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Textile Engineering Alumnus Now Works in Product Creation at Hoka

Yi-Hun Huang wears an NC State sweatshirt and holds a Hoka shoe.

Yi-Hung (Frankie) Huang grew up thousands of miles away from the U.S. But as a child and teenager, he was closely attuned to the NBA. Specifically, he felt drawn to the signature shoes branded for the game’s biggest stars.

“I wanted them so bad, but I couldn’t afford it,” Huang explains. “My mom wouldn’t let me buy too many.”

Just one pair, in fact: the Lebron Soldier 3, the then-Cleveland Cavaliers star donned during the 2009 NBA playoffs.

“I immediately fell in love with that shoe,” Huang explains.

But it wasn’t just a connection to Lebron James or the chance to show the footwear off to his friends. In many ways, it was a launching point for a career.

“I was amazed at the technology on it,” he says. “Basketball shoes really inspired me to get into the footwear industry.”

That path first saw Huang study material science and chemical engineering as an undergraduate student in Taiwan.

He gained additional experience working with yarns and other textile materials during an internship at a chemical company. There, Huang realized an expanded textile background might make him an appealing candidate for major footwear brands. 

As he began to consider graduate schools in the U.S., he came across a Wilson College of Textiles article featuring alumnus Joe DiCesare, at the time a footwear developer at Nike.

Intrigued by what he read, Huang tracked down DiCesare’s contact information and reached out, wondering if a move to Raleigh and NC State might be the path for him.

“He encouraged me,” Huang recalls. “He said, ‘go for it.’”

Fast forward a few years, and it appears the move paid off.

A role in product creation at Hoka

Today, more than two years after graduating from the Wilson College, Huang lives in Southern California, where he works with just about every team involved in producing a shoe.

“I get to see every product, every day. It’s amazing,” he says.

Yi-Hun Huang paddles a kayak on a body of water with a beach and mountains behind him.
Huang and his colleagues at Hoka took a kayaking trip in the Santa Barbara harbor.

A material developer at running shoe and performance wear company Hoka, Huang sits under the company’s product development arm, collaborating with several teams to deliver the highest quality footwear possible.

“If you imagine footwear, there’s a lot of materials that go into it,” he explains. “I communicate with the product development team, the design team and the marketing team, as well as with suppliers.”

One of his favorite parts of the job? The chance to have a front-row seat to developing some of the more innovative footwear on the market today. And it’s a role he feels his time at the Wilson College uniquely prepared him for.

M.S. Textile Engineering program provided well-rounded education

Huang arrived at the Wilson College with a wealth of knowledge related to the chemistry side of textiles.

As a student in the M.S. Textile Engineering program, though, he was instantly impressed with the program’s far-reaching areas of focus.

“I could choose very technical engineering courses, or product development-related courses, as well as marketing management,” he says. “It really helped me to understand more about, not just the textile side, but also the business side of the textile industry.”

But it wasn’t just the coursework that made his graduate experience worthwhile, Huang feels. On top of deepening his research work in the Ormond Research Group, Huang says the diverse professional background of the college’s faculty and student body gave him easy access to a wide range of expertise — which in turn, helped him grow his own skillset.

Yi-Hung Huang at Carter-Finely Stadium.
Huang takes in a football game at Carter-Finley Stadium.

“People from every industry: fashion, tech companies, textile industry,” he says. “You can always reach out and talk to them. You’ll learn a lot, not just from the courses, but from the people around you.”

Expanding his realm of expertise has served him well in his role at Hoka, where Huang has his hands in many facets of product development – whether he’s weighing in on projects with his own teammates or speaking with suppliers.

“The program elevated me to a different level so I could speak the same language as the suppliers and contribute to the conversation,” he says. “Not many schools offer this kind of program.”

Oh…and about that NBA shoe collection…are we correct to assume that it’s grown?

“I have more than two pairs now,” he says, laughing. “It is countless, now.”

(Hoka shoes, of course).

It’s safe to say that sneaker-obsessed teenager would be amazed.

“Coming from Taiwan, to NC State, and now realizing my goal of working at a footwear brand,” he says, “太神啦 舒服 (It’s unbelievable and feeling awesome).”