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UW Architectural Engineering Grad Wins Nike Design Competition

June 22, 2017
man holding ahoe and speaking to a group of people
UW alumnus Brett Drake presents his prototype shoe to Nike designers and executives at the Nike Ease Challenge. (Nike Photo)

Brett Drake grew up with a closet full of sneakers and a fondness for engineering and design. The combination of those two passions recently netted him some prize money and the chance to help countless athletes.

Drake recently won the Nike Ease Challenge, a contest that called for innovative designs for sneakers for athletes of all abilities. A civil engineer in Cheyenne, he works for RESPEC Consultants and is a graduate of the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. He is a Cheyenne East High School graduate.

The Nike Ease Challenge competition was aimed at finding footwear ideas that help athletes put on, secure or take off their shoes, including athletes with disabilities. Drake’s affinity for basketball and Nike products started at a young age and, once he saw a news story about the design competition, he was interested.

“I started sketching the day I saw the competition announced,” Drake says. “I went home that night and showed my wife my ideas. As an engineer, I work in concepts based around design, and I’ve always liked it. At some point when I was younger, I started collecting shoes, and I always liked playing hoops. After researching more and finding out about the people behind the shoes, I wondered, ‘Could I work in footwear design someday?’”

He used a design program that he mastered at UW thanks to an architectural engineering focus -- AutoCAD -- to create the submissions, then sent them off to Nike and waited. He found out that he, along with two other finalists, would visit Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., to present their solutions to a panel of judges.

Drake’s winning design was inspired by rear-entry snowboard bindings, so the shoes could be slipped on rather than pulled on using a hinged heel. The system uses powerful, lightweight magnets to provide a simple, wide entry and exit area. Drake says his design was geared toward creating something that didn’t interfere with the aesthetic and performance achievements of Nike’s original design and enhance it with an entry and exit system that would be easy for anyone to use.

“The greater good that came from this, I only realized that after I was announced the winner,” he says. “I had some people who I didn’t know contact me and say, ‘My son can’t wear shoes and, with this, he can enjoy the sports he loves.’ I got the bigger picture of what this is truly all about after that.

Drake’s innovative design uses powerful, lightweight magnets in the back of the shoe to provide a simple, wide entry and exit area. (Nike Photo)

“I’m an athlete and know the passion and enjoyment I have gained from sport, so the idea that I could use my passion, problem-solving and engineering expertise to enable others to enjoy movement and sport like I do became great inspiration for my idea.”

Nike designer Tobie Hatfield said Drake’s design was the clear winner from all other entries when he was invited to corporate offices to present his prototype. While there, he presented before a series of judges, including nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, WNBA MVP and Olympic gold medalist Elena Delle Donne and Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympics medal winner.

“Congratulations to Brett. It’s great ideas like his that will make all the difference for athletes everywhere as we enter this new era of personalized performance,” says Mark Parker, chairman, president and CEO of Nike Inc. “The future is always defined by breakthrough innovation, and we are honored to have inspired Brett’s design.”

In addition to winning the $50,000 first prize, Drake will collaborate with Nike in the prototyping phase and begin testing his innovation with athletes of all abilities.

Drake credits his UW education for helping him succeed in his career and the competition.

“One of the things I loved about the architectural engineering route was students get a good background on structural engineering,” he says. “It was surprising how well that transferred to shoe design. You’re looking at the same things, a product that looks nice and will work.

“One of the best things is it’s a top-notch education, but it’s a smaller campus. I liked that you got interpersonal connection with the professors, and it’s a small town. I really enjoyed my time there, and I wouldn’t be here without my education.”

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