Jason Mayden, Super Entrepreneur
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He started designing a new kind of children’s sneaker to help his son. Now his company’s mission is helping all kids experience a super-heroic vision of themselves.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a child you love losing confidence,” says Jason Mayden, former Global Design Director at Nike, founder and CEO of Super Heroic, a company that designs, builds, and sells kids’ shoes that “embed magic in the product experience.”
“Why do people buy athletic shoes: to help themselves attain goals like losing weight, quitting smoking, running a marathon, looking cool?” he asks rhetorically. “In our case it’s to empower kids to unleash their full potential through creative play.”
As he emphasized in his inspirational talk at Adobe’s 99U Conference last month, his parents made sure he rose above racist presumptions about where boys “like him” might end up.
Before graduating from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit he relentlessly pursued an opportunity to work at Nike, ultimately becoming the first African-American to become a design intern at Nike’s Beaverton, OR, headquarters. He started out designing lace tips and closure systems, and in record time was leading the creation of products for superstars including Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derek Jeter, and his hero Michael Jordan —all while pursuing an MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Ultimately he became Global Design Director for the Jordan brand.
After 14 years, Mayden, by then a family man with two young children, left Nike.
He chose to focus on his son Khalil, who’d put on weight due to a medical condition and was becoming the subject of playground teasing and bullying. According to Mayden, Khalil was spending much of his time honing his skills at video games, a space where, he points out, “kids are judged by skill, not by their physical appearance. But I wanted him outdoors, playing, experiencing joy and confidence in the real world, not only in the digital world. Father is a job I refused to fail at.”
So Mayden devoted his next five years to “thinking and researching.”
The result: In 2017, with the backing of A-list investors including Magic Johnson and the talents of a dozen full-time employees, he launched Super Heroic. The company’s products, he emphasizes, are not scaled-down versions of adult athletic shoes. They’re designed from the sole up for the way children walk, jump, run, and play.
Currently available only on superheroic.com, they’re kids shoes re-imagined in a bold gender-neutral color palette—no pink and lavender for girls—which feature a unique closure system that’s simple to manage even if users are in wheelchairs, overweight, or have limited vision.
Even the packaging has been re-imagined. This footwear doesn’t arrive in a regular shoe box; it’s packaged in a “tactical play kit,” an easy-to-carry tube that plays a popping sound when it’s opened—to reveal the shoes, a set of stickers, and a multi-purpose cape.
“Putting on the cape is a moment of transformation,” Mayden explains. “Yes, you can fly! Yes, you can become anything you want!”
Based in Palo Alto, CA, Super Heroic also sponsors local events for elementary-age children, including smash-the-target games and agility courses that give them opportunities to “fly.”
Like all successful design entrepreneurs, Mayden isn’t resting on his laurels, which now include advisory board positions and mentorships. He’s busy taking his company to the next level, which will include a technology platform and a line of Hero Lab clothing. “Everything we do has to be fun,” he asserts. “Transformative and joyful and fun!”