Nike veteran John Tawney — who co-founded the sportswear giant’s NikeID customization — launched the Portland, Ore.-based brand last year with a mission to foster constructive socially conscious conversations between people.
The footwear incorporates graphics on each foot that highlight opposing viewpoints on topics such as marriage equality, immigration, gender equality, gun violence and immigration.
And it’s some of those hot-button issues currently dominating the political landscape that transform the shoes into a tool for understanding others, Tawney told Footwear News.
“The election has fueled the division that exists — there’s a divisive tone to our politics,” he explained. “When we pick our issues, we try to pick ones that people can imagine themselves in the other viewpoint.”
Tawney said he initially wanted to do more than just raise awareness on critical issues through art, including data and research on topics for customers — but the results had an unintended effect. “What I found was that when I did that it became a debate what the facts were,” he said. “It almost fueled more of an argument. What we do is use art. When you buy it, you get a postcard with an explanation on what inspired the artwork.”
The target customer for the brand is between 18 to 30 years old and cares about progressive issues. “The young, inspired person who wants to make this world better,” Tawney explained. “This is the generation that is baring witness to a lot of things that my generation has let go. The generation is dealing with climate change — we can see Greenland melting away. This is the generation that has to deal with guns in our society and immigration — they have to make progress.”
To stir discussion on marriage equality, the shoes include a same-sex symbol on one foot and an opposite sex symbol on the other. The “Between Two” design calls attention to the virtues of marriage that all couples share — words such as “commitment,” “partnership” and “sacrifice” form an ornate graphic illustration.
The “Promised Land” shoes confront immigration through a chaotic puzzle design that shows the path to citizenship can be a difficult one to navigate. On one side, “x” marks the spot — but the broad possibilities for both sides can only be achieved when they come together.
Common Ground’s imagery reinforces the message that “people, just like two feet, must work together to make progress,” Tawney said.
Featuring a slip-on silhouette and large vamp, the unisex shoes are designed with a canvas upper, microsuede interior, and a sponge rubber sole with tactile grip lugs that enhance comfort and durability; each pair retails for $70 on Common-ground.com.