“Running is more than a sport. It’s an act of freedom,” so say Nike. For the SS18 Nike Free Rn campaign, the brand teamed up with a crew of artists to explore what freedom feels and looks like. Top of the list is Kelly Anna, a London-based illustrator whose career we have been championing since we encountered her boldly brilliant work early last year, even inviting her to talk at Nicer Tuesdays.
We caught up with Kelly Anna to chat about how she went about bringing her signature style to the Nike Free Run.
Your career has skyrocketed since we first wrote about your work. Tell us some of what you’ve been up to.
It’s been a little surreal. I have worked with some of my favourite brands and clients which has been so exciting and also a huge learning curve! Honestly, when you work hard for so long it’s just a good feeling to get noticed and appreciated for the work you have put out, that I am really grateful for. I think the highlights have been working on a live art piece for Equinox VIP launch, designing the new sweet and salty packaging for Propercorn (my fave popcorn) which releases this week and Nike very obviously!
Speaking of, how did your relationship with Nike begin?
The relationship started over a year ago now and has always been very naturally. Nike has followed my work for a little while as it is very much inspired by sport and fitness and that must have been obvious in my social media feed. So, when they reached out to me with the first project to design something for their Nike Women’s only store in South-Kennington, I was immediately up for it as it has always felt like a very authentic relationship.
I genuinely believe that if you work on things that you are genuinely passionate about, things will fall into place because its coming from a very authentic place. You can’t pay for that. It’s why the brands that stick around longest are the ones that are born from a passion of sport, music, art and so on.
When it came to crafting your Nike Free Run, what was the brief?
To be honest, the project took me a little by surprise. One day, I got a call from the Nike team asking me out for a coffee to talk about my work and future projects I’d like to do. And from that onwards, it went all very fast. I’ve worked closely with the Nike design team in Portland, Oregon (Nike’s World Headquarters) to create the designs and discuss the brief and my ideas over Skype calls.
Being able to work so closely with the global Nike design team was a dream. When I sent over my first sketchbook, I got an email back from the team saying “We just fell off our chairs!” which was one of the biggest compliments I could get as an artist.
The brief Nike has given me for this project was simple and open for creativity: “Unlock Your Free”. Nike asked me to show them what my city – London – means to me and how I see it. I was asked to design a t-shirt graphic and then use it as the starting point for the footwear. For me this was incredible as my whole career has been in apparel and footwear!
Lucky then, that you had previous experience when it came to designing footwear. How did that impact on the designing process for these shoes?
It helped so much as it gave me the understanding of how a shoe is put together. I knew that I could pull apart all the pattern pieces and play with them separately. I used each section as a blank canvas. There is a lot of special detailing from the cobalt blue thread highlights to the reflective print on the back of the counter piece, and layers of screen printing and embroidery to give the shoe texture! Working as a print designer for footwear really trained me to see anything as a canvas!
The products you have designed are distinctive, laden with your signature motifs. Tell us the meaning behind the patterns and shapes that play out across the products.
As they wanted us to use graphics that say something I started by creating sketchbooks filled with doodles of mini graphics. One of the motifs that came from these doodles was the eye swoosh. I wanted it to represent London through my eyes and the link to the London eye. There are a lot of textures on the shoe from the black and white pavement print that I see when I’m running, to the water laces representing the Thames running through the city!
I wanted to express how London is constantly flowing. This city has an energy. For me there is a real feeling of conflict between an overbearing closeness from the city skyscrapers to the peaceful openness of our green parks. I wanted to create bold colours and abstract shapes to represent the cities red and blue palette and architectural buildings. Using the Thames, as the cities pulse. I want to create the flowing energy I feel from the city and so played with the composition of the sole onto the upper pattern piece of the shoe. If you notice how the water flows from the sole up into the Nike Swoosh.
I wanted to create a trainer full of colour. London is often seen as a grey city, but I have always seen it in colour and vibrant. When I first came to London, there were so many opportunities and I wanted to portray that feeling of freedom through the use of colour.
I also worked on some creative writing throughout the design process which is where the phrase “Run Sun” comes from.
Tell us about the campaign surrounding the launch, and about the creatives you’ve been working on it with.
Working on the campaign was a lot of fun as I got to collaborate with my mates. I worked on the campaign shoot with Bradley & Pablo who just directed the Migos and Nicki Minaj video Motorsport. I chose them because I love the way they create surreal worlds. I wanted them to express how I unlocked the colour in our grey city. I think they have portrayed this perfectly!
I also got to work with O.G studios on the BTS film. I listened to one track only when I was designing the collection which was Darabukka by TSVI who was kind enough to let us use the rights to the track. This was the most important part for me as I wanted people to hear what I was listening to whilst designing the collection!
What does it mean to you on a personal and professional level to collaborate with Nike in this way?
On a personal level, they’ve been one of my favourite brands from day one so for me that was a dream come true. On a professional level, being able to work with the best of the best in footwear design. And the incredible marketing team at Nike London! It’s been a dream collaboration born from genuine passion.