While the likes of adidas and Reebok continue to shoot from the hip (or in the dark, as it were) with their latest footwear innovations—the Springblade and ATV 19+ respectively—sportswear pioneers Nike recently unveiled a series of new products "designed to enhance runners' natural abilities." Guided by the company's "Nature Amplified" design ethos, the two new running shoes and two new apparel items are designed expressly as an extension of the human body in order to maximize the potential of the athlete.
The new Nike Free Flyknit represents the fusion of the distinctive woven upper—widely hailed as a breakthrough ">when it debuted last year—to a Free+ 5.0 midsole to form a killer combo for running performance. And while it might be regarded as an incremental step, rest assured they've since iterated on the first generation of Flyknit, incorporating new research and field-testing data.A new, more compressive NIke Flyknit construction in the shoe upper secures the runner's foot to the shoe platform. The unique zoned performance mapping pattern of the Nike Flyknit upper is derived from insights on how pressure is exerted on the top of the foot. Nike Sport Research Lab scientists employed pressure-mapping technology to locate stress areas, and designers used the data to inform the new upper. Zones on the top of the foot have engineered stretch built to enable natural flex, while a tighter weave at the perimeter stabilizes the forefoot and heel. Additionally, elasticized construction fits securely around the ankle for a comfortable, secure fit.The Free Hyperfeel also offers a new combination of existing Nike technologies, combining the Flyknit upper with a Lunarlon insole and updated waffle sole. "Articulated Lunarlon foam mirrors the flexible, knife-cut cushioning used in Nike Free footwear, but here it is the only intermediary layer between foot and outsole—minimal layers for maximum sensation." Meanwhile, the re-engineered sole marks a major update to the late Bill Bowerman's iconic innovation, featuring "strategically placed pistons, reflecting key pressure points, [and] highly durable XDR rubber... in high-wear heel areas."
The design team has certainly improved on the unmistakable waffle grid, which dates back to 1971, when Bowerman—a track coach who would co-found the biggest sportswear company in the world—made the connection between a spike-less sole and his breakfast. The rest, as they say, is history, and it's well worth revisiting the now-legendary tale.
Along with the footwear, Nike also announced several new developments in their apparel technologies: the new Aeroloft material is a performance-centric take on a synthetic down, while their popular DRI-Fit collection sees the introduction of Knit, Touch and Wool variations.
And while it's worth acknowledging that Nike's enviable design team is matched by the company's formidable marketing muscle, I must say I'm duly impressed with the continued innovation coming from Beaverton, Oregon.