In an industry addicted to retro, Highsnobiety presents The New Vanguard of Footwear, a dedicated hub that celebrates the pioneers around the world who are changing the face of what is now a multi-billion dollar industry.
David Filar is the Creative Director of Design at Vibram USA. He’s also one of the friendliest people you’ll meet in the shoe industry.
Not only does his team’s cutting-edge work at Vibram leave a (quite literal) mark on the footwear industry, but Filar’s positive approach to his work and his peers is contagious. He’s the kind of person you could sit and talk for hours about shoe design or its myriad interests.
At Vibram, the Filar team is responsible for the brand’s US partners. Companies such as Merrell, New Balance and Under Armor work with Filar and his team on design concepts and development assistance.
Since graduating in Industrial Design from Wentworth Institute of Technology in 2014, Filar has risen through the ranks at Vibram. First a designer, he worked as a technical product manager, head of design and development, and now creative director.
“My goal out of college was to get a career in shoe design. I did a lot of research on how to find emails at different companies and found this non-profit organization charity called TwoTen Foundation,” Filar tells me. “They support working families in the shoe industry. On their website, they have a list of over a hundred different shoe brands. In fact, I emailed all of them, and two companies replied, one of which was Vibram.”
Like many of his peers, Filar’s love for sneakers started much earlier. As the son of two Polish immigrants, Filar’s family moved to the United States when he was three years old. “I owe everything I do to my parents,” he hastens to point out. “It’s so important to give them their flowers because the sacrifice they made allowed me to succeed.”
Growing up, his family never watched or played basketball. Almost impossible for a child growing up in the United States in the 90s, Filar has never worn or owned a pair of Jordans. To date, he admits never having bought a pair. “I never had a personal association with Michael Jordan,” he explains. “I now understand his greatness, but I don’t have that connection like the others.”
Instead, and due to financial constraints, Filar’s first sneakerhead moment was when he found a pair of all-red kicks on Karmaloop. “$40 was the most I could spend, but I remember that bright red stocking. They were unlike anything anyone else wore,” he recalls. “To this day, I’m proud to walk into a room with shoes no one else had. I never want to be caught wearing someone else’s sneakers. It’s a a feeling that most sneakerheads can relate to, although the homogenous nature of hype culture leads to increasingly awkward moments where you find yourself at an event or party, wearing the same “limited edition” sneakers. than at least five other people.
Filar’s personal approach to design was clearly influenced by his time at Vibram. “Functionality” is a keyword repeated several times during our interview. That makes sense, considering Vibram is the tooling company of choice for brands looking to elevate their shoes.
“When a creative can connect what they’re working on or designing to something that has an intended use or can benefit the end consumer, for me, that should be the starting point,” Filar says. “Even when I draw in my free time, I ask myself, ‘What am I drawing? What is the purpose of this drawing?’ There must be a functional purpose or some sort of utilitarian aspect.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that some of Filar’s favorite projects over the years have been those that go beyond the product. “My favorites are based less on the product and more on the experiences associated with it,” he reveals. “I had the opportunity to design two products with Yvon Chouinard, from Patagonia, and the Danner team. To be able to co-design and create with someone like that was amazing.
Filar recalls visiting Chouinard’s home in Ventura, Calif., and testing the product on the beach, near the rocks the Patagonia founder often frequents when he walks. Another project that brings joy to Filar is the collaboration between Matthew M. Williams and Nike, specifically the TR3, which featured a removable cleated sole.
Filar also finds a lot of inspiration in art. He learned to paint three years ago and now makes stunning pieces to order, posting videos of his process on Instagram.
“Being able to touch and feel a different form of creativity has influenced and inspired a lot of the tangible work I do at Vibram,” says Filar, mentioning that art has been an escape for him, helping him manage work at distance during the pandemic. The process and learning from others online has acted as a refresher for Filar, infusing him with new energy which he applies to his work for Vibram.
While art provides a very personal outlet for Filar, the designer is also an incredibly social person. He’s active on social media and has his own podcast, through which he spotlights lesser-known creatives doing cool things behind the scenes.
This is reflected in his response to the advice he would give to himself or anyone else just starting out in the shoe industry: “Be a good person. What I’ve discovered in my career and in my life is that when you’re always willing to help others, opportunities arise,” he says. “You don’t ask, you just give in good faith.”
Someone who has been a big help to Filar is industry legend Jeff Staple, whom Filar describes as more of a friend than a mentor. “We have amazing conversations two or three times a year, when he gave me a different perspective on things,” Filar says. “He’s really inspiring.”
It seems some of that rubbed off on Filar. Aside from his team’s incredible work, the creative director’s outlook on life and his drive to help uplift others can only be described as enriching the industry. Long may it continue.