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Otsukaresamadesu. In Japanese it literally means “you must be tired” but more commonly it’s used to express honor towards a job completed and completed well, i.e. heading out of the office after a long day or submitting a huge project your law firm has been working on for weeks or months. For the sake of this article, the honorific phrase goes to atmos designer known simply as “Koji,” whose 10-year old Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant” had successful won the prestigious Nike Air Max Vote Back in March of 2016 and will thus re-release on Air Max Day in 2017.

It’s not every day that a design can withstand the test of time — 10 years to be exact, long enough for entire brands to come and go — so for Koji and his team at Japanese sneaker boutique atmos to win the Vote Back is quite a compliment to the longevity of the “Elephant” AM1. To be honest, a lot could see through the design as simply a black-based upper with elephant print and some blue hits, but the ultra-hyped up shoe has kept the sneaker game and its followers in check for a decade. Resellers to this day are placing ridiculous price tags on the pair which can fetch three- to four-digit amounts; sneakerhead elites still have their pairs on ice; and numerous sightings are still seen at boutique line ups every week.

To find out exactly what went through Koji’s mind when he won the Vote Back, we found time to sit and chat with him about the achievement, what is it about the “Elephant” that’s so appealing, and his thoughts on the sneaker industry now.

How did you react when you found out your AM1 was chosen for Vote Back? 
And how about when you won?

The Air Max Vote was a very exciting project, and I was very happy that my designed Air Max 1 was nominated. And also, it was a great honor for me to become the first in the world [to be voted back]. It’s especially important for the people who work in the sneaker industry like me.

Can you explain why the design from 10 years ago still looks great today?

I think the clean design and the elegant colorway are timeless. When the Air Max is released next year, it won’t even look like it was designed 10 years ago.

Have you considered updating the shoe with new colors or new materials?
As I said, it will be released next year. It would be very interesting if I could change some design or materials for the new Air Max 1 “Elephant” 2017 ver. I’m not sure it would be approved but I’m curious… (laughs)

Can you take us back 10 years, and describe what it was like to create 
those sneakers? What was the process like?

10 years ago, we had designed the three styles of Air Max called the “ZOO PACK,” which is inspired by the zoo. They are called “BEAST,” “ANIMAL,” and “ELEPHANT.” And I still remember that “ELEPHANT” one was actually inspired from “bathing an elephant” (the elephant pattern and a light blue swoosh). 

“We cannot afford to buy so many exclusive sneakers every single week… Sneakers are for everyone, not only for some rich people. (laughs)”

If it wasn’t your collaboration, what Air Max would you have voted for
 and why?

The Air Max 90 SP London Roundel. I love its concept, design, and colorways. It was perfect and beautiful to me.

Considering the Air Max models you haven’t worked on, which model would
 you like to makeover next?

The Air Max Zero.

The sneaker industry has changed quite a bit since this release; what do 
you like and dislike about the current state of the industry/culture?

The part that I love about the sneaker industry/culture is that “sneakers” are a universal common topic, like a sport. Even if you don’t speak English, you can become friends with American people through sneakers. The part what I don’t really like is that the sneaker game has become too hyped or too exclusive. We cannot afford to buy so many exclusive sneakers every single week… Sneakers are for everyone, not only for some rich people. (laughs)

Do you think the increase in sneaker collaborations is hurting the 
industry? If so, how can we fix it?

I don’t really think that many collaborations upset the sneaker industry. And “collab” doesn’t really mean “great.” It doesn’t really matter if it’s a collab or an in-line sneaker. In fact, there have been many good designs of in-line sneakers these days, so it comes down to its design I think.

What’s next for you and atmos? What projects do you have cooking up?

Except NIKE, atmos will focus on the PUMA Disc Blaze and ASICS Tiger GEL-LYTE models. We are soon to release the ASICS Tiger GEL-Lyte III “DUCK CAMO.” Can’t wait for it to come out!

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