Maybe moon boots arenthe future after all —not when one of the worldbiggest shoe companies, with revenues of more than $20 billion last year, is betting on its future with a less-is-more strategy. At the end of this month, Nike will release a shoe that designers at the company are calling a paradigm shift in how shoes are made. Dubbed the Flyknit Racer, the new footwear weighs in at 5.6 ounces —one of the lightest shoes the company has ever made. going back to the core of making,”says Ben Shaffer, studio director of Nike Innovation Kitchen and the Flyknitlead designer. of just stamping out pieces of material, now wecreating that material.”
Nike has long experimented with technology that would combine the balance and support of a shoe with the breathable lightweight comfort of a sock. (Nike1985 Sock Racer weighed only 6.4 ounces.) But during the last 10 years, two departments at Nike have furthered the companytechnology-meets-design focus: The Innovation Kitchen, a sort-of think tank for shoe designers, and Considered Design, which instituted goals that reduced waste across the company by 17 percent last year, the equivalent of 15 million shoes. After prototypes,”Shaffer says, Nike has finally developed a shoe that meets both groups’goals.
The key is in the yarn. Shaffer began working directly with yarn manufacturers to engineer lightweight, breathable polyester yarns into a tougher material that could be twisted and braided to offer support. He then combined those yarns with Flywire cables, a thread made of liquid-crystal fibers and introduced at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. purity of Flywire was that you wouldnhave to add plastic or other pieces to help keep it in shape and keep it positioned,”Shaffer says.
Nike turns 40 this year and still seems to dedicate most of its attention to the idea of putting air under your feet, not going barefoot. But Shaffer says the design mentality for the Flyknit Collection was to become invisible. not attempting to provide a product that makes someone superhuman,”he says. good design works seamlessly with the effort youputting into it.”For Lorrie Vogel, general manager of Considered Design, a product that uses less waste is good business. fact that we can take a fiber and knit only what is needed is really revolutionary,”she says.
The polyester yarns may end up being useful for more than just shoes. This summer and fall, Nike is launching the Flyknit Collective, a platform for designers to apply the material to physical spaces and environments. The series, curated by Neville Wakefield, will host events featuring creations by artists, architects, and designers who are focused on materiality in their work, including Jenny Sabin in New York, Shigeru Ban in Tokyo, Ernesto Neto in Rio de Janeiro, and Odoardo Fioravanti in Milan. In February, Nike released the HTM Flyknit Collection, a limited-edition version of the shoe thata collaboration between Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield, and Nike CEO Mark Parker.
The real game changer, however, is the ability to mass-produce the line, says Shaffer. was great to do one-offs,”he says. trying to figure out how to scale something like this up was the biggest challenge.”As always at Nike, itback to the future, full speed ahead.