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My mother had her first two sons at the same time her mother had three more sons. This strange uncle nephew combination created a bond brothers that was relentless.

I showed up 20 years later.

The Discovery

When I was 17 I was making a sandwich in the kitchen. My mother and my brother were talking about something. Pretty sure I had the jelly and peanut butter out while I was preparing to place my bread on my plate.

All of that is assumed because I really only remember the next part.

“Why are you throwing that away?!” my mother asked with a quizzed looked on her face. My mother was a 30-year public school teacher. She knew how to ask questions that made you question why you existed before you answered. …

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I recently received a thoughtful question from a creative in Germany. He wanted to know if my work was driven by a manifesto of sorts.

I cringe at words like manifesto and ethos because I didn’t score well on my SATs.

That’s more about me than the question.

What’s important to know is that my life is a lot like Coehlo’s Santiago. I went on a journey to find something and I found it. The treasure was always there but I kept going in 50–11 directions seemingly without purpose.

Lucky for me, I told people what I was looking for and left a trail behind me. …

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Foe the last 7 years I’ve been on both sides of the cost of shipping. The conversations have increased with Amazon, COVID-19 and holiday surge pricing.

Customer is Always Right

The little squares on my phone are associated with numbers. Your first thought is to choose the smallest number with respect to what you, the customer, wants to pay. At times you may choose the larger number if you need the purchase to be delivered sooner that later. But you inherently might want to pay less because those are the only variables you are considering.

The last five decades of our shopping experience — including our first two decades of shopping online — have been dominated by big brands and not local shop owners. Customers rarely interact with an actual store/restaurant owner. If there is a face-to-face interaction with an employee, you typically don’t have access to decision makers without a request. …

Left-handed Empathy

My older brother uses his left hand so often that I grew up thinking he was left-handed. My mother explained that he forced himself to use his left hand in junior high school after he’d broken his arm before a big test. He had to either wait until his arm healed to take the written test or take it with his left hand. If he waited he would have to retain the information fir six weeks or relearn it.

My brother is beyond stubborn so he became left-handed in a week.

For the next 45 years and counting he would complain about every decision on earth that assumed every human being was right-handed. TV controls, game controllers, cars, watches, paperwork — right-hand focused. …

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In January of 2020 I finished a 2-day trip to Beijing. Our team was asked to work on iconic product for Xtep, a growing Chinese brand. The recently signed Jeremy Lin needed his first signature shoe.

My jetlag crash was shortened by phone calls of concern. COVID-19 news started the day I landed at JFK and the world began to close. From that day forward 2020 would be a rollercoaster of health, safety, work, school and productivity ambiguity. We planned to head back to China a few times to develop product.

Not so much.

Fast forward 10 months later and our always eventful project launched in China and the US. At some point our team will breakdown every step of the fun, but for now I’ll offer the product we created, content we created and all of the details in between. …

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Opportunities to build experience in the workplace are not easy to come by. Whenever the playing field levels through technology or culture, the gatekeepers tend to find a way to default to those that they’ve always trusted.

This constant uphill path experience keeps Black and Brown talent out of contention for the roles that most people don’t consider. Say what you will about Tyler Perry’s work, but the workers behind the scenes are getting the chance to develop their skills and earn a living at the same time.

Jon Lopez saw that dismal representation of folks of color behind the scenes when he found his way onto NBA sidelines. The level of talent is as undeniable as the level of diversity is unquestionable. The number hurdles that Black & Brown creatives must clear to find themselves next Jon is difficult to fathom, but he understood that his rise started with opportunities to handle real equipment in real situations. …

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Kwabena Brenya in XTEP, Photographer: Jon Lopez

Opportunities for Black & Brown People to Tell Stories Involving Black & Brown People

About a year ago I was invited to a meeting with the owners at an influential magazine. The conversation revolved around my creative team and how we might be of help with work behind the scenes.

As always the vibe was super respectful and informational. But I knew the connection was off from the jump. For starters, I’m ‘old’ by most industry standards so I know that throws folks off. But our squad ranges to 21 and up so I’m well versed in the youth environment so my Dad jokes are intentional — ”yes, I watch the TikTak”.

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I honestly don’t remember seeing my first design making it to retail. I don’t know the feeling of that initial excitement of watching the idea you birthed come to life for the first time. I assume that the actual process must be gut wrenching and profound the very first time you go through it.

I assume.

The product creation process in footwear is about 18 months. My first job in Nike was doing blueprints for soles. I was already 6 months into my second job doing Kids design when one of those blueprint shoes got to retail.

I assume.

In the drafting department you had to put your head down and crunch out a new project every week. You didn’t get a lot of time to pay attention to the full design or how the shoe was progressing. At that point in my career I didn’t know what a distribution strategy was so I had no clue where to find the shoe that I’d worked on- assuming it landed in the real world. …

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Jordyn Alyse Holman

Building a Business on Colors

In 2018 we designed a simple shoe in order to have complex conversations. The carbon fiber plate, molded sockliner, industrial laces, seamless tongue and textured lining for $99 are insider details that industry insiders appreciate. Without a grandiose marketing plan or influencer support we understood that we weren’t going to attract a large audience.

We were focused on universal comfort, customer support, supply chain mechanics and the overall interest to keep going. That last part may sound surprising but there was no guarantee that we’d be willing to continue with NinetyNine Products even if we were successful.

So we treated this brand like the side project it was intended to be. We entertained being more over the last year, but we maintained a focus that didn’t appeal to most investors. …

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Jon Lopez, do I have to credit you for this screenshot every time?

For the Record, Not My Idea

“You’re our boss!” was my greeting after a two month absence from a project I was only assisting on. Lauren was the material designer that I’d offered advice to but I was nobody’s “boss”. I was just the old guy in the room.

Turns out that I’d been offering advice to more than a few folks on these random projects I was undertaking — each with the commonality of being home to young talent that wasn’t ready to go ‘corporate’ or didn’t have the ‘experience’ to land a corporate position.

As you can imagine, a number of folks who fit that description looked like me. …


Jeffrey Alan Henderson

Founder of And Them Creative Consultancy — Trying to focus on design, education, inclusion and family. I said trying.

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