Air Monarchs and Ministry: How Faith and Work Created Nike’s Surprise Hit Shoe

The Dad Shoe. It’s become the hilarious unofficial moniker for the Air Monarch, which is Nike’s second most profitable shoe. Kids laugh at the design as it lacks the typical pizzazz of a shoe like Air Jordan’s or the cool simplicity of a pair Chuck Taylor’s. They are comfortable, possess some aerodynamics in their design and they are wildly more comfortable than anything else in its price range. The combination of utility and affordability is precisely what dads are drawn to and why they gravitate to them instead of the flashier, more expensive shoes. It’s the comfortability that famously makes Pete Carroll wear them as he coaches the Seattle Seahawks.

Pete Carroll’s fatherhood status isn’t what makes the “Dad Shoe” appealing for him.  But Carroll is a football coach and, surprisingly, that’s actually who the shoe was originally designed for.  Well, not the coaches that make millions of dollars coaching professionals of course. But as the shoe’s designer, Jayson Mayden, observed his father’s friends coaching football in inner city Chicago he noticed that good, comfortable, and affordable shoes were hard to come by for these hardworking blue collar men that wanted to improve young men’s lives.

He noticed that these men worked long hours and then sacrificed their remaining, most productive hours of the day to teach kids the sport of football and all of the intangible lessons the sport could teach them that they couldn’t learn in their single parent homes or in school. Lessons like leadership, discipline, accountability – they could learn these lessons on the football field. This also meant that since these men often went from work straight to the field, they were also sacrificing their health as they lacked time to grab a healthy meal and do exercise. So comfortable shoes were important for these men as they walk around the field during practices and games. They were also typically expensive so they would forgo them and get cheaper shoes which only made matters worse as it negatively effected their knees and backs.

So while being inspired by these men and their sacrifice, Jayson wanted to minister to these men in a tangible way. Yes. Minister. “I always tell people that design is my ministry,” said the Stanford alum and Fellow. “I take inspiration from the Greatest Designer and it’s not Marc Jacobs and Givenchy. It’s God Himself.”

So while he worked at Nike and Brand Jordan as a designer, he put his ministry in motion and designed a shoe that was something Nike hadn’t quite figured out how to do – comfortable and affordable. It was through his desire to minister to hardworking dads in Middle America, he designed the Air Monarch. The kinds of shoes available at an affordable price didn’t offer the kind of support these men needed for their knees and back. They worked long hours and didn’t have the time to get a work out in nor did they have the time to stop and grab a healthy meal. Add that with the stresses that come with raising a family in the inner city and the men who gave of themselves to teach, encourage and inspire the boys in the neighborhood were not in great physical shape. Cheap shoes typically meant, for men that were a little overweight, poor support for their feet which led to bad backs and bad knees from the impact of walking up and down the sidelines all evening. “I always admired my dad’s friends for the way the gave of themselves,” said Jayson. So, he designed the Air Monarch so that the men coaching boys and young men in his Chicago neighborhood could continue to sacrifice their time and energy for the kids in the city without having to sacrifice their bank accounts,  knees and back in the process.

The Dad Shoe. Some laugh at them since they aren’t as stylish as a pair of Jordan’s but they serve a purpose and specifically they were designed to serve people. Remember when you see that dad or football coach or landscaper, that the shoe they are wearing was an act of service to them and ultimately to the Lord. Jayson found a way to minister to the people he grew up admiring in a way that would serve them well. He, in its purest form, gave a living example of the quote famously attributed to Martin Luther about the duty of a Christian shoemaker: “Make a good shoe, sell it at a fair price.”

May our ministries be similar to the ministry of the Dad Shoe: not overly desirous of attention but faithful to the people God has us to serve and long-lasting in its impact. Long live the Air Monarch.

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