25 Years Of Pump Fury – A Discussion With Disruptive Sneaker Designer Steven Smith

Steven Smith currently heads up sneaker design at Kanye West’s Yeezy label, but his long and illustrious career has seen him work for almost every major sports footwear brand. It was during his time at Reebok that he created one of his most famous sneakers and arguably one of the most iconic sneaker styles of the past quarter century – the Reebok InstaPump Fury. He was recently in Singapore for Culture Cartel 2019 and we had the chance to sit down with the legendary disruptor for a quick Q+A.

What do you think about the InstaPump Fury’s longevity and recent resurgence?
I think its pretty cool and somewhat funny that they’re older than a lot of the people that are wearing them now. However, it doesn’t look dated, it still looks like its from the future even 25 years on. Ever since the Pump Fury came out I’ve been waiting for the younger designers to be like “hold my beer, I’m gonna do something more futuristic and amazing than that”, but I really haven’t seen it and I would love to see something that would just blow me away.

What do you think makes the design still seem contemporary?
The Pump fury was like a concept car from the future, it had this carbon fibre arch, this pump fit system with no laces, it was reduced to an absolute minimum of components and the total thing was the sum of the parts. The thought process was a very Bauhaus sensibility, it was stripped down to the essential elements and you can’t take out a part of the shoe and have it work right. You see that thing on the wall even today it looks like nothing else, it doesn’t look like a traditional sneaker – it’s a machine. 

What did people think during the development stage?
When I first designed it and showed it within Reebok people were scared as they didn’t know what to make of it and didn’t want to get behind it. I took it as a good sign as I knew I was disrupting things and it was going to be special as there was nothing else like it. It took Paul Fireman (former Reebok owner) to take this creative leap of faith with me and the advanced concepts team to put it out. He said “I want you guys to create stuff that I’ve never seen before – create the future”, and that’s what we did. I knew from day one that it would be something special, but I never thought it would last this long and be more relevant than it ever was.

What are your favourite Pump Fury colourways?
I still like the OGs, the original citron, red and black ones because it epitomises raw punk rock – like the sex pistols. It was like screwing with the establishment which was very “white mesh”, if you went into a Footlocker back in 1994 you would see white, white-grey, white with some yellow and then THAT thing – it was disruptive, in your face and it was a statement. I was a pain in the ass about ensuring that we made it as the first colourway as that was the vision and I stuck to it. My second personal favourite is the Sanrio Hello Kitty Pump Fury’s that just dropped in Japan. I love Sanrio and just had to have them! No, I won’t wear them, they are “keepers” and my daughter can sell or wear them when I’m dead! (laughs)

So what do you think about the new adidas x Reebok InstaPump Fury BOOST?
I think its really cool, as originally we wanted to make the best cushioning system we could at that point of time, so we used EVA and Reebok’s Hexalite technology, but today BOOST is the best foam in the industry so it makes sense to combine the fit of the Pump with the cushioning of the BOOST.  I think it’s a cool honour that the first collaboration between the brands is one of my styles. Being affiliated with adidas through Yeezy and my history with the Fury just seems almost right that the brands would come together and the Fury would be the vehicle for it.

Last question, you mentioned your current role at Yeezy, what is it like working there?
The process that Kanye creates is magical, there is nothing quite like it, being able to collaborate with an equally exciting and creative artist is the magic behind it. When he first reached out to me I thought it was pretty cool, I didn’t know what to think about it but once I met him and saw how his thought process was it was just fascinating to me. He has opened my mind to a whole different way of thinking in terms of how to design stuff and that is the magic, the experience of creating those things with him is more important than what we created. If you look at the 500 and 700, we unintentionally created instant icons by just making amazing art first that would go on to become icons. 

Thanks to Culture Cartel, Reebok and Steven Smith for the interview opportunity. 

*Archive and official adidas x Reebok InstaPump Fury BOOST courtesy of Reebok