—Imagine living a life of dedication in the hopes of fulfilling a dream. To one day become the best. To one day represent your country on the world’s largest stage. But imagine that lifetime of blood, sweat and tears is all for one single defining moment. For both the Olympian and Nike, this is where the story begins.
The folks at Beaverton have been hard at work in their research & development labs since the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and they welcomed the world, in typical grandiose fashion, to an "invite only" event in the city that never sleeps.
Sitting alongside the waters of New York City's East River, nestled between the bridges that cross to Williamsburg and Manhattan, stood Basketball City–the prestigious multi-court facility–where Nike was set to unveil their latest defining moment.
With no formal announcement, and unbeknownst to most of the international attendees, Carl Lewis–former Olympic Gold Medalist–walked out onto the stage to host this exclusive event. Fittingly enough, the former world-class sprinter spoke candidly about the feeling leading up to the games, "I can personally speak to the importance of training and competing is second to none. The feeling of nerves and anticipation leading up to the games are totally indescribable."
Walking onto the stage in semi-formal attire there was no better person to introduce Nike’s latest technology than its CEO, Mark Parker: "Today is a celebration of the Olympic athlete. And the way we do that at Nike is by creating amazing product to help them perform at their very best. We’re going to show you the latest technology in footwear and apparel for both the Olympic athlete and the everyday athlete."
Parker, together with Martin Lotti, Nike’s Global Creative Director for the Olympics, and Hannah Jones, Nike’s VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation, introduced two of the latest technologies that will push Nike’s future
forward–Aeroswift and Flyknit. Utilizing the Aeroswift technology, the Speed Suit was designed to be faster than skin, giving the athlete an advantage of 0.03 seconds. Flyknit, on the other hand, features a one-piece upper, made of high performance yarn that provides surprising support, improved breathability, and naturally conforms to the athlete’s foot providing unparalleled comfort. Lotti explains, "This is not a difference of first and second place, this is a difference of making the podium or not."
Following the introductory presentation, we were ushered into an open area containing four separate pods, each providing a detailed look into Nike's latest technologies. In the track and field pod, they introduced Aeroswift, which makes the athlete more aerodynamic and therefore improves overall sprint speeds. In the basketball pod, they gave us a closer look at their Hyper Elite Basketball uniform, which is now packaged with more durability and is 40% lighter than the 2008 Olympic uniforms. In the third pod, we were shown how the Lunarlon technology, inspired by Astronauts walking on the moon, will help provide the best cushion that is featherweight and responsive.
In the final pod, the creative team explained how Nike’s Flyknit technology will change footwear standards for both performance and sustainability. Nike’s latest development is another benchmark in a history of game changing technology: Waffle sole, Air, Shox, Flywire, Lunarlite Foam, and now Flyknit.
Forty years ago, it was a far fetched idea that a woven performance shoe would have been possible. But with Nike continuously pushing the boundaries of science and art, it will be quite interesting to see where curiosity takes this groundbreaking technology.
Ben Shaffer on Flyknit Technology
For the past five years, Ben Shaffer has been a part of Nike’s famed Innovation Kitchen where they are encouraged to think, experiment, research, build, and question things with one ultimate goal–to help their athletes achieve their goals. As the lead designer on the Nike Flyknit Trainer+, Shaffer worked closely with Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield, and Mark Parker to produce this latest sneaker. We had a chance to speak one-on-one with Shaffer in an effort to gain a better understanding of this amazing new technology.
What challenges did you and your team face when developing the Flyknit technology?
The biggest challenge was finding something similar to a sock that still had the structure and durability. We didn’t have the machinery to do anything along those lines so we had to figure out how we could create the machines and their elements that would allow us to make a “sock-like shoe” and then duplicate the technology to produce it. From there, it was a matter of our team of engineers, designers, developers, and programmers really honing in on figuring those answers.
Once we got it, it was a case of working together to come up with something that functionally gave our athletes what they needed. It was a long collaborative process with each of us immensely learning each other’s traits from [one group] learning footwear on their end, to me leaning knitting.
How did the Flyknit technology help shape the design of the shoe?
