If footwear designers were graded like martial artists, Michael Mack would have a black belt. He’s a footwear savant from South Carolina whose wide-ranging industry experiences have been instrumental to his success.
Before launching his career, Mack studied industrial design in the gritty undergraduate program at the world-renowned Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which ignited his creative spirit and compelled him to pursue a career in footwear design. His time at SCAD gave him the proper foundation to learn how to sketch, conceptualize ideas, construct tech packs and build tangible products. “A lot of fashion designers start with how something looks”, Mack told Hypebeast. “In industrial design you consider other elements like materials, what kind of molds to use, how to 3D print and how to construct a prototype.” Mack notes that this experience is key in the footwear and fashion industry, and mentions Salehe Bembury as an example of a successful industrial designer-turned-footwear designer.
Post college, Mack spent 12 years sharpening his skillset. He worked for Simple Factory Group in New York for six years designing worker and outdoor hiking boots for brands like Dr. Martens, Under Armour, KEEN and more. He flew across the pond to attend Polimoda — a private fashion school in Florence, Italy — to acquire a master’s degree in shoemaking. He dove deeper into the fashion sector and was employed by Roberto Cavalli to assist in the women’s footwear and accessories department, then grinded out lifestyle kicks for Levi’s, G-Star Raw and Vince Camuto, and was even tapped by Kerby Jean-Raymond to work on the footwear for a Pyer Moss runway show during New York Fashion Week. While labor intensive, these career moves served as vital stepping stones for Mack to become more fluent in design and learn the nuances of the industry.
Today, Mack devotes much of his life to fostering the next generation of talent as a professor of footwear and accessory design at SCAD. Away from campus activities, he helms a bespoke leather sandal business that sells customized Birkenstocks made with playful colors and collaborative artist patterns. Mack’s status as a professional designer and a steward of the next generation is solidified, but he’s primed to shift the space’s energy with a brand new initiative: AMLGM.
“It’s impossible to hit on the SNKRS app, and even if you do, the releases are so repetitive now, so I wanted to take the chance to create pieces that were rare.”
Short for “amalgam”, AMLGM is a re-constructed sneaker line that bridges the gap between athletic silhouettes and couture. The concept was sparked from marketplace trends that Mack felt were lackluster. “I was tired of walking into sneaker stores and seeing the same shoes on the shelves, only in different colorways,” the SCAD professor told Hypebeast. “It’s impossible to hit on the SNKRS app, and even if you do, the releases are so repetitive now, so I wanted to take the chance to create pieces that were rare.” wanted to respond by providing clients with unique, fully functional and wearable art.
Secondly, he noticed that while there are several household names in the sneaker customizer domain, none have taken bold enough risks. “I’ve seen a bunch of custom sneaker people make amazing shoes, but they haven’t gone beyond equipping an Air Jordan 1 with python skin or a sole swapping two different models”, he said. No one has really toyed with mixing multiple brands and silhouettes or reworked a sneaker’s shape and proportions this extensively. Mack started his line to provide a more thoughtful perspective on sneaker customization. It’s a concept and collection that keys in on uniting components of sneakers in all conditions to form an overstated super sneaker.
12 pairs exist thus far, with more set to be unveiled and released in the future. When designing the initial dozen, Mack selected hot-ticket collaborations and classic models that sneaker aficionados would recognize right off the bat: the Union x Air Jordan 4 “Guava Ice,” Jordan Spizike “Volt,” Balmain Unicorn, Air Jordan 14 “Shocking Pink,” Nike Air Max 720 ISPA, Nike Air Max Speed Turf and the Reebok Pump Omni Zone II. He then scavenged for other recognizable footwear colorways and specific pieces like Air Jordan 13 holograms, Louis Vuitton purse straps, Reebok Instapump Fury cages, KD’s “Aunt Pearl” wings, bulbous ISPA pouches and more to spruce them up with eye-catching statures, beefier dimensions and dynamic textures.
When the sneaker industry sees a new proposition with a high level of complexity enter the chat, the same question surfaces: namely who the target audience is. For Mack, AMLGM is primarily geared towards collectors that can appreciate the shoes for the thought process that went into creating them — and he has aspirations that they will eventually be highlighted via high-profile figures. “[AMLGM shoes] are all fully functional and wearable, but they’re not meant to be worn everyday”, he said. “I see these living in someone’s sneaker art collection, having a big presence on the red carpet, shining on-stage with a big music artist or on the feet of die-hard sneaker athletes like PJ Tucker.”
“I really feel like I have an opportunity to shift the culture with this new collection just by its sheer over-the-top essence.”
To the untrained eye, AMLGM shoes might look like someone drunkenly put together a sneaker art project. But if you scan each pair closely, you can appreciate the meticulousness behind their eccentric builds, gaudy color schemes and unorthodox material mixes. Extra sets of tongues, added overlays and overbranding are all purposefully executed to reflect Mack’s precise handwork and individuality. “I tell my students all the time that there are so many ways to design”, Mack said. “Sometimes it’ll start with sketching. Other times, it will require laying all of the pieces out in front of you like a puzzle. It may even start with a color palette. I wanted to highlight the importance of trying all of those combinations here.”
By nature, the collection also carves out a new lane for sustainability. It’s proof that even the most ran-into-the-ground kicks that were purchased off of Poshmark and your hand-me-down Jordans from elementary school can still be deconstructed and given new life through an AMLGM creation. “All of these shoes have been taken out of the market,” Mack said. “Any shoe that I create can be picked apart and used to create something new. The cycle never stops because I can source from places like secondhand shops, outlets, resell platforms, the sidewalk and everything in between.”
When scoping out the landscape of sneaker culture today, Mack believes that there aren’t enough footwear products made by creatives that are willing to take risks. With AMLGM, he hopes to flip that narrative. “I really feel like I have an opportunity to shift the culture with this new collection just by its sheer over-the-top essence,” he says. “That’s the most exciting aspect because I believe I’m the only one putting something like this in the market.”