Tola Oseni: Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

By Alixandra Rutnik Posted on Jun 27, 2022

ONE School graduate Tola Oseni designs special edition Wallabees inspired by NYC's unmatchable energy

Our ONE School program at The One Club for Creativity has been a huge success since it launched in 2020. It has a tremendous hiring rate, with graduates getting recruited by top advertising agencies all over the world– not to mention it is spearheading major change for inclusion in our industry.

ONE School has also made great strides in elevating Black women– 63% of graduates are female, and Art Director and Brand Manager at Spotify Tola Oseni is one of these amazing women.

Last semester, ONE School and Clarks Originals decided to team up and present a design challenge open to all ONE School graduates. The brief: design an iconic Wallabee that represents New York City. And Tola took the W for this creativity competition.

Her Wallabee design is pretty bad-ass, which obviously it had to be becasue she won. At this rate, Tola is on the fast track to fame and we wouldn’t be surprised to see more shoes from her in the future.

We had an invigorating and refreshing conversation with Tola about her dreams and goals, and her inspiration for designing an original pair of Wallabees.

Growing up, what was your major creative outlet?

Art classes were my absolute favorite growing up. When I wasn’t in art class, I was drawing in my notebooks during my other classes. Fortunately, the school I attended from 3rd to 12th grade prioritized educating well-rounded students and that also meant making sure we had a robust arts program. I grew up knitting, sewing, painting, drawing, print blocking, woodworking, all sorts of things. I also played the alto saxophone for nine years, and in high school I majored in Ceramics. Even tried my hand at fashion design my senior year and I opened a multimedia art exhibition in D.C. with a friend inspired by Humans of New York.

As a kid do you remember your dream job?

I never really had a consistent dream job as a kid, but I would watch Food Network Challenges a lot. There was a point in time where I wanted to grow up and design huge cakes all day. I don’t think I’m too far off today– I am creating things for people to enjoy. Only instead of tasting, it's more about seeing, hearing, and experiencing.

"There was a point in time where I wanted to grow up and design huge cakes all day. I don’t think I’m too far off today– I am creating things for people to enjoy. Only instead of tasting, it's more about seeing, hearing, and experiencing."

You went into USC thinking business…what made you have a change of heart to declare Graphic Design as your major?

The simplest way I can put it - it just felt right. My freshman year, people would walk into my dorm, see all of my paintings on the wall and they’d assume I was an Art major. When I’d tell them I was a Business Administration major, they’d look at me crazy. I was doing great in my business classes, but it felt like I was going through the motions.

Definitely a lot of great friends and professors at USC Roski helped motivate me to make the push, for sure. So my sophomore year, I decided to enroll in my first design course. Right after my very last class, I went to thank my professor for a great semester. She began talking about what courses I’d be taking next and my future plans. I had to stop her and 'disclose' that I was just a business student taking a one-off class. Again, I was met with instant shock and it was then that I finally listened to the sentiments of ‘not allowing my innate eye go to waste.’ That next semester I was strutting around campus as an official art student.

What would college you think of you today?

College me would be proud of me today. 10-year-old me would think I’m the coolest adult ever for sure.

How did ONE School end up on your radar?

Oriel had actually posted about ONE School in a Slack channel at work. I didn’t know him at the time, but I thought it sounded like a really awesome program. Funny enough, I didn’t apply that year. I did however post about it and tell some of my friends. It wasn’t until the next semester that I tackled the brief and sent in my application. I’m extremely glad I made that decision.

At the time, I wanted a more consistent creative cadence. Work would take up so much of my time and I wasn’t adequately spending my free time channeling a creative outlet for myself. I also realized that I spent a lot of time thinking up ideas vs. executing them.

I kept saying I wanted to become a Creative Director, and ONE School really taught me what that actually meant and equipped me with tools I needed.

"I kept saying I wanted to become a Creative Director, and ONE School really taught me what that actually meant and equipped me with tools I needed."

What were some of the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of the ONE School program?

Most rewarding? Definitely meeting all of the talented people in my class. In college, I was lucky if I wasn't one of two or the only Black student in my studio classes. Even though ONE School was held online, it still felt like a classroom full of incredibly dope Black creatives.

