Profess Series: W. “Zak” Hoke


Name: W. “Zak” Hoke

Brand Affiliation(s): Nike, Inc.; GOMMI ARCADE;

Job Title: Sr. Field Presentation Specialist; Executive Creative Director; Editor

Age: 36

There’s a quote that reads, “when opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” The aforementioned saying is but a small glimpse into the story of Zak Hoke, more than just a door builder, Zak has found success by building experiences and retail environments that bring consumers into brand lifestyles that are both awe-inspiring and aspirational.

Having already staked a claim as one of the more respected eyes in brand presentation and a portfolio encompassing world-class brands like Ecko and Nike, it’s quite possible that you may even have experienced the Zak impact.  Zak, never without camera in tow and insights for days, kicked it with Urban Professor for a few to share his journey, be warned, it’s all hard work from here…

UP:  What’s the main function of your job?

Zak: I am currently a member of Nike Inc.’s Retail Brand Presentation team in New York City, where I lead the retail marketing and visual merchandising executions of the Basketball and Nike Sportswear (NSW) product categories at pinnacle retail destinations House of Hoops 125th Street and the Nike Sportswear 21 Mercer Street store and everywhere in between.

UP: So, safe to say that you’re a craftsman in the psychology of retail, the guy who makes consumers love the feeling they get when they see a brand in the store?

Zak: Exactly, I’m the unseen hand guiding you down the path of discovery when you enter a retail store.

UP:  Is there a motivating factor that set you on your career path?

Zak: My affinity to retail stores, architecture and interior design is a deeply embedded passion that’s taken me on trips to London, Rome, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Osaka, Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, Atlanta, Miami and other creative hubs just to walk/shop retail. I am constantly inspired and intrigued by the challenge of establishing new ways in which we, as consumers, exchange and engage art, entertainment and commerce – from product to packaging to presentation.

UP: That’s crazy; one can only imagine the kind of novelty items you’ve picked up traveling retail spots across the globe.  We bet that you’re the guy that rocks the dope kicks that can only be found in far off places like Osaka and pisses everyone off that can’t cop the kicks in the U.S.

UP: So, in case any of our readers may want to travel the world to “walk/shop” retail, what was your first job out of college?

Zak: This college drop-out has been navigating in and out of college since my freshman year at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in the fall of 2000 due to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities that were presented to me.

UP:  You did say college drop-out right?

Zak: Yep, I entered FIT’s Fashion Merchandising Management degree program in 2000, and exited and re-entered numerous times, 3 to be exact before landing a pursue a full-time unpaid internship at Ecko, Unltd. I progressed to a position as the assistant visual director; followed a few months later by a promotion to visual director for Ecko and oversaw the installation of showrooms, offices, shop-in-shops and tradeshow pavilions for Ecko and its subsidiary brands (Zoo York, G-Unit Clothing Company and Complex).

UP:  Seems like quite a bit of changes, what kept you going then and even until now?

Zak: Passion.  My passion for people, places and products eventually landed me the position as Ecko’s director of retail marketing, it was this big title at a small company that allotted me on the job training as I implemented visual merchandising and retail marketing objectives for over thirty Ecko brand full-priced and factory stores nationwide. Those experiences culminated into my departure from Ecko and once again re-entering FIT while simultaneously starting a creative agency that produced sales, marketing and design services for a number of streetwear labels outside of founding my animation property, GOMMI ARCADE, prior to being recruited for my current position with Nike.

UP: Okay, so a few words seem to stand out in particular, namely “college drop-out”, “full-time unpaid internship”, and “on the job training.”   What advice would you give anyone pursuing their dream without a college degree?

Zak: Go for it. Do it.  Whatever “it” is. Be “it”.  Period.

UP:  What could someone reading this right now do to further pursue their dream career immediately?

Zak: I strongly advise you, the reader, to feed your intellectual curiosity – by any means necessary. Imagination is everything. You’ve got to widen the scope to see the bigger picture. Oh, yeah. And work your ass off!  If you’re mopping floors, do it better than it has ever been done before. Your work ethic is your resume.

UP:  Quite inspiring, very “Pursuit of Happiness” like.

UP:  Speaking of inspiration, when was the last time you’ve been inspired? From what?

Zak: I’m inspired every morning when I look into my wife’s eyes.

UP:    Definitely a good thing to hear in a day and age when many think love rivals career success.  Much props.

UP:  What’s the best advice you’ve received while building your career?

Zak: Udi Avshalom, owner of the New York City sneaker store, Training Camp, once told me, “Make yourself the right person and the money will come.” That statement reinforced my personal belief that it’s not “who” you know, it’s “what” you know. Information is the currency of today’s world. Those who control information are the most powerful people on the planet and the ones with the biggest bank accounts.

UP:  Oh, to be a 20 years old college student getting a refund check again, knowing what you know now, but given the opportunity to be that 20 year old student again.  How would you use your refund check differently?

Zak: I’d buy Nike stock.

UP:  Couldn’t agree more, and Nike was trading at $76.50 as of 04/04/11.  That’s at least 6 shares on a refund check of $500.00 today, and there’s no telling what that could look like 5 years from now.  Get money!

UP:  Success is good for confidence, but failure is a great teacher.  What have you learned from failure?

Zak: Failure has taught me to put passion over profit. I highly recommend the Robin Sharma book “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” for anyone who is interested in incorporating routines and habits that can transform their lives, help them achieve their dreams, and make them more…happy.

UP:  That’s a great book and definitely a must-read for any driven young professional.

UP:  What Pandora channel are you listening to these days, particularly when you’re in “get money” mode?

Zak: James Dewitt Yancey, better known by his stage name J Dilla or Jay Dee.

(Click to listen)

UP:  How do U Define Success?

Zak: I define success as changing the way people see the world.

UP:  What’s a quote that you live by?

Zak:Excellence — the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible.”

UP:  Favorite place you’ve visited outside of Miami and Las Vegas of course?

Zak: Tokyo, Japan.

UP:  Why?

Zak: Fashion. Architecture. Culture. Technology. Anime. Manga. Humility. Futurism. Stores. Design.

UP:  Drop a nugget.  What’s something that you want to put the Urban Professor audience on to (blog, website, up and coming artist, technology, clothing brand, etc.)

Zak: Google: “GOMMI ARCADE”, log onto and Follow @zakhoke on Twitter.

UP:  Zak, it goes without saying that any self-made success story like yours is an inspiration to many, thanks for shedding some light on the world of brand retail and visual merchandising, without question U DEFINE SUCCESS…