Interview W/A Tastemaker: Jason T. Grisby
1. Describe your role at Adidas? What was the path to your current position?
A: My title is the Global Product Manager for Men’s Apparel in adidas Originals. I work with Design & Development to ideate, create and manage the Men’s Apparel offer each season. When most people ask though, I typically just like to say, “I make clothes.” - it’s more approachable [laughs].
I started off at the AdidasUS Headquarters in Portland in 2011. I worked in US Team Sports in my first position where I pretty much tried to have my hand in whatever I could. That could mean anything from making PowerPoint presentations and cleaning the sample cages to manning our showroom at the NFL Combine. I took on a role as Project Manager within our Sport Performance division shortly after. It was a great experience working under the VP at the time. It gave me a real unique perspective on the company working under a high-level executive at like 22 or 23 years of age. About a year and a half later, I joined the adidas Originals team working in the Key Accounts division within Foot Locker Inc. and that sort of kicked off the next chapter of my career within the company. The rest is pretty much history. I now live in Europe and work at the adidas Global Headquarters in Germany.
2. What sorts of things do you recall being good at as a child?
A: Basketball was definitely my thing. I’d say I figured it all out in the summer after 4th grade going into 5th grade. I had the opportunity to play AAU for the first time and really got a sense of where I fit within the game. Outside of basketball, sketching was my favorite outlet. I loved the creative process and really gravitated towards all things inventive. I watched Mega Movie Magic on Discovery channel a lot, I loved cartoons and anything to do with animation and I was a huge fan of the Apple iMac because aesthetically I thought it was the best thing in life that I had ever seen. When I was in elementary school, I would always draw on anything with a surface whether it was a notebook, a folder, homework, book cover or whatever. Cartoons were always appealing to me because there were no rules on proportions, anatomy, color and also no literalness in regards to how they interacted with reality. Wile E. Coyote could fall off a cliff in one scene and a scene later be devising some sure-to-fail scheme to catch The Road Runner by way of TNT or an ACME anvil. With animation and art in general, I just liked that whatever you had in your imagination, you could put to a piece of paper and create it.
3. At what point did you decide to shift your focus from basketball to business?
A: It was interesting, because I think landing in the sports industry was always something that made the most sense for me as a career path growing up, I just didn’t do the math until probably my senior year in high school. I had a few offers from mid-major D1 and a few D2/D3 universities, but at that point I knew I wanted to go to either the University of Oregon or the University of Texas at Austin. They both had two of the best Sports Business programs in the country. I didn’t have scholarship offers to either school unfortunately, so I knew if I made the decision to bypass scholarship offers, I REALLY, REALLY had to grind in school and network my way into the industry. Fortunately, I think it’s all worked out so far.
4. What product are you most proud to have had a hand in?
A: I’d say some of the footwear and apparel that our Key Accounts team created alongside the Product Creation and Design teams for the Spring/Summer 2015 Foot Locker Inc. offer. It wasn’t so much what we created as much as it was the experience for me personally getting to have a creative input on product for the first time. To see some of my ideas come to life on CAD (computer-aided-design, the conceptual rendering or artwork of the product), then see them as physical samples and ultimately as a product in-store was full circle. When you see people wearing product you had a hand in creating in real life or on social media for the first time, it’s a really cool feeling.
5. What piece of advice or criticism has affected you the most on your journey?
A: When I played basketball my dad used to always tell me to just let my game speak for itself. If you’re good enough at anything, more often than not people will do the talking for you. It’s not to say you shouldn’t promote your work or let people know when you got the juice, because that’s definitely necessary at times and every once in awhile you gotta turn up, but I think his advice of putting your head down and just letting your output speak for itself is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
6. Who are some of the people you feel blessed to work with in your career?
A: I’ve been blessed and inspired on a couple of different levels. When I was 19, I met a guy by the name of Jason Mayden who worked in Design at Brand Jordan at the time. He was really one of the first people in the industry to extend himself to me and give me the game at a young age. He works in Silicon Valley now and we met recently over the holiday break. My mind was actually blown when we spoke because I asked him to remind me how old he was and I realized after our meeting that he was younger than I am now when we first met 8 years ago. He’s accomplished more at a young age than some people accomplish in their careers. It’s a huge blessing and inspiration to have him as a friend and mentor.
