For Randall Yarborough, being highly in tune with his surroundings as an adolescent was the foreshadowing of his future career.
The footwear designer grew up on the west side of Detroit, MI — off of Joy Road to be exact — and was fascinated by the buildings in the downtown area. While he didn’t know exactly just what architecture was at the time, he knew he wanted to get his hands on it.
“I was always like, ‘Okay, I want to get my mom a house. How do we get out of this place? How do I make a better life?’ The idea of building her house was something that I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this. I can build her house.’ I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know what that profession was called. But that’s what really drove me into architecture,” Yarborough shared with AfroTech.
Yarborough’s interest only grew with him, majoring in architecture at the University of Florida. This journey led to PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, where he met Dr. D’Wayne Edwards — who is the founder of Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design. Dr. Edwards was passionate about getting more people of color into the space, and Yarborough was one of those designers.
After earning his master’s at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2013, the then 24-year-old began working at SKLZ, a sporting goods and athletic training company. Yarborough shared with AfroTech that he was the only Black person during his time there. However, the Detroit native was steeped in his sense of security and identity, which he would end up needing while continuing to navigate the white-dominated industry.
Just four years later, Yarborough put his resume in to work at Adidas thanks to a friend who advised him. After the interview process, he landed the role of technical footwear designer for YEEZY.
“When I got to interview for the technical designer position, realistically if you look at it from a resume standpoint, it’s kinda like going backward,” Yarborough explained. “It feels like an entry-level position. And technically it was, but I wanted to get into footwear. When I went into the interview, I was talking to them, and I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll do this technical designer role for now but just so you understand, after a year I want to be a footwear designer. I already have the tools and the knowledge…So after a year of being a technical designer, I was a footwear designer.”
The initial backtracking positioned him to quickly move up at YEEZY as a senior footwear designer. Although Yarborough isn’t the biggest fan of the job title hierarchy, he recognized that the concept was beneficial for the bigger mission — supporting the next generation of Black designers.
“When it comes down to the titles and positions, it’s sometimes important to have those if you want to do more things,” he said. “I know that to get to a point where I want to be able to mentor people and do these things that, yes, becoming a senior designer was important, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. Whether it’s that or a design director, those are spaces where you’re influencing other people. Not saying you can’t do that as a technical designer or a junior designer. You can still do those things, but the reason why I wanted to get to that next step was so it can be written down.”
Yarborough was a force at YEEZY for over five years, playing a role in the Yeezy 1050 “HI-RES” and the Yeezy NSLTD BT.
Now, he’s working on launching his own basketball shorts brand, Joyshed, in the summer of 2023. The name is inspired by his upbringing on Joy Road in Detroit, MI, and Hollingshed Road in Irmo, SC.
“The two places of growth in my life and celebrating them through design,” Yarborough shared about the meaning behind the brand’s name. “Joy and Shed [are] places where I’ve created and made a lot of joyful moments, but with joy comes pain, and with pain comes the shedding of tears.”
He added, “The logo (fingerprint/DNA) I put on everything I touch in this world started with these two places so this is how I honor them both at the same time.”
Ultimately, with everything aside, Yarborough hopes for a future where he can mentor Black designers and also play a part in helping Black people have ownership over what the culture produces.