"Save Your Pits,” implored a World War I propaganda poster created by Drew Smith ’13 for a history class project at Mount Saint Joseph. The phrase was graffitied across a drawing of a gas-mask-clad soldier, the “i” in “pits” dotted with a hand-painted peach–an advertisement for the filtration properties of the stone fruit seed that would save thousands of lives on European battlefronts.
Drew had always been artistic, but it wasn’t until this history project that he realized he had a true interest in design. He credits his MSJ soccer teammate and friend Michael Auer ’12 with helping grow that interest and develop his skills as an artist.
“I knew how great of an artist he was,” Drew says of Michael. “He was doing some street art stuff similar to Shepard Fairey. I thought that was the perfect style for this project because a lot of these posters would be wheat pasted on walls in cities. So, he taught me what that process was like.”
Through Michael’s recommendation, Drew was accepted into MSJ’s independent projects art class without having taken the prerequisite fundamentals course, and he spent the semester exploring a variety of artistic mediums. At the same time, he was enrolled in a graphic design class that was especially eye-opening.
“The first day, Mr. Foti did a color theory lesson outside by the statue of Mary,” he recalls. “We sat in a circle, and he had a bunch of color swatches. We talked about how colors can make you feel different ways. That whole experience was amazing. That was the catalyst for me thinking graphic design was really cool, and I was growing really quickly in it. I spent hours in Photoshop on the side just tinkering around.”
Drew went on to play soccer and study graphic design at Coastal Carolina University, where he served as creative director for Tempo Magazine, a student-produced feature publication. When junior year rolled around, Drew felt he was finally ready to pursue his dream internship: graphic design at Nike.
At the time his search began, Nike had already filled their summer openings. However, the Nike-owned lifestyle brand Converse had posted a graphic design internship that was still accepting applications. They also happened to be hosting an information session at their Boston headquarters. Drew knew he had to attend. “If I don’t go there, I’m just a name on a screen in South Carolina,” he says.
So, he caught a flight to the Hub of the Universe and did his best to stand out. After six months of “riding that line between persistence and annoyance,” Drew got an interview with the design director. A week later, he landed the internship. His main responsibilities were digital and web design, but he was also able to take on some projects in store design. After he graduated, he was brought on full-time as the global communication designer.
In five years at Converse, Drew’s role evolved almost annually. In early 2020, he joined the innovation team as a concept creator. When executives from Nike and Converse came in to review products, Drew would create environments that showcased the seasonal direction, displaying the products and telling their stories through film, graphic treatment, and physical space.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit that spring, Drew had to reimagine his role to figure out how to create the same effect as those physical environments in a new digital capacity through Zoom and PowerPoint presentations. “That learning period was heavy,” he says. “It was so new for everyone.”
To combat the mental fatigue of isolation those first few months of the pandemic, Drew didn’t stop creating. In fact, he produced one of his favorite pieces of work during that time. It started as a personal project that ended up being used globally on social media by Converse.
“The Chuck Taylor has the famous four: the patch, the toe cap, the racing stripe or foxing tape, and the license plate on the back. If you have those things, anything can be a Chuck Taylor,” Drew explains. “So, I made a composition that matched the size of your phone because on Instagram you can doodle and draw and add stickers. It was called ‘Make a Chuck, Send a Chuck.’”
Drew created examples with pandemic-related doodles, like the word “quarantine” stretched into the shape of a shoe. He posted them to his Instagram story along with the blank template and watched the notifications roll in as people tagged him in their own Converse creations. The Converse social media team posted it to the official account, and it quickly generated the most interaction of any social activity the company had ever shared.
The pandemic also brought with it the widely adopted concept of remote work. “If you had Wi-Fi, you could work anywhere,” Drew says. So, he did. In the spring of 2021, Drew packed his bags for Mexico, where some of his close college friends were from. He lived and worked there for four months.
“It was some of the best work I ever made,” he reflects. “I was being flooded with so much new inspiration. That’s when I figured out that’s the best way my brain works. It helps me motivate myself to continue to create.”
After he returned, he traveled locally around the New England area while waiting to hear when employees would be called back into the office. He and his friends decided if they were still working remotely come winter, they’d rent a cabin in Breckenridge, Colorado. And one day over coffee, that idea sprouted into a much grander plan: a cross-country road trip.
“While I was in Mexico, my friend Ian, a material designer at Converse, was driving around the West and working out of his truck,” Drew says. “He gave his most important meeting of the year from his tent in the desert with a virtual background. So, he had some experience. But I was scared about the trip. We didn’t have anything planned, no places to stay. And we had a month to kill.”
When the day came to hit the road, Drew stayed back. His nerves had gotten the best of him. But that evening, listening to a snowboarding podcast featuring his favorite graphic designer, Aaron Draplin, he got the push he needed.
“As a young adult, Aaron went out to Oregon and just worked as a dishwasher because he wanted to be a snowboarder. He got his start in Snowboarder magazine, and now he’s this world-renowned guy,” Drew explains. “So, I’m listening to this podcast and he candidly says, ‘If you have the opportunity to go across the country with your friends and just snowboard, you better do it.’ It’s like he was speaking right to me.”
Drew spent all night packing up his car, logged a few hours of sleep, and set out to catch up with his friend first thing in the morning. He drove 18 hours straight from Boston to St. Louis; traversed Texas; camped on a goat farm in Oklahoma; and met Ian in New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert. Together, they ticked off bucket-list destination after destination. Drew took a side trip to Boulder, Colorado, to see one of his best friends before settling in for a month of snowboarding in Breckenridge.
Toward the tail end of his travels, Drew had one more week to pass before he had to return to Boston. So, he went back to Boulder, the one place he’d felt instantly at home. When it was finally time to head east, he was hesitant. “Immediately when I left Colorado, I got emotional,” he says. “I drove 10 hours contemplating what I was doing. I got to Iowa and stayed at a truck stop motel, but I couldn’t sleep. So, the next morning I drove 10 hours back to Boulder.”
All this time, Drew had continued working remotely for Converse—in cabins and coffee shops, occasionally his car. But the call to return to the office was finally coming, and Drew wasn’t ready to trade the mountains for Massachusetts Bay. He started conversations with Converse, expressing his desire to move to Colorado while maintaining his position with the company. Meanwhile, he was approached with another opportunity at a Boulder-based creative agency called Human.
After some back and forth with both companies, the opportunity at Human became one Drew couldn’t pass up. He was offered a creative director role, a huge career jump for a 27-year-old designer. He accepted the position in August 2022.
As creative director, Drew helps lead the company’s design function. On his first day, he was assigned six clients—an exciting change of pace for someone who had spent his entire career working on a single brand. “I got to this point at Converse where I knew how to be successful. I wasn’t challenged that much,” he admits. “I need that challenge, that push and pull. That’s what traveling gave me. My mind is always active. I want to feel proud of my work and push boundaries.”
Recently, Drew was able to work on a project that brought his entire career full circle. One of his former managers at Converse came to him with an idea. In collaboration with his old Converse teammates, he directed three films about three material technologies that were launching to market and brought those films to life in an immersive event at the Converse innovation lab.
“It’s so cool to not only work on the new brands and clients I have never worked with before because it adds that variety, but also there’s this familiar space with this opportunity that I never had when I was internal,” Drew explains. He looks forward to continuing to work with Converse in this new capacity on future projects.
“It’s been a super connected journey that I’ve been on,” Drew says. A perfect example: Just last spring, he got together for dinner with Michael Auer, the friend who helped set the whole story in motion with a can of spray paint, a stencil, and a nudge of encouragement.