With DEI at a critical inflection point, cultivating diverse talent is more important than ever before. As part of our commitment to champion diversity across the industry, the 2024 FN Black History Month Spotlight will highlight the new wave of talent that has emerged in recent years, including brand builders, design innovators, content creators and more.
For nearly 20 years, Omar Bailey was the architect behind shoe collections for many of the industry’s most recognized names — include the Adidas Yeezy Innovation Lab, which he led for three years ending in May 2022.
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Now he is front and center at the growing Fctry Lab footwear company, which he launched in late 2022 with partner Abhishek Som. And Bailey is quite comfortable moving into the spotlight.
“To be totally honest with you, it was something that I was always ready for,” he told FN on a Zoom interview from L.A. in early January, shortly before flying to Paris Men’s Fashion Week. “It feels great to be able to step out. Sure, it can be a little nerve-wracking. But for me, it’s more exciting.”
He noted that having a front-row seat to so many different brands and leaders helped prepare him for his new role. And from those lessons, he’s trying to foster an environment that embraces creativity and fresh ideas.
“It all starts with the culture,” he said. “I try to build a culture around people who are excited and enthusiastic about the work that they’re doing and the products they’re creating — and make a safe space for people to be able to share their ideas and not feel intimidated.”
Equity and empathy also factor into the vibe at Fctry Lab, especially in terms of how Bailey views his position there. “I always try to be the person that I want other people to be towards me,” he explained. “What’s important to me is being as much a part of the team as my employees. We’re all one working together toward a goal.”
Since leaving Yeezy, Bailey has been candid about the tumultuous nature of that work environment, including the difficult task of relocating his team and thousands of dollars in equipment to founder Kanye West’s remote ranch in Cody, Wyo.
At Fctry Lab, the challenges have been more typical of the startup experience.
Bailey noted that the manufacturing and supply chain pieces of the puzzle came together quickly, especially considering his decades in design, much of which was spent in Asia. “It was all the other things that we struggled with,” he explained.
“The thing that was important for us was building out our infrastructure for dropping and releasing shoes, which is a hard thing to do,” said Bailey. “We went through a lot of ups and downs in terms of creating this machine to be able to put product out quickly.”
His team attempted multiple times to outsource the operations but eventually brought it in-house and was able to solidify the brand’s strategy. “Ultimately, we found ourselves. And I think we’ve proven not only to ourselves but to our audience that we can execute and deliver great product,” said Bailey.
Fctry Lab dropped its first product, the Knight Rnr, in March 2023 — roughly three months after securing a $6 million tranche round of financing. And it’s been in high gear ever since.
A second release, the Knight Mocc, launched in October. And for months, Fctry Lab has been teasing a third silhouette, the Stmpr boot, which was developed in partnership with rapper Symba. It’s set to release in March. The company also announced during Art Basel Miami Beach that it teamed up with Miami Dolphins cornerback Jalen Ramsey to create the all-new Cleat Rnr, a lifestyle sneaker inspired by the JR1 cleats he wears on the field.
Those types of relationships are a key element to Fctry Lab’s business model. From the start, Bailey has described the company as a “footwear prototyping lab and venture studio” that is meant to offer its services and expertise to individuals or brand partners.
And after spending its first year working out the kinks, Bailey believes his team is ready to deploy its capabilities.
“Now it’s about using the infrastructure that we created and attaching it to different partners that we’re working with, whether it’s an athlete, musician, content creator or public figure in general and helping them build their brands through footwear using the machine that we’ve been able to establish,” he said.
As for the Fctry Lab brand, it is looking to open up wholesale in 2024, targeting top-tier department stores and sneaker boutiques. “That’s something really important to us to be able to get the product in the hands of more people globally,” Bailey said.
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