Olympic Dream

8 Exhibition Catalogue Covers

By Larry Eisenbach, Design Consultant and Business Advisor based in Portland, OR.

All images copyrighted and cannot be used without written permission from saysh, llc


Setting the Stage

Allyson Felix was on a mission. Wife, mother, activist supporting women, and the most decorated U.S. female Track and Field Sprinter, was planning to race again on the world stage – the 2020 (2021) Summer Olympics in Japan, competing in the 400M individual race and 4x400M Relay.

In 2017 her main promotional sponsor was “prepared to cut the terms of Felix’s endorsement by as much as 70%” (1) due to her pregnancy with her 1st child, stating that her career was finished – a mother could not expend the mental focus, nor maintain the physical performance, required, to compete at the highest level in the field.

Undaunted, Felix intended to keep on racing. She left the sponsor and pushed back with public commentary about the policies of companies that overtly, or unknowingly, denigrate women’s capabilities and motherhood. The outcry worked and the sponsor, like many others in the business, reversed their policies, but for Felix, there was no turning back.

With her brother and Agent, Wes Felix, she co-founded her own athletic company, Saysh. She had an apparel sponsorship with Athleta, Inc., but no footwear sponsor. Saysh soon began creating their 1st lifestyle running shoe, SAYSH ONE, but there was no performance caliber race-day track spike shoe for Felix to run in. She thought she might just race in a lesser brand’s product.


The Team

The Saysh R&D team of Tiffany Beers, (Product Engineer and Product Lead), and Natalie Candrian, (Lead Designer & Design Director), felt otherwise. 

With the support of company leadership, they embarked on a plan that would put a bespoke shoe on Allyson’s feet in time for the June 2021 Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR and the Olympics in July. 

They knew they would need a collaborator, someone who had deep knowledge of the exacting needs of competitive Sprinters at the pinnacle of the sport, and, expert experience in designing and building world-class shoes for them. They knew just the person – Mike Friton. Mike, one of the most creative minds in the athletic footwear industry, was mentored in the craft by Bill Bowerman, the legendary University of Oregon Track & Field Coach and 1972 Olympic Track & Field Head Coach.

Assisting Mike and the Team in an advisory capacity in business, project management, and creative input was Larry Eisenbach. A Product Designer by training, Eisenbach had proven himself adept at facilitating the creative process and assisting Creatives in achieving their goals.

Tiffany Beers had long been a force in the development of highly creative and complex footwear product. Working in NIKE, Inc.’s vaunted Innovation Kitchen, she was the lead Engineer and Product Developer for one of the industry’s most renowned designers and brought amazing new things to life, including the world’s first automatic-lacing shoes. She is now the Head of Innovation & Sustainability for Logitech G & Astro Gaming.

“For me, Spike One was another project where, when first queried by Wes about if we could do it, I literally said the same thing as when I was asked to build the auto-lacing products at NIKE , “I don’t see why we can’t”.  

For 4 people, with enough footwear knowledge, to come together and try to do something only the big brands had done in the past with tons of $’s and research, was incredible. People who know the footwear world know that this was no small feat to pull off, yet, in the grand scheme of things, is really small compared to the changes in society that Allyson is driving.  

I am honored to have been a part of this amazing movement. Both Spike One and Saysh One will forever sit at the top of my favorite projects’ list.” – Tiffany Beers

Natalie Candrian is a highly accomplished Design professional who focuses on athletic products including footwear and apparel. Her creations include designing the first three Tracy McGrady TMAC signature basketball shoes for Adidas, head-to-toe Tennis product collections for Maria Sharapova for Nike, and creative direction on the recently launched Omorpho Gravity Sportswear line. Natalie is skilled in product design and innovation, creative direction and design management.

“Designing a product that asks for ultimate performance is always a very exciting project to embark on. Having the opportunity to do this for Allyson and Saysh, in collaboration with Tiffany, Mike and Larry, was an honour. 