"In college, I was lucky if I wasn't one of two or the only Black student in my studio classes. Even though ONE School was held online, it still felt like a classroom full of incredibly dope Black creatives."

Not only did I get to study some of the best ads and learn from top CDs week over week, but also I got to witness my classmates come up with ideas that the advertising world would someday be studying next. I’d hop into class every week, get inspired, and be motivated to bring back better ideas.

I’d say the most challenging was probably balancing classes and work, and training my mind to answer new briefs weekly. If one week my ideas fell flat, there was no time to sulk. I had to reiterate and start thinking up new concepts for the next brief! Take those learnings and apply it to the next task at hand.

To this day I still keep up with my classmates. A few weeks ago we were all invited to The One Show. It really put into perspective that this is only the beginning. We’re truly in for a long ride, and I look forward to the days that I can see my people on those stages, accepting awards, and not just watching.

How have the skills you learned in ONE School carried over to your day to day tasks at Spotify as Brand Manager in the Brand and Creative department?

I’m constantly thinking, “Okay, what’s the insight?” At Spotify, I review a lot of campaign work for our global markets, and I’m always providing creative feedback to try to ensure creative excellence. Sometimes reviewing marketing campaign ideas feels like I’m answering a brief myself! If the overall platform lacks a compelling insight of an audience, it’ll likely show in the execution. You start with a kernel of truth in the real world, craft a story around it, and everything else from OOH to social (including the art direction and copy) should ladder back into that. I’ve been able to think of advertising with a more holistic approach. You have to make sure the puzzle pieces fit together or the dots are connected to form the right picture.

Questions that are always top of mind now: How could we explore more distinct and ownable art territories? Can we elevate this film script to solve for visual fatigue? Is this copy telling more than it’s showing?

ONE School not only gave me greater insight into the creative process within advertising, but it also helped fuel my confidence in actively practicing the skills I picked up. I’m so thankful for everything I learned from ONE School.

What exciting and innovating projects have you worked on for Spotify Premium to date?

One of my absolute favorite Spotify Premium projects I’ve worked on was creating a global gift card asset toolkit. I know, gift cards might not sound like the splashiest thing to market, but it was a life-changer for me. At the time, I was only a year out of college when we kicked off the project. This was before ONE School and before I truly even knew what art direction was. Still my team trusted me to really own the project– I served as the Art Director and saw it through from conception to post-production.

For starters, it was definitely time we pushed the envelope and reimagined what gift card marketing could look like.

You know that feeling when you hear a good song for the first time? My first thought is always to just vibe out and enjoy it solo. But if it's really good? I’m likely sending it to a few of my friends too. So with that in mind, I thought, why not position Spotify Premium (and our gift cards) as “the perfect companion or gift for every occasion.”

I think that feeling is kind of universal. And since the toolkit of static and animated illustrations was meant to flex across multiple markets, it made sense.

The result was a beautifully crafted gift card marketing asset pack featuring over 20 bespoke key visuals. Today, you can find these assets used across paid channels, e-commerce sites, and in-stores in many of the markets Spotify operates in.

How does your passion for design and music interlock with your work at Spotify?

When I started designing for music, I saw intertwining audio as a way to bring people in. Historically, art in gallery spaces has been exclusive and elitist. Whereas music is often called “the universal language,” because it has the ability to connect communities across varying cultures. My work tends to explore stories that come out of the intersection of music, culture, and experience. It also imagines how audio can be encoded as a visual image. Remixing realities, if you will.

Since then I’ve gotten to touch so many meaningful brand campaigns and global initiatives at Spotify. Our Play Your Part campaign, last year’s Latinx Heritage Month celebration, our Vaccine Awareness campaign, Wrapped ‘21, Time Capsule, Performance Marketing evergreen creative the past two years, current work with Audiobooks, and in crafting a Black Creative Directory as apart of our Marketing Equity Initiative– At its core it's all about connecting and empowering communities through audio.

Now, let’s chat about these Wallabees! Is designing footwear a lot different than designing ads or posters or brand identities? How did you capture NYC in your design?

