Ariaprene: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Otto Stefan: Well, I grew up in Bozeman, Montana and decided to go to University of Utah in Salt Lake City, because it still had all the outdoor activities like home. I went into architecture and before my senior year, I got an email about Pensole Footwear Academy. I applied for that, got in for footwear design, and ended up going to Vegas for the FN Platform show. Then I got into the Pensole x Levi’s class for materials study, so it was amazing to expand my footwear design schooling like that. It really prepped me for my time at Hi-Tech as a designer, doing everything from POP design to packaging, strategy, market research, and of course, footwear design.
Can you tell us about this bioculture protocell shoe?
This was a shoe I made out of a SCOBY, which most people know as the “mother” for making kombucha. This was a submission for Pensole, where students were asked to design for their five-year projections for the footwear world, so we could spec and play around with materials that don’t necessarily exist yet. The idea is that the shoe responds to a person’s foot and acts essentially as an extension of your body. The shoe would be 100% biodegradable, with the potential for consumers to make, or grow their own shoe.
So where do you think footwear will be in five years?
Consumers are becoming more aware of the impact the products that they buy have. People will want to have more of a say in their design and want to make it their own, so I think the job of a designer is going to change with technology and this customization. With that shift for designers, I think it’s going to be materials leading what the new innovations are in footwear and product.
Can you tell us about the Taco Bell shoe?
This shoe was based off of 90’s Taco Bell interior decor. Their slogan was “Make a run for the border,” and this idea came directly from internet research and the gems found there. I love Taco Bell, and I also loved that aesthetic, and it was a fun little side project for me to do.
Is that part of the reason why footwear drew you from architecture? That fun vs serious element of it?
A hundred percent. That was a big reason. I love the design element of architecture, but there’s a larger disconnect between architects and the normal layperson who’ll actually be living or working in the designed space. But with footwear design, you are designing directly for those who are also passionate about footwear. You have the opportunity to make choices and tailor a design specifically for that person, and you get to have way more fun with it.
Do you have any side hustles or passion projects going on right now?
Yes! My friend Adrian and I had always joked around about starting a restaurant that only served oatmeal, but when I went back to SLC for Winter OR, we decided to go for it and start a backpacking oatmeal brand called Adventure Oats. We’d always be outside backpacking, kayaking, rafting, etc, and bring oatmeal, but would just be starving 30 minutes later. There was too much prep and way too much sugar, without any sustaining nutrition. We are in the process of getting certifications for our quality ingredients and eco-friendly materials for packaging, and we’ve gotten really positive feedback. Learning about the back end of materials sourcing and the environmental impact, it’s always going to be priority.
Otto and Adrian’s Adventure Oats Kickstarter goes until the end of August 2017! Check out his site at OttoStefan.com, and say hello to him on Instagram. To kickstart your own design education and learn from the best, check out Pensole Footwear Design Academy.
Photos by Euri Park for Matmarket, LLC