In my day-to-day at adidas, I also work with some extremely creative and influential people. I’ve met some of the most talented people in the industry that I can call personal friends and it’s amazing to see some of the impact they’ve had on the culture - especially recently.
My peers are a huge influence as well. While at the University of Oregon, I met one of my best friends, Steve Strand (ironically enough the same day I met Jason Mayden). Steve and I clicked from the second we first spoke and it was all vibes from there. We competitively inspired each other through our college careers whether it was within the business school, outside internships or just brainstorming and having conversations.
My closest friends from back home as well as in Portland inspire me also - Jesse, Elijah, Landry, Larry, Tim, Brandon, Thomas, Nick, Jeff. Growing up in the Bay Area and being surrounded by kids from Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Leandro, Richmond gave us this unique culture and upbringing. We grew up in the most diverse place in the United States and you feel that when you interact with someone who’s from where we’re from. We can relate to anyone, from any background, ethnicity or social class. There are kids from Oakland and Berkeley that I grew up with or around that are some of the best selling artists on iTunes, Billboard chart topping music producers, NBA All-Stars, authors, doctors, photographers, community activists and most of them aren’t even 30 yet. It humbles you to know and know of these kids and it keeps you motivated to pursue your own path as well. I don’t think there’s a more talented and creative youth community in the world than the one you’ll find in the Bay Area.
7. What motivates you to excel in your field?
A: Inspiration. I attended private school my whole life and for a large majority of that time I had to wear a uniform. Your shoes were the only thing you could wear that weren’t the same as everyone else. Footwear was really the one thing I used from a fashion perspective very early on to express myself and set myself apart. I was inspired by the basketball shoes of the early 90s - their design, the players that wore them, the designers themselves and the creative marketing campaigns behind them. I still remember seeing the adidas Crazy 8 (which was the signature shoe for Kobe Bryant at the time) in-store for the first time and picking up off the shelf. I literally just stared at it. It might sound funny, but I was mesmerized. Whenever I got a new pair of kicks and wore them to school or played in them it just gave me this feeling of being cool and a part of something bigger. The fact that a particular shoe can start as an idea in a Designer’s head, then become a product that makes a kid feel good about themselves and inspire them athletically and expressively is why I do what I do. The thought of being able to be a apart of something that can influence people and culture is what motivates me.
8. What was the toughest challenge you've faced as a young professional?
A: Patience - it’s been the toughest challenge. I think once you know what you want to do, you tend to want it as soon as possible. Being a young a professional or just starting something new in general, usually means having to prove yourself. Getting others to see you in the same light that you see yourself is the toughest challenge. Believing in who you are and your capabilities is one thing, but knowing how and having the capability to prove that to others is another story. It’s the best challenge though.