I don’t want to say it's all the same, but when you have a good creative idea, it doesn’t feel too much different. Start with a universal truth– an insight if you will, and you build your idea around that.

So when we got the brief to design a Wallabee inspired by the one and only New York City, I was stumped for a bit. Whenever I try to explain why I love New York so much, it always boils down to energy. But at the same time it’s almost indescribable.

Many may say it's the subway, the brownstones, the street lights and flashy lights, the skyscrapers juxtaposed with graffiti, or the bodegas on every other corner. Truth be told, I think it's the people that inhabit all of those spaces that make New York City what it is.

Everyone from NYC pretty much agrees that the energy of NY is unlike any other. And while there is much to boast about by being from the city, every New Yorker will also have some complaints. It's a love-hate relationship, but it’s what makes New York, New York, and most wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

"It's a love-hate relationship, but it’s what makes New York, New York, and most wouldn’t trade it for anything else."

After I landed on the love-hate concept, the actual design and creative campaign came so easy. From the film to the social media rollout and the OOH launch, it was probably the most fun I had with one of the briefs.

I was inspired by some of my favorite Black movies about New York and the eclectic and vibrant soundtrack of New York City.

I created one other design, but I just knew this one was it.

Woo! Your design was selected! How did that feel?

It’s crazy. The very second I found out my design was selected, I was on the same subway platform I used to visit daily when I first moved to New York. I hadn’t been there in over a year. It kind of felt like a full circle moment. One of those ‘yes, you’re on the right path’ sort of things that slaps you in the face when you really need it. Just really affirming.

"One of those ‘yes, you’re on the right path’ sort of things that slaps you in the face when you really need it."

What was it like working with Clarks to create the Wallabees?

Working with the team at Clarks was so rewarding! Overall incredible people that are really passionate about the work they do. Their vigor for good storytelling and paying homage to Clarks’ roots and culture at large is awe inspiring. They’re doing the work brands should be doing.

Now the shoe production process was a great learning experience. After being selected, I iterated on a few more alternative design elements. I got to work closely with a professional footwear designer. She’d send me pictures of the printing and embroidery details from the factory. I’d tweak some things here and there. They’d mail me shoe samples from the UK. I’d relay feedback. We had a number of Zoom calls. When I emailed the Clarks team sketches of the shoe box design, they sent me back a fully rendered mockup that just nailed it.

It’s mind blowing to think the shoes are finally out in the world. Those little lines and blocks of color on my iPad turned into actual physical shoes.

What do you want people to feel when they are repping your kicks?

I want people to feel like the boldest versions of themselves. Like every step they take with the shoes is just as loud, proud, and vibrant as the city-dwellers themselves.

What’s next for you? Is there a future for you in footwear design?

So much! I’m currently working on a musical short film which I wrote, and plan to direct– think comedic Afro-fusion mystery. I don’t want to say too much, but I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredible creatives during my trips to Nairobi, Kenya last year. This project is definitely a baby of mine so I’m very excited for that.

I’m also hoping to be able to tackle a lot more projects and collaborations as an Art Director.

If another opportunity in footwear design presents itself, I’d definitely consider it! As long as it's tied to culture and feels aligned to my personal mission.

And, what are you currently sketching?

What am I currently sketching? Lots of personified food. Stickers for a friend's clothing line. And Hip-Hop inspired ice cream bars.

We are going to be starting a new semester of ONE School in the fall. What kind of person is perfect for the program, and what advice would you give them to ensure success?

Expect to be challenged, but gratefully rewarded.

And three things I’d tell future ONE School students:

1. Study your favorite ads, then make the type of ads you’d like to see.

2. Soak it all in. 16 weeks goes by quickly. Pitch the stupid idea. Pitch the crazy idea. And the one that brings people to tears.

3. Don’t be afraid to do the things that led you to this point. Everyone comes in with a different perspective. You’re here for a reason. Embrace that.

And last but not least, lean on your people and your classmates. You’re in for a crazy ride and they’ll probably end up being the best passengers ever.



ONE School Applications for Atlanta and Chicago are now open– apply now! Plus tune in to our Clarks x ONE School Instagram Live on Tuesday, June 28 at 1:00 PM EST.





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