Denis: Well, first you have to define what comfort it is. For some people today, comfort is soft fabric or soft shoe. A cushioned shoe could be seen as comfortable, but there is a bigger meaning for comfort.

I think that the original Latin word meaning is “with force, with strength” and if you think about it, this is really what what we describe as comfort does to you: I feel good in it. And it means I feel confident. It gives me support both mentally and physically. You know certain times, that’s what comfort is to me. So it goes from fit to touch etcetera, etcetera. It’s all the senses are somehow triggered to feel good and be in the good place, so that you can approach your days or whatever you’re doing with confidence and strength.

Eugene: So for you, obviously, having a certain level of maturity and when you engage or you encounter, discomfort what does that mean to you? Like is there a thought process or assessment of like, how do I assess this stimulus. Is it good is it bad?

Denis: So first of all, I never design for myself. So I really need to know the consumer, the audience, right? And if I know them, I know what triggers them in a positive way or what the purpose, what their ambitions are. The uncomfortable things are the ones that get in the way are the distractions. So I cannot define this comfort only as physical. It could be fit, it could be a little mistake in a stich that itches you.

It’s a distraction: what’s taking your focus away from your goal? When I hear an idea, I ask myself, “why are they saying this?” The other day I was with an athlete and she suggested, “how about graffiti on shoes?” And of course, I thought, yeah because that was done so many times. But the real question was why is she asking for graffiti on shoes? Because that would help me get off to a good solution.

So I wanted to be the best in what I do. But I surpassed my dreams. And it's not always great because when you do, it's like, "okay, so what do I do now?" You dreamed of going to the moon, and you you end up on Mars. So where do I go from here? Back to school?

Eugene: Did you ever get a reason? Oh, that’s for you to figure out.

Denis: Because if you push them to give you—they just have a feeling. They can’t articulate, they’re not designers and they’re not familiar with the process. You have to listen and observe and appreciate them and you get to the bottom of.

Eugene: Before you entered the footwear industry, what did you think it would be like to be a footwear designer and what’s been sort of the reality of it?

Denis: I thought it would be amazing! I thought it would be amazing. I thought I would get to spend time with athletes and it wasn’t called the “influencer” back then, but what we called influencers, so be surrounded by great people and just make amazing products and put them on the market and see people wear them. That was my dream.

Reality is it’s much better than that. I had big dreams because all my heroes were the best of the best. So I wanted to be the best in what I do. But I surpassed my dreams. And it’s not always great because when you do, it’s like, “okay, so what do I do now?” You dreamed of going to the moon, and you you end up on Mars. So where do I go from here? Back to school?

Eugene: Obviously you have the ability to meet with people of all different walks of life, not just in the realm of design and fashion and art In the world of professional sports and why not. Are there certain types of people that you feel are interesting because of their ability to look at the world differently. What type of people do you think those are?

Denis: Geniuses. They don’t see the rules, they don’t see the limitations. Incredibly driven by by their vision and their purpose. And as you said, They see things differently. They don’t touch earth when they walk.

Eugene: When you’re interested in that those types of topics where do you find a “genius” or are you just serendipitously, just randomly come across them?

Denis: They are so powerful that you know who they are. They can’t hide and they don’t want to hide because they need to—they need to be out there to create what they need to create to be alive. For them, it’s about life or death. If they don’t create, they die. So you know who they are, you need to search for them. Sometimes you meet the person that is really interesting and surprises you, but those big geniuses create such a massive gravity pull around them that everyone feels the power.

Eugene: Do you feel there’s like a very definitive sort of chapter-based approach to the work you’ve put out?

Denis: I cannot really separate eras. I think everything is a progression, but there are moments where things either accelerated or took a turn. Those moments have always been triggered by new people that came into my life. So again, it comes back to that power of imagination creativity power of storytelling. And in that case, I was the audience, I was the target.

Geniuses. They don't see the rules, they don't see the limitations. Incredibly driven by by their vision and their purpose. And as you said, They see things differently. They don't touch earth when they walk.

Eugene: Do you feel that you currently have any limitations in the work you produce or make? If there are, what are those limitations?

Denis: We always have limitations. I think that’s also part of the beauty. Like, you need to figure out how you’re gonna break the box and those that those that figure it out create something new. So there are always limitations. Whether it’s the business nature of your company or the current status of the market or the consumers transforming and living lives always with a faster pace. There are always challenges and limitations.

Eugene: Having always been in a sort of front-runner, second place-type position that the mentality of creating work when you’re on top versus being second best changes?

Denis: Not my mentality. Because I don’t ever think of myself as a second best. I don’t think of myself as the best. I simply think I’m driven by creating things that don’t exist and then creating things that would make my heart beat faster. That’s what I’m driven by and I’ve learned that in order to do that, you need to be a leader. You cannot be a follower and expect that you’re going to surprise the audience.

I think that the original Latin word meaning is "with force, with strength" and if you think about it, this is really what what we describe that comfort does to you: I feel good in it. And it means I feel confident. It gives me support both mentally and physically. [...] It's all the senses are somehow triggered to feel good and be in the good place, so that you can approach your days or whatever you're doing with confidence and strength.
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