FCTRY LAb Co-Founder Omar Bailey on His Time at Yeezy and Why He Calls It a ‘Trampoline’

It’s been one year since Omar Bailey stepped down as head of the Yeezy-Adidas Innovation Lab, where he helped bring to market some of the brand’s most forward-thinking designs, including the Foam Runner, the 450 and the Knit Runner.

But despite the well-documented challenges within the Yeezy organization, Bailey reflected positively on his three years there during a talk on April 13 at the Atlanta campus of Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD).

In a conversation with SCAD sneaker design professor Quentin Williams, Bailey called the experience not just a stepping stone but a “trampoline” for his career and ambitions. “It was an opportunity for me to really shoot up to the next level,” he said.

In December, Bailey, who’s worked in footwear design for over 15 years, announced he and co-founder Abhishek Som had raised an initial $6 million in tranche round financing for their new venture, FCTRY LAb, an L.A.-based footwear prototyping lab and venture studio. Their first consumer release, the Knight RNR, debuted in March, and a second drop is slated for this fall.

FCTRY LAb, Knight RNR, Omar Bailey
FCTRY LAb’s new Knight RNR in Black.
CREDIT: Courtesy of FCTRY LAb

In many ways, FCTRY LAb is a clear extension of the work Bailey was doing at Yeezy.

He recalled receiving that first fateful phone call from Adidas about starting the Innovation Lab: “They said, Kanye West wants a domestic facility where you can build and produce prototypes for Yeezy [because he] no longer wants to wait for samples that come from Asia anymore.” He noted that the traditional development process can as long as six months, with samples shipped from factories overseas. “And so all this time would go by, and for [Kanye], he’s moved on to the next thing.”

By contrast, Bailey said his team in the lab in Calabasas, Calif., utilized innovations in 3D printing to change the process. “We were able to iterate and innovate very quickly to get shoes on his feet to get instant feedback. And then we’d make those changes and get him another pair in less than 24 hours,” he recalled. “That allowed us to be able to move the development process at light speed and be able to get to market faster.”

Not all was smooth sailing. When West relocated the company to Cody, Wyo., the Innovation Lab (and all of its machines and resources) had to move as well. And while Bailey didn’t go into details, he alluded to the high-pressure environment.

“The lights were real bright over there, and you had to deliver. That was the expectation. No matter what the circus was going on outside, the focus had to be there,” he said.

So when it came to translating West’s ideas into realities, Bailey accepted the challenge. “To say no when I got asked to make a crazy shoe was, like, not even an option. It was just, let’s figure this out. Let’s do it.”

FCTRY Lab, Omar Bailey, Abhishek Som
FCTRY LAb c-founders Omar Bailey and Abhishek Som.
CREDIT: Courtesy of FCTRY Lab

He’s applying that same mentality now at FCTRY LAb. Beyond its own footwear creations, the company offers its services to brands and retailers looking to shorten the speed of product development, and it’s also collaborating with influencers, creators and athletes, such as creating a customized cleat for NFL newcomer Jalen Ramsey of the Miami Dolphins.

“We’ve got a couple other NBA and NFL players that I cannot say who they are yet, but you’ll be hearing about that really soon,” said Bailey. “The idea is to work with these individuals and help them build their brands through footwear. For a long time, you’ve seen every celebrity has a tequila brand or a clothing line or hat line. But the one thing you’ve never really consistently seen is footwear — and not a collaboration with a Nike or an Adidas — but actually independent footwear. It’s a space that’s been gate-kept for a long time.”

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