Cesar Idrobo has had some of the most sought-after jobs in footwear, and he attributes much of his success to a strong art influence in his life from an early age.
Idrobo, who arrived in Florida from Colombia in 2007 when he was 17 years old, grew up with design in his life.
“We had a very artistic environment because my grandfather is an architect, so I was always surrounded by his work and his projects,” Idrobo told FN. “And I was always encouraged from an early age to take art classes. My family was nurturing me to be an artist.”
Idrobo started his higher education journey at the University of Florida in 2007 to learn English as a second language. From there, he got his bachelors degree from Savannah College of Art and Design in industrial design in 2012, and then earned his masters degree in accessory design from the same school in 2016.
“Industrial design was a good starting point and a good foundation, but I felt the need to learn how to make something from start to finish by myself, and that’s when accessory design came into the picture,” Idrobo said.
After college, Idrobo took a traditional route for people looking for work. He started with an apprenticeship under master shoemaker Marcell Mrsan, and then did freelance work as a footwear designer for Android Homme.
His big break came in 2016, landing a job as a footwear developer for Adidas Yeezy when the imprint was in its early days.
“That was very insightful, seeing how something comes together, how companies approach new new ventures and what it takes to start something new,” Idrobo said.
When his time in that position ended, Idrobo went back to the freelance life, working with some of the most respected companies in footwear including Altra, OluKai and Pensole Design Academy. He also was tapped for contract work at Nike as a product and graphic designer in 2018.
His first full-time gig in the industry would come in 2018, and the offer would come from a brand he was familiar with.
“It was on Sunday in April, I woke up to a voicemail from [Yeezy Lab design director] Steve Smith, and he told me someone’s going to reach out because I need someone with your experience, your expertise,” Idrobo detailed. “About 40 minutes later, I get a phone call from a random California number, and it was Kanye.”
Not long after, Idrobo was brought on as a footwear head pattern and sample maker for Yeezy.
Idrobo admitted having the rapper-turned-designer as a boss took some time to get used to.
“It’s a surreal experience,” he said. “Looking at it from the point of view when I was in college, in my bachelor degree days, I saw Kanye as this creative icon, this inspiring figure to look up to for design philosophy, for creative ideas, for innovation.”
Although Idrobo has navigated the ultracompetitive footwear industry well, he recognizes it’s not easy for others of a similar upbringing who may not know where to start to do the same. Because of this, Idrobo believes companies have a responsibility to be proactive in showing people that there is a path to success.
“It’s important just to expose people who want to pursue a career in making shoes and say, ‘here are the materials, here are the resources you need,’ because this will ultimately help retailers, fashion brands and other companies because your people are going to learn how to make things properly. When they come to work for you, they are not going to make mistakes. Brands could then say, ‘We’re giving you the opportunity, it’s up to you how far you want to take it.”
He also believes this exposure should happen at a younger age.
“Brands should have outreach programs to people in high school or even before high school that say, ‘Hey, you can make shoes for a living, you can be in fashion for a living.’ You have to expose them to that experience so they know,” he said.
But the job isn’t done there.
Once working for a company, Idrobo would like to see the development of internal platforms that allow for self-expression, something that allows employees to be armed with the tools and materials needed for continued success.
“Companies should give employees a platform to have a voice, a space and time to work on projects, a space to be able to express themselves creatively and share their perspective,” Idrobo said. “And there should be a library that makes information available that shows the journey someone took to create an idea.”