The technology, at a micro level, helped determine where we wanted structure to where we wanted elasticity to where
we wanted certain things to move on the shoe. That provided us with an amazing tool to help us map out what was necessary for our athletes and build only what was essential to an upper [of a shoe]. It gave us detailed ability to shape the form with how much fabric we actually needed, to how we were going to stitch things together.
How different was the construction of this shoe compared to other shoes you designed in the past?
The goal was similar, wanting to have certain areas on the shoes with flexibility or durability for the athlete; but this particular design was really different. Because it was all built into one layer, after all those traits were mapped out, it was a lot of back and forth with people in different areas to really help us. It really changed our approach because of the amount of collaboration needed.
How involved was Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker to the entire evolution stage of Flyknit?
At different projects within HTM, different people have more influence in that triad of collaboration than others. In this particular one, Hiroshi and Tinker helped guide and curate the collection, but ultimately this was a bit of Mark Parker's baby. He was really the guiding force through this project. We would always meet up and talk about details, and he would always ask us questions about athlete feedback, variations on how we could be doing things, and was very much involved with the elements of the design. With Flyknit, he was very passionate and really challenged us, numerous times, to figure out the best ways to make the product better.
What would you say were the main elements you referenced when designing this product?
Our initial idea was to take the characteristics of a sock, which is knitted, and add structure to that. So essentially, we designed to work on the challenge of creating the structure of the shoe. Our focus was much more in the details of smaller knit-related structure and seeing how colours blend, and using the various special yarns put together so we were able to see it function in different ways. We learned a lot more because we started on new terrain, and a lot less thinking about how things are influencing it. But ultimately, we were looking at things at a much more micro level and kept asking, "Can we make this better?"
We returned the next day to Basketball City. Gone was the elaborate stage. It was replaced with a full basketball court illuminated by blue lights that draped the court. With a Nike+ logo sitting at center court, you immediately knew what this was about. In 2006, the introduction of Nike+ for Running was an unprecedented move that gave runners the ability to determine how far, long, and fast they could run. But that thinking was pushed even further with their latest announcement that Nike+ was coming to their basketball program.
Someone told Mark Parker the day before, "This stuff looked like it came from the future." Oddly enough, that is exactly where Nike plans to take you. In its newest development, Nike looks to inherit modern technology to connect sports in the digital age. Trevor Edwards, Nike's Category and Brand Management, explained, "In 1972,
Bill Bowerman wanted to make shoes lighter. 40 years later we have the opportunity to innovate like we have never seen before." To demonstrate Nike+ and its potential, a five-on-five full
court game was played to show the future of Nike+ and basketball. Stefan Olander, Nike’s VP of Digital Sports, explained to us, “Nike takes the data from four bio-mechanically placed pressured points [sensors] to detect your movement.” The data can help determine how high you jump, how fast you run, and exactly how your performance is measured throughout the game. Syncing with your iPhone, this technology will not only provide you with measured data analysis to help push you further, but you can share your stats via popular social networks.
Analyzing an athlete and their data is nothing new for Nike, they have been doing this for years. But its plan to bring the power of their lab right to you and your smartphone is a remarkable benchmark for Nike. Olander explains, "Today is the result of two years of incredible research & development by Digital Sport and the Innovation Kitchen at Nike. The human foot hitting the ground is the foundation of almost any athletic activity and we spent decades researching this. Now we have the ability to take all of our expertise and give it to every athlete in the world."
Lunar TR 1+ is designed to turn your workouts into a game and share your progress amongst your social circle. By utilizing your Nike+ equipped shoes, along with your iPhone and the Nike+ Training Experience, you can partake in a wide range of athletic drills that are designed and developed by athletes such as Rafa Nadal, Manny Pacquiao, and Allyson Felix.
When it comes to the Olympics, for Nike, it is quite simply about perfection. Cutting it close does not count. And like the individuals who are training on the track or in the gym, the people who occupy Nike Campus can attest to that. Their job is simple–shave seconds and make an ounce lighter. They sought to improve and redefine the meaning of innovation by marrying technology, art, and sports. For more than four years, they worked and trained night in and night out. And like the athletes themselves, years of hard work and preparation all came down to one single defining moment.
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