Form always follows function. What does that mean? A product that is beautiful but ultimately disappoints when being used is not a job well done. And personally, I feel accomplished as a designer, when a product is as beautiful and striking visually as it is satisfying in its performance. That is ultimately my unique job on the team: the Saysh Spike is a pure performance product, done in a visual aesthetic that holds true to Saysh as a brand and Allyson as an athlete and a woman.” – Natalie Candrian.

In late July, 2020, 1 year from the scheduled Olympics, the 4 began development of “a track spike for her” – SPIKE-ONE. It would be the first, custom designed and engineered race shoe ever created for a female Olympic Track & Field athlete.

Critically, joining the core team for weekly virtual meetings to review progress and provide feedback, was the Saysh management team of Wes Felix, CEO; Allyson Felix, President; and Darren Breedveld, CFO.



In the design of SAYSH-ONE, the lifestyle shoe, Natalie spoke of her design inspiration for it

“What the founding team was asking for was to create a sneaker that tells the SAYSH story and evokes these words on an emotional level: FLUID GRACE. Those words describe Allyson and her story and the path she is on. The journey Allyson invites us to join her in is one of FLUID GRACE, she invites us all to navigate the world that way, and wants to give us the tools to make that possible.”

That inspiration was reinforced by the company’s brand messaging – “The Truth of Her’s”. That is, standing up with confidence and conviction, as women, in any endeavor. The design of Saysh products echo those elements – FLUID GRACE and women focused.

The design language of Saysh-ONE, and the brand message, “The Truth of Her’s,” informed the visual cues of the patent-pending SPIKE-ONE, track shoe design.

Visually, FLUID GRACE met “race track lanes” in the flowing lines running from toe to heel in the final design and that ethos carried over to the beautiful design of the molded plastic plate with its replaceable track spikes– where the shoe meets the track.




The Team started the work “at the source,” with the ultimate User of the shoe, Allyson Felix. 

Allyson was queried about the shoes she had worn, what she liked and did not like, including the fit of the shoes. We obtained samples of those shoes to analyze and compare Allyson’s needs at the distances she had competed in – the 200 and 400M races. 

We began by building “pullovers” – basically a simple, unadorned piece of material patterned to closely fit the contours of a Last (the foot form around which the shoes would be built). These were sent off to Allyson for trying on and through a series of iterations, a “shell”, the foundational element of the top of the shoe, (the “upper”), was confirmed. It is upon that shell that the final upper, in its appropriate materials, is created.

The engineering done of the shell pattern was as innovative as the visual design of the product. 

Mike had developed a 1-piece upper pattern. Looking like the wings of a bird in flight, it baffled most people who tried to understand how it could possibly create a shoe.


SPIKE-One upper pattern


“This project has taken me full circle, back to my roots working with Bill Bowerman. His guiding principles were “Make it light, make it fit and make it go the distance”. The first pair of track spikes I built I tested myself, running for the University of Oregon. You learn quickly what works and what doesn’t if you’re testing them yourself.  I then began building spikes for other athletes over the 16 years I was working with Bowerman. Working with the Saysh team brought back the excitement that I felt when I built my first pair of spikes 43 years ago.” – Mike Friton 

SPIKE-1 utilized the same base upper material as on Saysh-ONE; a multilayer, knit polyester textile we called “creel”. This material offered unique characteristics of being “sheer” – very light weight, having high strength, and visual interest such as translucency, and graphic elements directly integrated into the material in the manufacturing process. 

After the pullover series, increasingly refined versions of the designed upper, in the correct materials, were created and fitted with plastic bottoms so that Allyson could briefly test them out during her training sessions.

Meetings at fritondesign studio allowed Team members to evaluate directions and review the latest samples. While the upper development was continuing at fritondesign with Mike and his Assistant and Lead Stitcher, Carrie Wilson, the engineering and testing of the plastic bottom plate was occurring as well. The design of the plate incorporates integral, molded-in metal receptacles that replaceable track spikes are screwed into. Those are anatomically placed to maximize a Sprinter’s push-off from the starting blocks and propel them through their running gait.



