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hypekids Exclusive: Jason Mayden on Launching Super Heroic and Why Play Unites us All

With a little help from Magic Johnson.

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Can shoes empower kids? That’s what Jason Mayden, the former lead designer for Nike‘s Jordan Brand, set out to find when he launched the first shoe for his new brand Super Heroic earlier this year. The kids’ shoe brand recently released the second colorway of its signature sneaker, which unlike most children’s shoes on the market, is designed specifically to match kids’ needs lifestyles. And so far, things seem to be working out for the emerging brand.

Owing to his experience at Jordan, Mayden knows a thing or two about sneakers, but launching a company from the ground up is a whole other ballgame. Fortunatley, Mayden had a little help from the likes of Magic Johnson in launching Super Heroic. hypekids got the chance to chat with Mayen about his vision for the brand and pick his brain about the current sneaker market. Read our full conversation to learn what’s next for Super Heroic and how sneakers can empower the next generation.

Jason Mayden Super Heroic Tmblr v1 Air Jordan Brand Nike sneakers Magic Johnson play empower kids Chicago LEGO Disney Allbirds Smallbirds Tim Brown

When did you decide you wanted to develop a new kids’ sneaker brand? Why did you want to develop a brand specifically for kids?

This is something that I have been working on most of my career. I’ve always felt that the younger demographic was underserved with great narratives, design and performance. It’s imperative that we think about the well-being of our children holistically and not just in terms of what we allow them to put in their bodies, i.e. organic, non-GMO food options, but also through the lens of what they put on their bodies. Improper fitting, shrunken down adult silhouettes lead to a myriad of physiological and biomechancial issues for children as they grow. In simpler terms, what you put on their foot and body can either help to promote proper movement and overall health, or severely damage how they move, grow and feel.

Why did you choose the name Super Heroic?

It presents an alternative and more modern path towards excellence that’s accessible to everyone. Not everyone can be like our beloved modern heroes, our athletes and entertainers, but everyone can relate to the hero’s journey. It’s a call-to-action in a sense. A reminder that our job as parents, adults, citizens, etc. is to prepare the next generation to be the solution to the problems that they will inherit. It’s our way of using play as a unifying force to bring about change. That’s what Super Heroic truly stands for. If you can play together, you can live together and that is the world we want to help our children to create.

How did your time at Jordan influence your process for launching Super Heroic?

My time at Jordan was wonderful and transformative. They showed me how to create with intention and with rigor. While at Jordan I created a packaging solution in the form of a lunchbox with laceless Air Jordan 1s and an illustrated version of the famous Michael Jordan photo that became our logo. While this was not a program that was heavily invested in, Jordan still felt the need to allow me to express myself. So much so, they allowed me to include my eternal muse, my son, in the catalogue shoot. The sheer joy in his face gave me proof and confidence that my gifts and talents needed to be used for the betterment of all children, not just my own. That’s why I left the swoosh – I chose to follow a different path that’s hyper-focused on our little Heroes.

Jason Mayden Super Heroic Tmblr v1 Air Jordan Brand Nike sneakers Magic Johnson play empower kids Chicago LEGO Disney Allbirds Smallbirds Tim Brown

How long did you spend developing the design for the original TMBLR v1?

We worked for a about a year and a half on various aspects of the business, while simultaneously designing, developing and testing our product with “bootstrapped” resources. We did quantitative and qualitative research, and while I didn’t have a staff, I created numerous email accounts to communicate and negotiate with vendors via different personas. This allowed the people I was speaking with to believe that I had a full-staff, which of course made Super Heroic look like a real company rather than a person sitting at his kitchen table funding a business on credit cards and limited savings, all while supporting my father through his cancer treatments. It was not an easy road and it was not the ideal time for me to start the company according to what the world would say, but I felt the urgency to build something that would make my father proud and help to serve the most precious asset we have, our children. I’m thankful for that experience. I recruited one of my best friends, Harshal Sisodia, to join as co-founder, and provided an opportunity for my father to use his vast experience in operations, supply chain and manufacturing. Those two people, in addition to my wife and children, made the long road that I traveled easier and more fulfilling.

