If shoe designers were judged as martial artists, Michael Mack would have a black belt. He is a South Carolina footwear expert whose extensive industry experiences have played a major role in his success.
Before starting his career, Mack studied industrial design in the gritty undergraduate program at the world-renowned Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), which fueled his creative spirit and pushed him to pursue a career in footwear design. His time at SCAD gave him the right foundation to learn how to sketch, conceptualize ideas, build technical packages and build tangible products. “A lot of fashion designers start with what something looks like,” Mack told Hypebeast. “In industrial design you take into account other elements, such as materials, what kind of molds to use, how to 3D print and how to build a prototype.” Mack notes that this experience is key in the shoe and fashion industry, citing Salehe Bembury as an example of a successful industrial designer turned shoe designer.
After college, Mack spent 12 years honing his skills. He worked for Simple Factory Group in New York for six years, designing work and outdoor hiking boots for brands such as Dr. Martens, Under Armour, KEEN and more. He flew across the pond to attend Polimoda – a private fashion school in Florence, Italy – to earn a master’s degree in shoemaking. Delving deeper into the fashion industry, he was hired by Roberto Cavalli to assist in the women’s footwear and accessories department, then developed lifestyle kicks for Levi’s, G-Star Raw and Vince Camuto, and was even put to work by Kerby Jean-Raymond . in the footwear for a Pyer Moss runway show during New York Fashion Week. Though labor intensive, these career moves served as essential 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 nurturing the next generation of talent as a professor of footwear and accessories design at SCAD. Off campus, he runs a custom leather sandal business that sells custom Birkenstocks made with playful colors and collaborative artist patterns. Mack’s status as a professional designer and next-generation steward has solidified, but he’s ready to shift the energy of the space with a brand new initiative: AMLGM.
“It’s impossible to hit the SNKRS app, and even if you do, the releases are so repetitive now, so I wanted to take the opportunity to do pieces that were rare.”
AMLGM, short for “amalgam”, is a reconstructed sneaker line that bridges the gap between athletic silhouettes and couture. The concept grew out of market trends that Mack said were lackluster. “I was tired of walking into sneaker stores and seeing the same shoes on the shelves, just in different colorways,” the SCAD professor told Hypebeast. “It’s impossible to hit the SNKRS app, and even if you do, the releases are so repetitive now, so I wanted to take the opportunity to do pieces that were rare.” wanted to respond by providing customers with unique, fully functional and wearable art.
Second, he noted that while there are several well-known names in the realm of sneaker customizers, none have taken risks enough. “I’ve seen a bunch of custom sneaker guys make great shoes, but they’ve never gotten any further than equipping an Air Jordan 1 with python skin or a sole that swaps two different models,” he said. No one has really played with mixing multiple brands and silhouettes or reworked a sneaker’s shape and proportions so extensively. Mack started his line to offer a more thoughtful perspective on personalizing sneakers. It is a concept and a collection that capitalizes on uniting components of sneakers in all conditions to form an exaggerated super sneaker.
There are 12 pairs so far, with more to be revealed and released in the future. When designing the first dozen, Mack selected popular collaborations and classic silhouettes that sneaker aficionados would instantly recognize: 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 searched for other recognizable shoe colorways and specific pieces like Air Jordan 13 holograms, Louis Vuitton handbag straps, Reebok Instapump Fury cages, KD’s “Aunt Pearl” wings, spherical ISPA pouches and more to spice them up with striking statures, firmer dimensions and dynamic textures.
When the sneaker industry sees a new proposition with a high degree of complexity entering the chat, the same question arises: who is the target audience. For Mack, AMLGM is aimed primarily at collectors who can appreciate the shoes for the thought process that went into making them – and he has an aspiration that they will eventually be highlighted through high-profile figures. “[AMLGM shoes] are all fully functional and portable, but they are not meant to be worn every day,” he said. “I can see these living in someone’s sneaker art collection, having a big presence on the red carpet, starring on stage with a major music artist, or on the feet of die-hard sneaker athletes like PJ Tucker.”
“I really feel like I have an opportunity to change the culture with this new collection just through its pure over-the-top essence.”
To the untrained eye, AMLGM shoes look like someone drunk put together a sneaker art project. But if you scan each pair closely, you can appreciate the meticulousness behind their eccentric architectural styles, gaudy color schemes and unorthodox mixes of materials. Additional sets of tongues, added overlays and obburning are all purposefully done to reflect Mack’s precise handiwork and individuality. “I tell my students all the time that there are so many ways to design,” Mack said. “Sometimes it starts with sketching. Other times you have to put all the pieces in front of you like a puzzle. It can even start with a color palette. I wanted to emphasize how important it is to try all those combinations here.”
By nature, the collection also paves a new path towards sustainability. It’s proof that even the most grounded kicks bought from Poshmark and your elementary school hand-me-down Jordans can still be deconstructed and revived by an AMLGM creation. “All these shoes have been taken off the market,” said Mack. “Every shoe I make can be taken apart and used to create something new. The cycle never ends because I can buy from places like thrift stores, outlets, resale platforms, the curb, and everything in between.
In exploring the current landscape of sneaker culture, Mack believes there aren’t enough footwear products made by creatives willing to take risks. With AMLGM he hopes to turn that story around. “I really feel like I have an opportunity to change the culture with this new collection just through its pure over-the-top essence,” he says. “That’s the most exciting aspect because I believe I’m the only one bringing something like this to market.”