Kanye West, LeBron James, and Carson Daly have donned his stylish shoes. Even Goldy Gopher has flashed his footwear. But today Carlson School alum Chris Hui, an accomplished custom-sneaker designer, has found a new fit for his sneaker obsession at adidas in Portland, Ore. where every workday is sneaker nirvana for the 2012 BSB graduate.
At adidas headquarters, when he's not playing sports or challenging visiting NBA players in three-point competitions (just some of the perks of working at adidas), Hui is responsible for the end-to-end sample management.
Hui manages the ordering, inventory, and merchandising of the thousands of footwear, apparel, and accessory samples adidas utilizes each season. It's a big job considering samples are the key selling tool for entire sportswear industry, but as Hui says, "I've been a 'sneakerhead' my entire life, so it's hard to call what I do work."
Steps to 'sneakerhead' status
Hui's affinity for sneakers started in Milwaukee as a sixth grader. He and his friends would spray paint their old tennis shoes in crazy colors, but the spray paint came off too easily. Inspired to find a more suitable method, Hui continued to test new methods. Eventually he found a good formula and felt confident enough to start selling shoes through eBay under his company name, C2 Customs, which specialized in the sales of hand-painted, custom sneakers.
"I was one of a few artists creating designs aimed towards sneaker enthusiasts and sports heritage," says Hui.
Along with selling custom sneakers to the stars, Hui also did partner projects with major brands such as Nike, Apple, and NBC. "To be so young and work with such high-profile clients was stressful, but the excitement and thrill of the end result was always worth the effort," he says.
Hui continued C2 Customs while studying marketing at the Carlson School. (Watch Hui in action designing Goldy Gopher's sneakers.)
Getting tied in with adidas
It was Hui's custom shoe design experience showcased on his LinkedIn profile that first caught the attention of an adidas recruiter who contacted Hui. "Obviously, I was excited," says Hui of the unexpected email from adidas.
At the time the company was looking to fill a full-time position and Hui still had a year of college left. Bound and determined, he kept in contact with the recruiter over the next year, eventually landing an internship in adidas' Brand Marketing after he graduated.
"When I received my internship offer, I distinctly remember the HR representative stating that interns should not anticipate full-time employment as the company simply did not offer entry-level positions," recalls Hui. "Even so, it was not a difficult decision. I was going to adidas, and I was going to make it obvious that it would be a mistake to let me go."
Just 10 weeks into his internship, Hui had a full-time offer.
He was even able to negotiate to keep his custom-sneakers business going, with the caveat that he only design on and publicly share adidas-based products.
"I love my job," he says. "adidas has been great; I get to wear sneakers to work, mingle with sports stars, and see the next latest-and-greatest adidas product before it's publicly launched. I am surrounded by it all. It's awesome!"
With more than 10 years of being engrained in sneaker culture, it's no surprise that Hui says he'd like to stay in the sneaker industry for a long time, adding that he'd like to eventually find himself in a role that allows him to combine his design skills with his business mindset.
Although he's already amassed quite a star following, Hui knows he's only just begun and is keeping his future options open. "I feel I am too early in my career to really know where I am heading," he says. "All I try to do is make the most of my work each day and assume that good things will continue to follow."