9. Which works of popular culture have influenced you the most?
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air:
A: To be honest, I could do a whole article on this question alone, ha! The shoes, the hairstyles, everything. Will was this character that was like in between the hood and the suburbs. He wasn’t hard, but he wasn’t a square either. He had to go to private school, but he had style and a presence. He was corny, but he was funny and had game at the same time. He was tall and awkward, but smooth in the same respect. I looked up to artists and athletes like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Penny Hardaway and other figures in sports and pop culture growing up, but Will was the guy that was most relatable to me and somebody I saw that I thought I could actually be like.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
Harry Potter flipped my whole perception of reading as a kid. Up until that point I remember being into books for young adults like Goosebumps and Animorphs, but I would skip pages a lot of times when I got bored or just not end up finishing the books altogether. I remember being more attracted to the book covers themselves and the art rather than the actual stories within them. HP changed the game though. The first book was something like 300 or 400 pages I think and I finished it in a few days. I realized then that it wasn’t books or reading that I didn’t like but rather certain content that just didn't engage me - thanks JK Rowling! [laughs]
The Phantom Tollbooth:
I’d say Harry Potter was the grade school equivalent to binge watching a Netflix series now and not knowing what the hell to do with your life after you finish 14 episodes in 48 hours. I had the inevitable HP Hangover and thought to myself: never in life will I read another book as great as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. I remember woefully looking for books in the library during our mandatory library class period and our librarian who also happened to be one of my best friend’s mom’s, Jeannette Le Chevallier, suggesting The Phantom Tollbooth. I thought to myself, there’s no way this can even come close to HP. I literally judged a book by its cover and I just didn’t see it - especially not from a book published in 1961! Long story short, I gave it a shot and it turned out to be a great read. It was a simple story about the power of imagination. I really related to the main character Milo in that sense and it’s still one of my favorite books to this day.
Calvin & Hobbes:
There’s Treasure Everywhere, Weirdos From Another Planet, The Days Are Just Packed - I read them all. I loved the animations within the pages and more so the ridiculousness of Calvin’s world. The fact that Hobbes was an inanimate stuffed animal is still hilarious to me, but I guess the common thread here is just another story about the power of a kid’s imagination.
Pay It Forward:
My mom asked me to watch this movie when I was younger and I remember not thinking much of it. She never forced it on me or anything, she would just say I want you to watch this when you get a chance. I didn’t know what the plot was about and at the time I just remember thinking, it has the kid from The Sixth Sense in it, alright. I ended up watching it though and it was one of the most purposeful movies I think I’ve ever seen. I can’t think of a fictional movie that I’ve watched that I felt had such a strong and applicable message to anyone of any age in any part of the world. It’s a story with a very simple, yet impactful concept and more importantly one that I still keep in mind to this day.
The College Dropout by Kanye West and Tha Carter by Lil Wayne are two of my favorite albums of all-time. I was into music young, Tupac, Snoop, The Hot Boyz, Master P, Bone Thugz N Harmony, Eminem, Lauryn Hill, Michael Jackson, Usher, Sisqo. However, they were all artists that my older cousin, Max, listened to and I would only hear at his house because my mom wouldn’t let me listen to most of those artists when I was younger.
I remember The College Dropout being the first album I ever bought with my own money. It came at a time where most of the hip-hop sounded the same and a lot of artists had the same image. Ye came through in a Ralph Lauren Polo with a Benz and a Louis Vuitton backpack and shifted the image of what it meant to be a rapper in hip hop. Tha Carter as well is one of the best rap albums of the mid-2000s in my opinion. I listened that album non-stop in high school and I can probably rap every lyric word for word. It was the project that I feel Wayne came into his own. I thought it was gritty but fun at the same time. It was mainstream but simultaneously street. He just dropped bars, track after track and he had this bravado that nobody in rap had at the time. I would debate with friends then that I didn't think anyone could out rap Wayne at that time - I actually still feel that way about that specific period in rap too [laughs].
With regard to pop culture, Kanye and Lil Wayne were definitely two of my biggest influences growing up. Both are still two of the biggest pop icons in the world to this day and it's been crazy to see how much they’ve influenced the culture even beyond music over the last decade.
10. Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
A: There’s a famous quote from Woody Allen where he says, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”.
I don’t necessarily have a vision for my future that’s specifically planned out. Life is unpredictable and to a certain extent you’re just along for the ride. For me, I always try to think big picture about where I want to be and honestly, I just want to be a part of something that positively influences others and positively influences culture. I just want the people around me to associate my name with contribution.
11. Where can we follow your journey?
I’m sure I’ll read this interview at some point in the future and get a kick out of my own answer - popular social media platforms are always humorous in hindsight. You can follow me @jsngrsby on Instagram. I invite you to kindly like all my photos, every last one of them, thank you.