How did Magic Johnson end up investing in the brand?

Ryan Smith, who leads investment for Magic, and I met at the home of Ben Horowitz, co-founder of the Silicon Valley VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, and instantly hit it off. We shared stories of growing up in Chicago on the Southside, and our desire to want to improve the lives of others. Coincidentally, several months later I was set to receive a service award and give the keynote speech at the OneGoal gala in Chicago, which works to ensure every young person in the U.S. will have an opportunity to earn a college degree. Magic was present and very supportive of my mission and desire to improve the lives of our youth. While traveling back to Los Angeles, Magic mentioned to Ryan that he felt that I should one day have my own company and a year later, in the summer of 2016, Super Heroic was born. We were blessed to have people and firms such as Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and UP2398, John Maeda and Accel Partners believe and invest in us early on. This led us to launching and gaining attention from Playground Ventures, which is like Innovation Kitchen meets a venture capital firm.

You say you want Super Heroic to empower kids. How do you think shoes can empower children?

It’s not about the shoes, it’s about the transformation that occurs from the entire experience. The packaging, the cape, the overall tone of voice is designed to promote a certain way of thinking that we’ve discovered through our research and is being spearheaded by Mathias Crawford, who will defend his dissertation on play at Stanford in 2018. We believe that teaching children how to overcome obstacles, enhance creativity, develop persistence, grit and selflessness through play will allow us to build stronger children, rather than fixing broken adults. It’s been years in the making. We went from sports performance, to health and wellness, to quantified self via sensors and biometric data, to mindfulness, to what we believe is next, which is play. It’s the most innate and shareable experience that brings us back to the essence of who we all are. Play gives us a chance to feel invincible, if only for a moment.

Jason Mayden Super Heroic Tmblr v1 Air Jordan Brand Nike sneakers Magic Johnson play empower kids Chicago LEGO Disney Allbirds Smallbirds Tim Brown

What other sort of styles do you want to develop for Super Heroic in the future? Do you plan to launch more apparel and accessories?

As you can imagine, being uniquely positioned in the Silicon Valley, we have a lot planned for the expansion of our experience. We are very excited to reveal what’s next through 2018 and beyond. We are just getting started.

What are some of the biggest trends you see at the moment in the sneaker market in general?

I see a push towards new business models via independent brands with loyal, committed followers. I see the emergence of the “super-serve” generation – meaning, consumers don’t buy products, they buy lifestyles. The old model of selling one pair of shoes, to one million unique individuals to get one million units sold, is coming to an end. You can mathematically get to a very similar outcome buy building a lifestyle, where you offer ten diversified things to a base of 100,000 loyal individuals. The best example of this is what you see happening with Jerry Lorenzo and Fear Of God. How he release his product, how he uses personal narratives and inclusive design lines have delivered handsome results for him and his curated audience. They are buying a piece of Jerry’s life that he has willingly opened and shared without fear of ridicule. It’s a beautiful testament to the fact that people want to buy from people who they can actually get to know and believe in rather than amorphous, non-tangible personas.

What are some other kids’ brands or products you’re loving at the moment?

I love what I am seeing with LEGO, Disney and Pixar. It’s a great time for grown kids like myself. We get to immerse ourselves in new ways to tell stories and create worlds. Also, shoutout to the Allbirds/Smallbirds crew. Tim Brown and his team are really owning the “comfort” and “material science” lane for families. It’s great to see a good friend and fellow designer and founder doing something in the world that actually has a benefit, meaning and purpose.

Where do you want Super Heroic to be in five years?

Globally scaled with diversified wins in multiple categories and business verticals. If we do our jobs, we will see a world where families will be able to play, create memories and enjoy moments that are unique and distinct. We want to help to create everyone’s favorite memories of play through our products, services and experiences.

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