"Innovation is not about creation for its own sake, it's about creating something better, designing with a purpose," Mark Parker, President and CEO of Nike explained to an assembled audience of international press as he introduced the Nature Amplified design ethos and unveiled four running enhancing innovations last month. With pens perfectly poised and dictaphones desperate to document, this simple statement might have been lost in the pleasing product parade that delighted and dazzled over the course of my stay in Oregan. They weren't. As we were all enveloped and inspired by the all inviting swoosh during our tour of its campus, Parker's words grew louder as they echoed across each and every inch of their impressive HQ.
It had been half a decade since Nike had gathered journalists from all over the world together at their Beaverton base. Having heard countless tales of awe inspiring visits to Nike's state of sportswear, expectations were high and as they unveiled a quartet of products designed to enhance runners’ natural abilities and offered glimpses inside their Nike Sport Research Lab with air bubbles of innovation, we weren't disappointed. A princely pair of running shoes were introduced in the Nike Free Flyknit and Nike Free Hyperfeel along with a dynamic duo of apparel technologies in Aeroloft and Dri-FIT Knit, all guided by Nike’s Nature Amplified design ethos, an approach that is focused on designing for the body in motion and fuelled by scientific data and athlete insights. "Nature Amplified means designing for bodies in motion and creating products that work intuitively with the human body,” Trevor Edwards, NIKE Brand President divulged. “The footwear and apparel we’ve unveiled today is based on insights from athletes and runners at every level, combined with extensive research in our lab. These innovations are data-driven, but body-led," he continued.
After introducing the revolutionary (in production terms atleast) Flyknit last year and receiving widespread acclaim, you'd forgive them if, like many other leaders of industry do, they spent the next year or two subtlety tweaking the concept but they haven't. They're now pushing this technology and applying it to other models, for all kinds of potential applications and two were unveiled last month. The Nike Free Flyknit is the fusion of two of Nike’s most iconic footwear technologies — the compressive Nike Flyknit upper has been teamed with the flexible Nike Free outsole. The shoe provides the benefits of natural motion and a snug, supportive fit in a single shoe.
The evolution of the Flyknit
With the above pair of Nike Free Flyknits myself, I can testify that shoe fits snugly, it's hugs your feet. Also loving the feet of runners and getting that bit closer, the Nike Free Hyperfeel is designed to feel like an extension of the body by minimising layers between the foot and the ground. The ultra-thin waffle outsole uses strategically placed waffle pistons for grip and feel, allowing the foot to get closer to the ground. Drawing directly from the Nature Amplified doctrine, the shoe that mimics the intricate workings of the human foot: Lunarlon foam replicates cushioned pads under the foot. The outsole protects like hardened skin on the sole. Dynamic Flywire flexes and contracts, inspired by ligaments.
Feeling the Hyperfeel
Over the course of the summit, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Trevor Edwards and I asked him what constantly drives the brand forward. Given that he been an integral part of the company for twenty one years and seen tremendous growth and all sorts of innovations, he was perfectly placed to detail how and why Nike are never satisfied and to explain the latest developments:
"This mindset was embedded into the company at the very beginning by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. As Bill was a coach and Knight an athlete, the mentality of constantly struggling to be better was there from the start. Bill used to say innovate or retire. That statement rings true today. Mark (Parker) is just the same. It is an everyday pursuit. We all come to work every single day thinking how we can help athletes get better, there's always this hunger to improve. If something's not better then why are we doing it? From this, it allows us to remove any sentimentality about a product that was great at a particular moment time and instead we're thinking of solving new problems in a fresh way.
In many ways Nature Amplified is a disruptive way of thinking in terms of product creation because the common viewpoint is to add things to product but instead we're now taking anything that fails to enhance performance and experience. It's a purist approach. The HyperFeel is a pure form of product, we're using Flyknit but we're developing this idea of being close to the surface. The body knows, it can feel that sensation and it reacts accordingly. Nature has created the way we are, we look to add to that by making the product more personal to you, the athlete, you the consumer. Over time we can apply our knowledge and ability to innovate against specific problems, we're always looking at fresh ways to improve products and to innovate.
To reach that point, there's always a great deal of work behind-the-scenes. We are amassing years and years of knowledge that continue to build up and innovation can only occur when technology catches up with the knowledge, it's a case of being able to deliver. Knowledge, design and technology need to be at the same level That's what we were able to do with Flyknit. We had researched where and how the foot required support an to stretch itself out when it is performing naturally and the Flyknit technology helps us produce stitch by stitch. It changed how footwear is made. It has so many benefits. From a consumer perspective, it allows us to engineer the product to their specific needs in a mass way. From a manufacturing perspective, it reduces waist and brings digital knowledge into the creation of a production."
As we bounced from room to room inside the all consuming campus, I lost count of the times I heard the word innovation. "Innovation is everything at Nike. It's the core of our character. We use innovation to serve human potential. It's the answer to limits," Parker stated in his opening summit speech. It was impossible not to swoon over the sportswear giant as it flexed its research and design muscles by opening white boxes containing next level products which were duly promoted by pulse racing presentations but it was Nike's insatiable appetite to improve, to be better that left the greatest impression on me. Mirroring the efforts of the superstars that they work with each and every day, they are always pushing forward, striving to beat previous personal bests and helping their sponsored and supported talents to do the same. Laurels or heels are never rested on in Beaverton as Edwards explains.
"Being here for twenty years, the great thing is that we come to work every single day trying out how to innovate, how to make something better. We're not interested in new for the sake of newness, it has to be better. Certain product innovations are a journey, we launched Free and we're now at this point, we envision that products will be based on nature - how can we continue to improve our basis by thinking along this ethos. That doesn't mean less technology, it means taking away the negatives and only adding to the positives, finding the purest essence of the product and stripping away everything else."