From Yeezy to the Lab: FCTRY LAb is the Place Where Sneaker Magic Happens

We chatted with co-founder Omar Bailey to learn more

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FCTRY LAb is a name you ought to become familiar with in the future. Founded by former Head of Yeezy-Adidas Innovation Lab Omar Bailey and former Wall Street & Private Equity Executive Abhishek Som, the company is is a BIPOC-led, LA-based footwear prototyping lab and venture studio aiming to democratize sneaker production and open-source innovation for emerging and established designers and brands of all sizes. The US-based studio helps brands avoid the risks and delays of overseas supply chains, thus shrinking product development time from 8-12 months to a short 1-3 months. Additionally, they're working to make technology accessible and providing equity in an industry where large sneaker corporations often make an overwhelming majority of profits off the creative power of minority designers, influencers and athletes.

FCTRY LAb also boasts the services of Satyan Gohil, who was previously a footwear prototyping and development veteran at Yeezy-adidas, and now Head of Innovation. Bailey himself has over 20 years of global product development and manufacturing practice as a design engineer. His other experiences include developing footwear for entertainers such as Jay-Z and Lady Gaga, athletes such as Karim Benzema and working alongside culturally-impactful brands like Supreme, New Balance, K-Swiss & Timberland.

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In a relatively short time, FCTRY LAb has already designed, prototyped and manufactured multiple lines of collaborative footwear with top design and brand partners and a reigning Super-Bowl winner. We caught up with Bailey last week to learn more about FCTRY LAb. You can check out the full interview below. 

ONE37pm: Nice to meet you Omar! Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Bailey: Hi I’m Omar Bailey! I’m originally from New York, born to two Jamaican parents who came here in the 1970s. I grew up in the Bronx and I saw my parents work really hard. In fact, for my entire childhood, my mom and dad always had more than one job, so I grew up seeing what hard work looked like all the time. I started drawing sneakers when I was seven, and it was due to the violence that was happening in the early 1990s. Nike and Jordan joined forces and just kind of created this explosion of interest in sneakers, and that interest led to a lot of bad things that happened such as kids getting shot, killed, and beat up. It was wild.

Due to that, my parents told me that they weren’t going to buy me any sneakers, so I started sketching them. Drawing and creating was something that my parents encouraged me to do, even though I used to get in trouble for it sometimes for going overboard with building things! We moved to Florida when I was 10, and my parents decided to enroll me in art school. That art school is where I got to continue to practice and not tear up the house the way that I did before. I quickly became known as the “sneaker guy,” to this day people will still message me saying they remember me drawing sneakers all the time.

It was just something I did not even knowing there was a path for it, and it was the one thing I was good at in school because I was horrible in all my other classes and barely graduated from high school, but the footwear and sneakers are what kept me going.

ONE37pm: Cool! So what exactly is FCTRY LAb and how did it come to be?

Bailey: From high school on, I was kind of just in the right place at the right time. I didn’t know there was a path into the space, but I had a lot of good mentors and people around me. I ended up learning about a school through a college visit that centered around industrial design in Michigan which I ended up getting into, and I wound up doing a series of internships with K-Swiss and adidas. It’s like I was just taking steps towards this goal. I had no idea what was at the end of the tunnel, but I kept following the breadcrumbs one after the other.

The biggest thing I learned from these internships is—as great as it is to work for these brands—I actually didn’t want to work for a big company. My DNA just isn’t like that as I feel I’ve always had the entrepreneurship bug. When I graduated school I started my first business, which was a consulting company, and I was very lucky that my first two clients were athletes Gary Sheffield and Allan Houston.

I was able to connect with those guys, and they both wanted to create their own shoes and start their own brands. I was able to help them, and those two projects are what brought me down to Asia, which is the center of the universe when it comes to shoe manufacturing. That was my first time going down there and making that transition from not just being a footwear designer, but a product engineer as well and understanding the nuances of how to create footwear from A-Z. FCTRY LAb is sort of a microcosm of all the experiences I’ve had over the past twenty years.

I’ve lived and worked in factories in India, China, Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea, because these are the places where shoemaking happens. It’s not here in the States, you have to go to where these facilities are in order to create footwear. Fortunately I had a lot of mentors around to help me gain the tools I needed for my tool box to be able to do this at the highest level. 

FCTRY LAb is an independent innovation lab where we do the heavy lifting, prototyping, and development for footwear. Many people think shoe factories are like the end all be all for a product’s journey, but the factory is actually where you go last to have the shoe produced at scale. Our lab does the initial heavy lifting and creativity to really go through that product journey from start to finish. It’s where you are able to create the magic and build something that is unique, different, and stands out amongst the others. You can utilize the technology combined with traditional methods of shoe making and come up with a really interesting method for creating, inventing, and innovating.

ONE37pm: Can you share some more about your experience with Yeezy?

Bailey: Yeezy and adidas was an incredible experience. I was actually living in India at the time when I received a call from the team. I was working with a brand there and was just kind of connecting a lot of dots between vendors, China, and other parts of the world to help them improve the quality of their products they were selling and distributing. As I was wrapping up that contract I got a message from adidas about this role for the head of the innovation lab, and this essentially all started because Kanye didn’t want to necessarily wait for prototypes coming from China and the factories coming overseas, which is a problem that a lot of brands have.

In this case, the objective was to build a creative facility domestically so that the ideas he came up with could be created there, and not have to wait for it to come from abroad or overseas. We combined traditional methods of shoe making with some really interesting technology in 3D printing, and by combining those things we were able to meet his ask of being able to get these ideas done very quickly. I remember us working on the Foam Runner, and that was a really great test for all of us to iterate quickly and make decisions quickly. The time there was incredible. For me it was great, and Kanye has always been very good to me personally in every interaction I’ve had with him. It was a great three years there.

ONE37pm: Okay we’ll end this with a two-part question. First off, what does your clientele look like now, and where do you see FCTRY LAb going in the future?

Bailey: Our clientele is a wide range of brands and individuals who could be influencers, entertainers, and athletes that we’re working with. I can’t necessarily name all of them right now, but we have a big brand in particular that we’re working with that many of the people reading this will be familiar with. There’s also some emerging brands and a handful of athletes, one of whom is Jalen Ramsey of the LA Rams. We’ve been working on a special project with him that we are super excited to share with the world. So that’s some of the folks.

And regarding FCTRY LAb, I will start with our business model. We work in a couple of different capacities, one being in an adidas-like way, where we put our innovation and creative abilities out front in our display through our variety of products that we are making and putting out to the world. The first shoe that we’re launching next week, the “Night Runner” which is one of our injection foam molded shoe products. We had the incredible opportunity with the NBA Players Association and Hennessy at NBA All-Star Weekend and the Super Bowl as well to activate and bring awareness to FCTRY and this shoe to many incredible people.

The other side of our business is the model where we work with brands that want to use our lab to innovate, create, and work quickly in creating new shoe concepts that they want to scale, and that can be a variety of different brands from big to small and in-between. Another factor is how we can utilize our factory as a way to give back to people who just have never had an opportunity to do something like this. When I think about my story, I 100% want to come up with a program where we can support those who would love an opportunity to just be in a place like our lab and create. That is something that is very important to me. 

You can continue to keep up with FCTRY LAb via their website and Instagram

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