Mike Friton, Natalie Candrian, and Jason Humble, (Saysh future-project Development Lead) – 6/08/2021


The material of which the plate was to be made was critical. It needed to be stiff enough to counteract the tremendous forces applied to it by Allyson’s propulsive energy, but not so stiff that her gait was impeded from the natural motion of her feet and legs. Biomechanical engineering data has long existed for this and formed the basis of our drive to find the right material, the right stiffness, and the lightest weight – tenths of ounces are important in a Sprinter’s world. 

The Team went through a number of iterations of the design and materials, trialing via 3D printed parts and ultimately injection molded units which were subjected to mechanical flexural fatigue testing over several thousand cycles. 


Flex-test data of one iteration of the plastic bottom spike plate


And, of course, we received feedback from Allyson all along the way. In mid-February 2021, as we were getting close to the final product, she responded to the latest samples: 

“Simply, they are phenomenal. I’m absolutely in love with them. The fit is great. They have the glove-like feeling that I love. It feels almost like running in a slipper or barefoot. They feel extremely light. My foot feels secure and locked in. They feel very strong. 

They performed great! I’ve had one workout in them. Accels, sprints over baby hurdles, a 500 and a 250. No problem in any of them. I actually think I’ll need to get used to running in a spike this light.

And they are definitely a head turner. Everyone wanted to know what was on my feet.

Amazing job! I’m so grateful for all of the work the team has done.  These are beyond what I could have imagined! I have to keep pinching myself =).”




45 hand-made pairs of shoes were produced over the course of several months in early 2021 for training and race-day use. All work was done at Mike’s Studio and included cutting out of materials, pre-assembling upper-component reinforcing elements and stitching the upper together. Then the upper was adhesively bonded under pressure to the plastic bottom plate.


 Creel material upper pattern cut-out and appliques

Handwork by Carrie Wilson at fritondesign

3D computer model of the injection molded bottom spike plate


Typically, Sprinter track spike shoes weighed in at around 4.5 – 6+ ounces per shoe. Allyson’s Saysh SPIKE-ONE shoes may have been the lightest weight shoes on the track in Tokyo, weighing in at a remarkable 3.9 ounces including very lightweight ceramic spikes. 

Initial shoes were delivered to Allyson for use at early season races in the first week of April 2021. There were 3 colorways, including a white upper on translucent-clear bottom plates, a Saysh-blue upper on translucent-clear bottom plates and a black upper version on matte black bottom plates. Allyson wore the black/black versions in early races in order to camouflage the design of the shoe and not call premature attention to it, as the design was not as apparent in that color-way.





The most gratifying professional experiences emanate from small team projects that have fulfilled seemingly insurmountable expectations – working with tight budget & timeline constraints and a specific, focused target. They don’t happen often, all the more remarkable and precious when they do. That is an apt description of the Saysh SPIKE-One project.

Shoes do not make a champion athlete, no more than a high-performance car makes a champion race car driver. It was Allyson Felix’s grit, determination, and dedication that made her the most decorated Olympic female Track & Field athlete in the world in 2021. She is now ranked #2 worldwide as the most medaled Olympic Track & Field athlete, male or female (2) ever, and is ranked 23rd overall as the most medaled Olympian in any sport (3).

Her poise, humility in the face of her achievements, her impact on the world of Track & Field and her support of women through her activism and initiatives, are inspirational guideposts for her peers and young girls everywhere.

The team who helped her in her quest for Olympic medals was overwhelmed by Allyson’s achievements and humbled and honored to be able to assist her, in a small way. 

“I have had the good fortune in my life and career to work with extraordinary people, having experiences of profound importance, and making lifelong friends. This one brought me back into the adrenaline rush of assisting in facilitating a footwear product that was expected, at its inception, to be one that would make a difference and have significant impact. Thank you, Allyson, and Saysh, for taking us on that journey.” – Larry Eisenbach


From Design Museum Magazine Issue 022