Dreams and Determination Shape a Career Arc
Dreams and determination are the two themes driving Mark Pimentel’s life and career. When Pimentel was just a year old, his parents’ dreams and determination propelled his small family from a village in the Philippines to Portland, Oregon. Pimentel’s own dreams found him sketching sneakers as an elementary-schooler in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood, and his determination helped him work his way up the ranks to a high-profile design career at Nike.
Pimentel got his start in the world of apparel at Oregon State University, where he spent hours sewing new designs. After graduating into the challenging job market of 2010, Pimentel took a job at Nike’s old downtown retail store at Sixth Avenue and Salmon Street, where he worked behind the scenes unboxing apparel, cleaning bathrooms, and taking out the closing shift’s trash each morning.
Once he landed a design position at Nike, Pimentel took on increasingly prestigious assignments, including creating a range of apparel for Team USA and others competing in the Tokyo Olympics. Another career highlight for Pimentel was seeing Bart Starr receive a custom version of the deluxe Super Bowl 50 commemorative jacket he had designed—and later having the jacket become part of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
In late 2020, Pimentel made the leap into a more managerial role, becoming creative director for Nike’s line of boys’ apparel. We caught up with him in a Zoom interview.
What has it been like moving to a role where you are managing a large team?
It's one of the most difficult transitions for any designer to make, to go from an individual contributor—someone who really has the pen to paper—and shift to being a director where you're not holding the pen anymore.
The difference is you're designing a team now. You're designing a team to be the strongest and best team possible. I think the most rewarding thing is seeing the product come to life, and it's better than you ever expected. And seeing your team just enjoying each other's company and feeling really happy about what they've done. And to see the team members develop. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
You already had a career as a designer that many would envy. What made you decide to go back to school and get your MBA?
For me, it was actually a way to learn about this other world of business. So far, it’s helped me become a better designer by communicating my ideas and getting some things through that I don't think I ever could have without speaking the language of business.
As I got higher in my career in design, more financial things started popping up in conversations, and I had more visibility to decisions that take place on an enterprise level. I started to hear things, and I didn't understand what they were. I felt like, "here's a different world that I'm not so familiar with," and I realized that if I can integrate some of that business thinking into my design work, it can help communicate an idea to people. Sometimes that may not be through purely a design perspective, but actually, if you come at it with a business perspective—a business case—you'll probably have a better chance of getting your ideas through.
You earned your undergraduate degree at Oregon State University. How has it felt to become a Duck as well as a Beaver?
It hasn’t really been an issue. I mean, I bought some Duck gear, and I wore in front of my friends—and they were just shaking their heads. But I'm going to go wherever I feel will give me the best experiences for the things I'm looking for. So, no, I had no qualms about getting my MBA at the UO. I actually enjoy now being able to represent both sides. I’ll put it this way: Now I have more teams to cheer for.
What’s been the most meaningful part of winning the Forty under 40 recognition for you?
My parents are just over the moon. They're so proud. They're so happy. They called my relatives back home in the Philippines and let them know. Everyone else is back in the Philippines, and they are proud to see me continue to find success and continue to grow and develop. A lot of their hopes and dreams and pride are on my shoulders.
I'm so happy to represent my entire family and have my last name—which is their last name, you know—be on that list.
You spent many years working on various high-profile projects, including groundbreaking work for the NBA. You've even had designs featured in Vogue magazine. What has it been like switching to Nike Kids?
It felt like the stakes were high, doing something so serious with the Olympics and the NBA. But when I look at really what's important, it's the investment in kids and making sure that they are all able to play—that they all have opportunity and access to sport. I’m so excited about the opportunity to become the best kids’ brand in the world. That’s our mandate—what we want to do. But there is also just the opportunity to really serve kids for life. Like, if we can start them off early, so they can find joy in playing and movement and sport.
There’s a lot on the line, but it’s fun. The difference is it’s fun.