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How people watching benefits shoemaking

Hidden away here on a back country road is a Reebok warehouse outlet with one of company's main secrets tucked away inside. Churning out as many as half a dozen new shoe designs each day, Reebok's four-person design team is under constant pressure to keep the company on the cutting edge of athletic shoe fashion.

To maintain creative energies, the design team (which hails from Spain, Britain, Vietnam, and the United States) stoke their imaginations with trips to New York, Los Angeles, and around the world just to people watch.

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``We sit at the sidewalk caf'es and just look at people walking by,'' says designer Tuan N. Le. ``We watch the fashions they wear and how they translate our shoes into their own statement.''

New design ideas are also found at auto shows, clothing shows, and furniture and shoe exhibits.

Still, people watching is the main thing. It could mean spending a few hours in Grand Central Station in New York or at an airport. But Mr. Le says the best place he has ever been to people watch is Westwood, a Los Angeles suburb.

``The Westwood people take our white shoes and put gold laces in them,'' Le says, ``or maybe they wear floppy red socks.''

Le, who left Saigon a year before communist forces overran the city, can often be found on his afternoon breaks playing basketball with friends from the research department in the parking lot behind the building. Le worked as an aircraft designer for Boeing and a clothing designer for Levi Strauss. He joined Reebok in 1983 and says his aerodynamics training still comes in handy.

Le, who speaks English, French, and Vietnamese, says the strength of the Reebok team is its diversity.

``It gives us a broad perspective,'' he says. ``It also comes in handy because whether we're going to Rome or Hong Kong, one of us usually speaks the language.''

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