For this month’s issue of Shining the Spotlight, We sat down with Kaito Choy as he shared the design process of the NW1, the first signature performance shoe of a YouTuber.

“footwear design is actually not my full-time job”

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Chicago, Kaito Choy lives two lives as a designer. An industrial designer by day and the footwear designer and the Special Project Lead at WAU (We Are Underdogs) at night. At WAU, Kaito had already designed two signature shoes, the Comma and the Apostrophe, and he was then given the responsibility of designing the NW1, the signature shoe of Chris Chase aka Nightwing2303.

WAU has been producing traditional lifestyle shoes for over 20 years, however it was the first time for the brand and Kaito Choy to be designing and producing a performance shoe. “Lifestyle, you just need it to look good, the shape to look right” Choy explains, “But for performance, we got to make sure we have the proper amount of foam, proper amount of traction and grip to be used for the sport”. So, they relied on the extensive knowledge Chris Chase built up throughout his years of reviewing performance shoes. The learning came from talking to Chris and watching his videos to study features and the types of grips that he liked. 

As a signature shoe, the NW1 had to be designed to complement Chris Chase. Studying his playstyle and his jumpshot allowed Kaito Choy to shape the NW1 around Chris Chase’s game. “He loves the lowtop”, Choy explains, “just because of the amount of mobility that he has and the amount of speed that he plays in”. So, keeping a lowtop with agility in mind was a big part moving forward.

“telling his story is like me narrating what I know about him”

The story telling on the NW1 was also vital. As shown in the Comma and the Apostrophe, Kaito Choy likes to tell stories through the design of his sneakers. As a long time follower of Chris Chase, Kaito Choy took on the challenge of telling Chris Chase’s story, “telling his story is like me narrating what I know about him”. Kaito Choy explains, “him being big into comics, like the whole thing drives the vibe of the shoe”, the blue and black signature colourway is inspired by Chris Chase’s favourite character Nightwing and the spider web-like outsole pattern, the “webbingbone” is inspired by the Marvel villain Venom. 

“comic-inspired, loud and aggressive”

The outsole was a big part of the design process of the NW1. The aggressive outrigger “drove a lot of the language of the shoe”, Kaito Choy explains. Earlier sketches of the outrigger were heavily “comic-inspired, loud and aggressive”. Later, the design of the outrigger was simplified to take the form that would resemble the Nightwing logo. Another big design feature was the eyestay, the portion covering the eyelids was also inspired by the Nightwing logo. The aggressive traction combined with the signature symbol, “dictated the flow of the shoe”.

“balancing the simplicity of it….. balancing lifestyle and performance”

As the signature athlete, Chris Chase was also heavily involved during the design process with Kaito Choy.  “Chris is amazing to work with, he is very knowledgeable”, Kaito Choy compliments, “he also has a good understanding on business, on how to sell shoes properly and how much investment he is working with, with a design”. The design process would involve a lot of back and forth of sharing ideas and going through different samples. “I have all these concepts where I would share with him and he would go out and pick out what he likes”, Kaito Choy adds. Chris Chase wanted the NW1 to perform on the court but also look good off the court. The solution came from WAU’s roots as a lifestyle sneaker brand, the premium traditional materials that are used on their lifestyle sneakers. The first iterations had a lot of material panels making the shoe bulky, later on the materials were simplified. “Balancing the simplicity of it, with the outsole and balancing the lifestyle and performance was how we were going about through the whole design process”, explains Kaito Choy. In the end, Kaito Choy was able to design what Chris Chase wanted, a retro type of sneaker, with lifestyle aesthetics.

Overall the whole design process was less face to face and more of a virtual process. With Kaito Choy located in the middle of the states, Chris Chase living in the Bay Area and the shoe factory located in Portugal, Kaito Choy’s experience from his day job has helped him through the process. “Since my full-time work is pretty global, I work with a lot of counterparts and partners out in Italy, so to be able to communicate with Portugal where the shoes are made has been very helpful” Kaito says, “a good online exchange and communication is the key for this NW1 project”.

In the time of writing, all three colourways of the NW1 have been sold out. A humble success for a brand that has never produced a performance sneaker before. However, the job isn’t finished for Kaito Choy and WAU, they are still in the midst of developing the rest of the sizes. “So I can’t consider it as a success until everyone has one in their hands and they love it”. Kaito explains, “Selling it is one thing, delivering it and having it in peoples hands is a whole different game”.

It is always admirable when a small brand enters a market that is dominated by multinational corporations. They always bring something special, an element that can’t be bought from the large companies, and that element for WAU is quality and craftsmanship. WAU brings back the traditional materials back to style on performance shoes with quality. That combined with the talented design team of Kaito Choy and others, the brand manages to bring a special sneaker to the market. With the release of the NW1 becoming the cornerstone of their journey into performance footwear, we’ve got another brand to look out for in the performance footwear scene.

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