By Sharon Semanie
PORTLAND, Ore. — As a student at Lehman Catholic High School from 1999 to 2002, Thomas Hartings was notorious for sketching shoes in notebooks. His renderings left an impression on both teachers and classmates who, over the years, have watched the son of Robert and Lois Hartings evolve into “sole” man extraordinaire.
Today, the former Piqua resident serves as senior footwear designer for the adidas US Team Sports division in Portland, Ore.
“As a designer, my job stretches through a lot of different roles,” explained Hartings, who joined adidas in July 2006 following graduation from The Ohio State University. “At its core, I’m responsible for concept sketching which is really not that far off from what I used to do in my art classes at Lehman” and jokingly adds “ … although most of the teachers at that time would tell you that I didn’t always leave my shoe sketching for art class. My science, math and French notebooks all had a variety of my early work scattered around their pages.”
The footwear aficionado has “tongues” wagging on the West Coast with his most recent design. In celebration of this year’s Veteran’s Day series of cleats, Hartings and the adidas team reached out to the military branches for motivation. In an effort to support U.S. troops, it was decided to honor Pat Tillman’s legacy with the Army Rangers.
Tillman played college football at Arizona State University and later went on to play professionally with the Arizona Cardinals. The September 11, 2001 attacks so moved Tillman that he left his NFL career, joined the military with his brother in 2002 and heroically served as an Army Ranger in the 75th Regiment until his untimely death in 2004 in Afghanistan.
Arizona State recently partnered with adidas and debuted a special edition of Dark Ops cleats when ASU squared off against the Oregon Ducks football team. In an effort to “bring attention to (Tillman’s) squad, adidas used specific pantone colors in the design of the new Arizona football cleats. In addition to green, tan and black hues found in U.S. Army uniforms, the cleats also feature a camouflage sockliner “highlighted by an adidas football logo stitched in gold, drafting off of the embroidery execution of the US flag patch found on the Rangers’ uniforms.”
“The idea was ‘Everything gets upgraded,” noted Hartings, the cleat’s designer. “The same way the military needs the highest grade for their gear, we wanted to provide that with our footwear.”
Hartings indicated “a lot of time was spent at military surplus stores and looking at the gear that these (military) guys are wearing. In the past, we’ve used different camos so we had that tie to it, but here, we wanted to get even more authentic in terms of the materials we were using.”
With a focus on lightweight cleats, the adidas team utilized ballistic mesh through the quarter and collar of the adiZero model. “It’s a different look for a football cleat, and typically is only seen in other shoes or categories.”
A PT-42 badge (commemorating Tillman) is emblazoned on the tongue of Arizona’s cleats and serve as “a point of pride for them to be able to represent someone that was so important to the university and to our country,” added Hartings. “Our other schools will have this pretty bad-ass skull badge,” he smiled. “We can’t use the official markings of these units, of course, but we wanted to create badging that was inspired by what each of the forces are most known for.”
“Even though I’m the senior footwear designer for the US Football category,” suggested Hartings, “every design that I work on is a team effort. We typically work in groups of three team leaders per project — a designer, developer and marketer. Although a senior football designer, Hartings is technically the senior footwear designer of US Team Sports at adidas.
Early in his career, he served as an entry level designer working in the basketball category.
“Basketball was always my biggest passion as an athlete so I felt very connected to the product I was working on. During that time I went from zero experience and learning the ropes to designing a signature product for Dwight Howard and handling some of our higher profile team basketball shoes. It was a great category to be a part of and I never minded the opportunity I had to wear test products either (luckily I’m a size 13 shoe and that is what we do most of our athlete testing with). It also helps that we have a gym on site and a consistent crew of guys that play three or four times a week, many of whom played Division I basketball.
As he progressed through basketball, Hartings realized that as much as he loved the sport, he needed a new challenge as a designer “that took me out of that comfort zone.” Fortunately an opportunity in both football and baseball evolved early on enabling Hartings to manage most of the cleat design work for both sports. His ability to handle extra workloads, manage and design earned him a promotion to senior designer.
“The Dark Ops (Tillman) collection was definitely one of the more exciting projects that I’ve got to work on in my time at adidas,” added Hartings. Altogether it takes anywhere from 14 to 18 months from design to production. He noted, “If anyone is interested in Piqua or elsewhere, all the cleats from that ASU debut are available on adidas.com or eastbay.com.”
From the conceptual phase, there are countless presentations, renderings, and processes in making cleats not to mention several trips to the adidas factory in Fuzhou, China in January and late April/early spring.
“It’s a long process and a lot of work,” added Hartings “but it’s extremely rewarding and so much fun that my family sometimes doesn’t even let me call it ‘work.’ I just have to say my job … and honestly they are right.”
So engrossed is Hartings that he designed shoes for he and his bride, the former Adrienne Payawal on their wedding day and, most recently, a pair for the couple’s 1-year-old daughter Isabelle.