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GREATEST / Hirofumi Kojima

The creative director of Tokyo’s favorite sneaker shop talks process, animal prints and Air Max Day. 


For two decades, Japan's leading sneaker and streetwear retailer atmos has redefined the art of sneaker collaboration. The man behind each of these coveted releases is creative director Hirofumi Kojima. Fast-forward 20 years, Kojima's resilience and design approach have led to a global following and an upcoming Nike collaboration in celebration of Air Max Day 2020. Known for his unique material choices and vivid animal print designs, Kojima recalls his first-ever Nike project, his thoughts on Tinker Hatfield's classic Nike Air Max 90 silhouette and what he looks for in a new collaboration. 

What are your thoughts on the design of Tinker Hatfield’s Nike Air Max 90 silhouette? What design elements do you like the most?

The silhouette is like the Nike Air Max 1 and Air Max 95. The design is very similar around the Air Max unit and that’s my favorite feature. I also love the 'Infrared' colorway because that was my very first pair of Air Max 90s—I still have that exact pair.

atmos’ first project with Nike was back in 2002. How did that relationship come about?

When atmos first opened in 2000, basketball sneakers like the
Air Force 1, Nike Dunk and any silhouette that had a cupsole dominated the market in Japan. Running sneakers, even the Air Max line, were shunned in Japan at that time, even though the Air Max series was popular overseas.

Initially, I had the desire to reinvent an Air Max sneaker. We were like, “Let’s build something completely new for the Japanese consumer.”
So we started working with the Nike Japan team.

What’s the most popular Air Max in Japan to date? 

The Air Max 90 is very popular now in Japan, but the Air Max 95 may be the most sought after. The Air Max 95 is a special sneaker that can’t be ignored when talking about Japan’s sneaker culture. I was one of those people who fell in love with sneakers [in general] after the original Air Max 95 came out.

What are some of the best Nike Air Max 90 collaborations and colorways, in your eyes?

Although it’s my own design, the Air Max 90 'Duck Camo' released in 2013 is the best, in my opinion. It is a tribute to the original Air Max 90 colorway and designed with the essence of atmos in mind.

atmos will be releasing a collaboration pack with Nike to celebrate Air Max Day 2020 that includes the Air Max 90 as well as the new Air Max 2090. While it’s the Air Max 90’s 30th anniversary this year, why bring in the 2090?

The relationship between the Air Max series and atmos goes back to when we first opened. I've seen the evolution of the Air Max unit for so many years. I'm always interested in the next innovation of the Air Max series. I believe that atmos’ role is to spread awareness of the next iconic Air Max model to the masses. We’re able to put these models through the atmos filter, which is important. I hope this Duck Camo colorway will get everyone interested in the Air Max 2090.

We heard that you take a lot of design inspiration from your travels. What is it about designs and concepts from other countries that help influence your own creativity?

When I was a college student, I lived in the Saitama Prefecture. It was about an hour away by train from Tokyo. At the time, I was always inspired by Harajuku. I then started working in Harajuku. I still remember how excited I was when I first traveled to New York, too.
I was 23 at the time.

The world is so big and there are still many exciting things that I don‘t know about. I always recall new experiences while traveling and then use it as inspiration when designing or coming up with new ideas. I think it's the routine of my creativity and life. Sometimes a lot of my experiences are unexpectedly useful. If you lose your passion, curiosity and inquisitiveness, your ideas will get old quickly.

Sometimes a lot of my experiences are unexpectedly useful. If you lose your passion, curiosity and inquisitiveness, your ideas will get old quickly.

atmos is known to use more fashion-driven, lifestyle materials such as animal prints instead of the traditional performance materials such as mesh. When you first introduced this lifestyle concept to Nike, what was some of the creative feedback?

We first pitched that idea in 2005. I remember the Nike Japan team at the time told us no one would wear them: “It won’t sell.” Eventually, we worked hard with the Nike Japan team and we finally convinced them of our idea. I remember when we first released the Animal Pack, at the time, it was too avant-garde for consumers and sales were not good. Ten years later, when it was re-released globally, it was so popular that it sold out instantly. We like to say that the times have finally caught up to this type of design. [Laughs]