You’d be forgiven for thinking every possible method of improving the humble trainer has already been explored, but as my recent visit to New York to attend the Nike Innovation Summit revealed, there’s always ways to get them faster, lighter and better. As the grand name suggests, the event held at the stunning ‘Basketball City’ on the Lower East Side was an opportunity for the sportswear giant to show off its latest and greatest innovations, ahead of a big sporting year. And I also got an insightful behind-the-scenes look into the nitty-gritty of their design process with their CEO Mark Parker (pictured right).
There was lots to write home about – an incredible leap in their Nike+ offering for sports, new basketball uniforms made for the equivalent of 22 plastic bottles and even a super speed athletic track suits minimising sprinters’ drag during a race. But the piece that really caught the eye was an advance in footwear technology and design called Flyknit…
Although incredibly complex in its research and development, Flyknit is based on a simple premise – to find a way to make footwear lighter, and to fit better. The original concept derived from the desire to create a running shoe that was as comfortable as a sock (see lead designer Ben Shaffer’s first personal prototype with his own sock above!) – an innocent starting point that’s led to a truly beautiful piece of design.
As is classic with Nike ethos, this performance insight leads onto design possibilities that would make any creative mind whirr. The way the single yarn has been woven produces a patterning through the shoe that gives opportunity to really explore new colour ways and texture combinations.
This desire to innovate in both the performance and design arena seemingly comes right from the top at Nike, and CEO Mark Parker (a designer himself) who kicked off the day took a little time out to speak to us candidly about where the starting points for these advances come from.
The key for Nike, he says, is about "keeping our influences diverse, and collaborating with lots of interesting people, " but also not being too precious about the process: “We riff, just throw ideas around right from the start…”
This collaboration is evident once again with the very first of the more lifestyle releases connected to Flyknit, the HTM Flyknit collection. HTM is a collaboration of three powerhouses in footwear design; Mark Parker himself, design guru Hiroshi Fujiwara and legendary Nike innovation kitchen director Tinker Hatfield (the man behind the Air Max).
The three have taken the technology developed for the performance to release three new colour ways – which will be available in London from this weekend.
The environment that Nike create in their Portland home seems to be the real key to understanding their success when it comes to footwear design, with a complete wing of HQ dedicated to developing product. As Hiroshi put it so beautifully himself: “Walking into Nike allows me to see things I’ve never seen before. I can pick up anything and get inspired.”
To cap it all off, sustainability is a welcome result of this new manufacturing technique. The lack of wastage is truly staggering – being limited to a couple of excess threads toward the upper of the shoe.
This commitment to ‘considered’ design (as Nike have coined it) twinned with a manufacturing technique that gives rise to some very exciting avenues in design, it looks as though Nike has done it again – releasing something that could potentially change the way in which we look at footwear design forever.
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