The Charlie Baker Sneaker by semifold
2009–2010

Journey: Guangzhou, China — Port of Los Angeles — Salt Lake City, UT — Chicago, IL — Customer!

Favorite Customer Story: Purchased by a father for his son, who must wear orthopedic ankle braces at all times. The Charlie Baker, whose backwards design is compatible with the braces, is the first stylish shoe he has owned.

Favorite Quote From a Manufacturer: “It is maybe, not so beautiful, but very creative. Innovative!”

The Charlie Baker Sneaker was the flagship product of semifold, my movement-inspired apparel company. Its design embodies the mission of the company: to introduce new experiences, both visual and physical. The target of the Charlie Baker was simply to create a backward shoe. Many product samples flew between Guangzhou, China and Salt Lake City, Utah as we refined the design to balance conceptual purity with practicality. Throughout the design process, we found opportunities for subtle details, like the eyelets’ placement on the outside of the shoe body instead of the inside, that rewarded curiosity and encouraged a closer look. The shoe’s playful design is understandable by almost everyone, but the details, like the name’s play on the classic “Chuck Taylor” moniker, reward sharp-eyed shoe connoisseurs. Like all good art, this shoe is satisfying to different people for different reasons. In other words, you will never need to search for the explanatory white card on the gallery wall to understand this piece.

The Process

When the idea for a backward shoe was first conceived, I thought it would be a fun novelty item. Then the first samples arrived to my mailbox in Salt Lake City and I took them outside to try them on. As I sat on the steps of the UPS store, I heard someone yelling in Polish from the parking lot. The yelling got closer and I looked up to see an elderly woman, dressed in a huge blue coat, with a patterned scarf tied under her chin, approaching. She was gesticulating and when she arrived at the sidewalk I finally understood her motions. In so many Polish words, “Those shoes are backward and it’s awesome.” It was then that I realized these shoes could resonate with people I had never imagined connecting with, and I set to work building a business to share them.

What it Means to Me

The Charlie Baker Sneaker was my first attempt at providing new movement experiences through accessible everyday objects. By rotating the shoelaces 180 degrees, to the back of the shoe, a new shoe tying experience was born. Every time I watch someone put on the shoe for the first time I get to see different approaches, different improvisations in a new situation. Some people assume a traditional shoe-tying pose, by taking a knee or putting their foot on a stair, and reach behind their foot to tie the laces by feel. Others rotate their leg while standing or sit in a chair and reach down at an angle to tie the laces while looking at them. To me, each of these variations is a beautiful, small dance experience.

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