Legendary Nike Designer Tinker Hatfield Gave Away the Shoes on His Feet at SXSW

Teasing a new sneaker was 'marketing at a very high level'

Hatfield talked about his career, including meeting Michael Jordan, during a panel discussion. Getty Images
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

Tinker Hatfield, the legendary designer known for Nike’s Air Max and Air Jordans, got South by Southwest festivalgoers to wave their Nikes in the air and clamor for his attention on Sunday afternoon.

Hatfield had taken off his sneakers and was promising to give them to an attendee. Along with perfectly showcasing the love for the Nike brand he has helped drive, Hatfield was debuting a new pair of Nike’s that have yet to be announced.

“That is marketing at a very high level,” Hatfield joked, telling attendees he couldn’t say much about the new sneakers but that they would be available late this summer or early fall. “I thought I was going to get tackled out there for the sneakers.”

During his panel discussion with former Wired EIC Scott Dadich and current CEO of Godfrey Dadich Partners, Hatfield talked about his career, including meeting Michael Jordan.

“In the end, it’s really about storytelling,” Hatfield said. “Is the product working for you? Does it help tell your story? … We’re trying really hard to be in the storytelling business and in the enabling business. [We want to] help people perform well in activities, enjoy their lives better.”

After winning a chance in-house design contest, Hatfield was named a designer at Nike where he had previously been the company’s corporate architect.

“I was very nearly fired for not following marketing briefs,” said Hatfield, who noted that to create the Air Max, he took a trip to Paris where he was inspired by the architecture of the Georges Pompidou center, which ultimately informed the shoe design. “It’s worth fighting for good ideas, even if you’ll potentially be fired.”

Hatfield added, “When I sit down to design something, it’s a culmination of everything I’ve seen and done in my life to that point. Insight gives you the confidence to take those risks and buck the system to do something different.”

Hatfield also revealed that prior to creating the Air Jordan 3, Jordan had considered leaving Nike. Within 15 minutes of his pitch, however, “[Jordan] started smiling and before long, he was in a much different state of mind,” Hatfield said, adding, “Phil Knight thinks I saved Nike that day because [Jordan’s] so important for our brand and for basketball.”

When Hatfield pressed Jordan on it, Jordan explained his father had told him not to disrespect his family and to stay with Nike. “I said, ‘Maybe we keep this one under wraps,” Hatfield said.

@KristinaMonllos kristina.monllos@adweek.com Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.