“It’s just me, myself, and my pen,” says shoe designer Tuan Le when asked about his design process. It may come as a surprise that someone so sincerely humble could have one of the most robust and successful portfolios of all time. From timeless Reebok classics, to iconic And One sneakers, to trend-breaking Ugg boots, to highly technical Mizuno running shoes, and now to Twisted X western footwear, Tuan knows every intricacy of shoe design.
After almost 40 years of diverse experience in the industry, Tuan was excited when Prasad reached out to him in 2013. “Growing up, I saw lots of cowboy movies, and it’s so cool that I get to work with them and learn about their way of life; they care deeply for the land,” said Tuan. After spending a lot of time designing athletic footwear, Tuan said it was exciting to stretch his brain and shift to designing workwear shoes for those who tend to the land. He’s enjoyed learning about Western culture and found a new appreciation for grasslands and their contribution to oxygen production.
It was growing up in Vietnam during war and destruction that now makes Tuan so appreciative for the land around him. “When I came to the U.S. as a teenager and saw how beautiful it was, I knew we needed to preserve it,” said Tuan. Whether it’s eliminating waste, omitting the use of harsh chemicals, or moving factories more local, Tuan is constantly thinking of and implementing sustainable practices into his projects with Prasad for Twisted X. Tuan has negative memories of visiting factories in Asia and seeing the copious amounts of trash left behind from making footwear. Tuan’s Asian roots only further his disdain for these harmful effects of the industry.
The relationship between Tuan and Prasad is one of mutual admiration and respect; both of them know how much the other has gone through to get to this place in their careers. “A few years ago, I had a stroke, and I thought that my design career was over. Somehow, I got back into it and learned to draw again, and the person who was always there, appreciating what I drew, was Prasad,” said Tuan.
Because of his personal history, along with the nature of being a designer, Tuan is always looking ahead. The reality of the industry itself requires him to plan a year, or sometimes even two, in advance. He also says his childhood and immigrant mentality contribute to this: “I’ve always felt like I need to get ahead of my competition. As an immigrant, I didn’t come from money, connections, or an inheritance. Every day I tell myself that today is the day I am going to draw the best shoes ever,” he says. This gratitude and productive mindset are reflected in Tuan’s rigorous daily routine, which starts at 5:00 AM, includes a daily run and bike-ride, and always ends with time spent with his family.
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