Our Amazing & Creative Alumni: Caprice Neely '85
Footwear design director
By Nadine Fiedler
From the Summer 2011 Caller
Caprice Neely, a true hands-on girl, loved art and woodshop when she attended Catlin Gabel’s Lower School. The skills she developed in making and building, combined with her aesthetic sense, formed the basis for her long career in footwear design.
Product design wasn’t something Caprice set out to do. But what got her far—so far that today she’s a lead designer in Nike’s blue-sky innovation team—was her absolute fearlessness and determination.
After working her way through college as an art major, Caprice landed a temp job in the Portland offices of Avia, a sports shoe company. Her curiosity led her to the design department, and she was immediately hooked on footwear design. She hung out with designers and asked if she could help. That led to a job with Adidas painting shoe models—until she confidently stepped up and asked to create models herself. Then she asked if she could create her own designs. Soon she went to see the president of Adidas with her designs and prototypes, and he offered her a designer job on the spot.
After three years Caprice moved to Nike, and with the exception of one foray into another venture, she’s been there ever since. She helped envision and create the first Nike sportswear line, and today she works on a creative team with the freedom to design the next big thing.
Caprice Neely's Cityknife shoe and sketches for Nike
Much of Caprice’s success lies in her knack for designing great-looking shoes that function well. “You have to keep in touch with popular culture and fashion trends, even if you’re working on something as technical as the next track spike for the Olympics. Athletes tell us that if they look good, they’ll perform better,” she says.
Caprice would like more students to consider product design: “The ability to build and fix things incorporates different problem-solving skills. If you mix that with art, you have the potential for a career in product design and engineering.”
“It’s amazing for me to think back to the foundation I received at Catlin Gabel, especially in art. I was encouraged to do and try anything. It gave me the confidence in myself to know that I would succeed if I worked hard enough.”