Science meets technology meets art in this Quebec native’s approach to running shoe design
Imagine watching the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and seeing one of your designs racing across the finish line. Jean-François Fullum, Senior Innovation Design Director at New Balance, also hopes a few of those finishes will be christened with a gold medal. No, Fullum is not a member of Team Canada – he’s someone who took his passion as an industrial designer into the world of sports equipment.
Upon graduation from the University of Montreal, Fullum found himself at Bauer, owned by Nike at the time. Fullum worked on the first Nike hockey glove, which was very popular and worn by many of his childhood heroes, such as Mario Lemieux.
Where do you get your inspiration?
“Everywhere we look outside the footwear industry. I’m a big cyclist, and a few years ago I went to the Inner Bike show in Vegas and I saw a super lightweight bike. Everything was really stripped down, and that really inspired me to see what I could do for footwear. I started removing materials from shoes. That’s what gave birth to one of our lead performance shoes, the RC5000. At the time, it was the lightest road running shoe available at 3.2 oz., which is maybe three to four times lighter than a standard shoe.”
“It’s not just aesthetics. A lot of the new generation designers are sneakerheads. Very few of them have this itch for the technical side of footwear. What I like most about my job is that it’s a mix of science, technology and art.”
Biggest game changer?
“The minimal footwear craze was a bit extreme, but it also shook things up a bit. People started to look at different heel drops and shoes became more deconstructed, less bulky and heavy. That movement opened up the industry for more innovation and made things more fun to explore.”
What drives you?
“A bigger-picture mindset and being able to instil a new design philosophy by pushing my team to be more innovative or more disruptive.”
Are you living your dream?
“I’m super inspired and excited about that mix of science and art. I feel like I’m between a designer and an engineer. I have a really good sense of what makes a product work or not work with athletes and the biomechanics lab, but I also appreciate the trends and what people are looking for in terms of aesthetics. I’m able to blend those two worlds together; it’s probably my biggest asset.”
“We are looking at a few different things. NB has a very rich history in working with Japanese athletes and culture. We just announced a partnership with Hitoshi Mimura – a legend in the footwear-making world – so you can be sure that this will impact our designs. There will definitely be a big push to bring in a new language and look.”
“Although you’re responsible for the shoe design, you’re also working with engineers, marketing, athletes etc., so being able to compromise is key. It’s about teamwork and not just one person working on these products.”
Describe what you do in 140 characters or less
Through design, bring new technologies, new platforms to the market for New Balance.
Marylene Vestergom is a regular contributor to Canadian Running. She’s covered sports for over 20 years, including multiple Olympic Games.