If you’re reading this article, you know Nike. A famous 1998 New York Times claimed that, in a recent marketing study, 97% of Americans recognized the swoosh brand, the “Just Do It” slogan, or both. In 2013, Nike, Inc. had 59% of the US market share for “athletic and performance” footwear. The next closest competitor? Adidas, Inc., the fashionable, soccer-focused heavyweight and favorite of rappers Kanye West, Pharrell, and RUN DMC – with only 10%. From Brazilian futbol stadiums (sponsored by Nike) to Parisian basketball tournaments (sponsored by Nike), there’s no denying who is the world’s foremost sports and fitness brand.
However, Nike’s meteoric rise to global supremacy has as much to do with how their shoes function as with how they look doing it. Since the launch of the Cortez, Nike products have always sought to blend state-of-the-art athletic performance with timeless, aesthetically-pleasing product design. It wasn’t until the mid-80’s hiring of architect-turned-shoe-designer Tinker Hatfield, however, that Nike’s products transcended “blending” entirely. Hatfield, the mind behind legendary sneaker staples the Air Max, Air Jordan III, and Air Trainer, made it his mission to compromise neither form nor function in search of the perfect athletic shoe. Now, entire divisions of Nike (NikeLab, Nike ACG, and HTM, just to name a few) exist solely to balance the company’s reputation for modern performance with its equally important visual identity.
What does this mean in the present? Innovation made fashion. It means that the world’s best sports and fitness company can package space-age technology in a skin sleek enough for New York runways. It means that millions of dollars of materials R&D can produce the Flywire, Flyknit, Nike Zoom, and Lunarlon technology desired by Olympic athletes, but worn by you to class.
Move over, Apple Watch. This is wearable tech.
Flywire – Modeled after the support structure of the Golden Gate Bridge, FlyWire refers to a series of nylon strands running along the length of a shoe, often serving dual-function as part of the lacing. Just like any proper suspension cable, Flywire uses gravity and tension to keep your foot and your shoe moving as one, even as you juke and turn unpredictably. Think like a seatbelt for your foot. Durable, lightweight, and stronger per ounce than traditional support materials (leather, for example), Flywire works alongside a traditional mesh/nylon upper rather than replacing it entirely. Flywire is often made a visual centerpiece of a shoe, and with good reason: it’s a definite, material visual contrast that’s also relatively easy to manipulate into patterns while still retaining function (as seen on the side of this Nike Lunar Flyknit 1). For the ultimate in weight savings, however, you need a little bit more “oomph”.
Flyknit – Flyknit technology is Nike’s answer to the oldest equation in sports: if velocity is a function of mass and acceleration (and you just spent all last week in the gym working on acceleration), what can we do about mass? In the past, cutting weight meant literally cutting entire sections of “extra” material (see: Nike Air Huarache), ultimately sacrificing support for agility at the risk of potential injury. FlyKnit wants you to have your cake and eat it, too. Thousands of individual strands of high-tensile strength yarn are knitted into an ultra-lightweight, one-piece “upper” reinforced with FlyWire, creating a structurally sound “sock” around your foot. That upper is then firmly attached to any mid/outsole combination in the Nike line, meaning Flyknit technology is at home anywhere on Earth – from the court (Nike Kobe 10 Elite) to the pitch (Nike Mercurial CR7) to the track (Nike Flyknit Racer). Considering each individual strand of a Flyknit upper can be its own color, spectacular and unique colorways are possible.
Nike Zoom – Finally, some sole style – Nike Zoom refers to Zoom “packages” embedded throughout the sole of shoes carrying the moniker. Each package contains thousands of microscopic, air-filled fibers that act like a box spring mattress, returning impact energy to each step as you naturally “lift off”. Different shoes utilize Zoom packages in different areas depending on the intended activity: “Elite” shoes are meant for short-mid distance and sprinters, so Zoom tech is concentrated in the forefoot. Vomaro, versatile cross-trainers, have Zoom focused around the midfoot. Meanwhile, the Nike Air Pegasus – the company’s flagship distance shoe – has Zoom exclusively in the heel. What does this mean design-wise? Big, bold, outsoles and sleak silhouttes, as evidenced on this Nike Zoom Flyknit Agility Trainer (with visible Zoom packaging throughout the foot).
Lunarlon – The “memory foam” to Zoom’s box spring. Every step you take, you sink into the shoe’ cushy footbed that much more. On the technical side, there’s little novelty. On the design side, there are worlds. Most Lunarlon outsoles feature heavy, almost accordion-like horizontal lines that lend even traditional shoe silhouettes (like the Air Max or Janoski SB skateboarding shoe) a distinctly futurist vibe. Feel like Zero G; look you like you just stepped off the Moon. That’s Lunarlon.