I was recently invited by the Swoosh amongst other runners and media personalities to attend the launch and a workshop featuring Nike‘s groundbreaking Flyknit collection. Since I wasn’t in attendance at the global launch in New York (*ahem*), I was pretty keen to see what all the hoopla was all about, especially after seeing them on the feet of various track teams and the marathoners at the Olympics.
The workshop was held at the historic La Salle College, one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most respected secondary schools, who incidentally boast one of the region’s most highly decorated track & field teams.
I’m sure most of you will have seen the Flyknit floating around on the internetsuperhighwaywebosphere, due to the Swoosh’s big marketing push behind it over the recent Olympics months. Aside from the HTM pack, I must admit I didn’t know too much about the R&D and technology behind the Flyknit itself, other than the reason for its namesake – a completely woven upper. As far as I was concerned, it could’ve been woven from unicorn hair. Until the workshop, I’d never even touched a pair before.
The workshop kicked off with a quick lecture from Nike Marketing Director “Professor” Simon Wat-
TF?, and Elton, the resident EKIN. Let’s break it down really quickly for you.
To cut a long story short, the FlyKnit is being introduced as the successor to Nike’s Flywire technology; and I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this on this website, you’ll already know all about Flywire. All the marketing hubris aside, it’s a manufacturing technique that utilizes a single piece upper, woven from a new synthetic fiber created by the Nike Innovation team.
It’s not until you look at the shoe up close that you can appreciate the technology behind it. The way the fibers interlock, and how they change to support the various aspects of the shoe – the toecap, the saddle, the collar, and the heel cup. Denser around the areas that need the support, and more transparent around the areas that require breathability. The Racer features a more rounded heel and sharper collar to reduce weight, and for a better fit over longer distances. With Zoom Air only in the heel, it’s made to be fast, light and swift. The line of stitching on the heel to connect the two halves of the upper together is the only line of stitching on the entire shoe. Trust me, I looked, being the smart ass that I am. Even the eyelets are secured by Flyknit fiber strands.
Believe it or not, the fibers are wound out of recycled polyester/PET bottles, similar to the football jerseys Nike released for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Even the rubber on the outsole – dubbed the WaffleSkin (in homage to Nike founder Bill Bowermann’s waffle sole design) is recycled. The only ‘new’ part of the shoe is the foam in the midsole.
After the lecture, it was time to put the attendees to work. I opted for a pair of the FlyKnit racers, their competition shoe. I could harp on about how I made some kind of educated decision on trying these over the Trainers, but I’ll be honest; I just liked the way they looked. Plus, it says Racing on the insole…. dude. That’s got to be worth at least 10 seconds of track time, no? The first thing you notice when you pick up the box is… “are there shoes in here?“. Clocking it at a sprite 160g, they feel almost lighter than air. The Trainer weighs in at a little over 200g. Trust me, after 30km, every gram feels like a ton; when I ran Honolulu last year, my shoes felt like lead when I crossed the finish line. Bananas.
Cemented around four design philosophies – Performance, Lightness, Formfitting and Sustainability – it’s not hard with the shoes on to see how they’ve managed to tick all four boxes. The formfitting and sustainability points are what impressed me the most; I’ve already pointed out earlier that over 80% of the shoe is made from recycled materials, with only 6mm of polyester thread wastage in every pair. That’s pretty eye opening, if you stop and consider the way other shoes are manufactured – off cuts, throw away materials, toxic chemicals, and a ton of wastage. Where does it all go? The landfills. It’s good to see a company the size of Nike taking a different approach to reduce wastage and to use recycled materials. It may not seem like much to you, but imagine that across tens of thousands of production units… how much it saves. Due to its manufacturing process, the shoe only goes through seven different hands in production; as opposed to traditionally 220 (!!), so the quality control is far more consistent. It only takes 40 minutes to create each upper and the vision is that one day, you could walk into a Nike store, stick your foot into a 3D scanner, and have them manufacture a shoe to fit your foot perfectly on-site within an hour for pick-up. Imagine that.
Out onto the La Salle College track, with our trainers for the day – Ricco, a member of the HK triathlon team, and Maggie
“The Dragon” Chen, seven-time HK women’s marathon record holder (2:32)… who takes running pretty damn seriously. Aside from running through the usual drills, we were also given a quick talk about proper running technique, foot strike and posture. It was also at that point that I realized that this was only the second time I’ve ran on a track (the other being the Gyakusou Tokyo launch a couple of years ago) – the soft rebound is definitely a different experience to pounding the pavement. The good thing is, you can really see the way the Flyknits were built to grip the surface of a track.
I must admit, it seems like the Flyknit collection is modeled around a specific foot shape. It’s narrow, and I’ve heard various feedback regarding the shape of the heel counter & excessive foot movement. It may not suit everybody. Yes, the technology behind the woven Flyknit gives it flexibility to ‘wrap’ itself around your foot as well as incorporating amazing breathability for the wearer, but it certainly seems more suited to a certain foot shape than a universal application, especially with the Racer. The Zoom Air is also a bit stiff at first, but does break in over a few runs.
As I’ve stated, the sustainability approach to the Flyknit technology with recycled materials and reduced wastage is what impressed me the most about the line, but it’s the potential behind the technology that really interests me; the application and flexibility behind the manufacturing technique opens up a range of possibilities. The vision of being able to start a bespoke shoe program in the future by placing your feet in a scanner and then having a shoe custom made to your foot shape while-you-wait is a real game changer, both in terms of product performance and customer experience.
I get the same feeling as I did looking at the iPhone when it was first released in 2007 – there’s something that grabs you about the technology behind the shoe, but at the same time, you want to see it developed a little further. Personally, I would try on a few before deciding on your size; I’d be hesitant to suggest buying these purely online unless you want them for just a casual shoe. Go into a shop and try them on. The trainer definitely affords a little bit more cushioning and support than the Racer, if you’re a little wobbly around the ankle. It’s a great looking piece of gear, but I would categorize these as a high performance running shoe as opposed to a casual trainer; they seem more suited for short distance track running than pounding concrete, although that could just be my running style. I wouldn’t run anything past 5km in these unless you’re got a neutral gait, or if you have flat feet, or if you normally run on a stability platform. I would also work on your running technique before pushing it too hard in these shoes; unlike the Lunar’s dynamic support system, they’re not terribly forgiving for incorrect running posture & foot strike. I’d love to see what the innovation kitchen is cooking up for further Flyknit releases.
“Frank Liew is the Creative Director of Silly Thing, a Hong Kong based creative agency whose publications Milk/MilkX/Obscura are distributed throughout Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan. Spanning publishing, visual production, events, and fashion retail, the multi-disciplinary agency produces creative work and direction for its numerous brand clients; ranging from luxury marques, automotive manufacturers, and sportswear giants. A writer, fan of cynical tweets and a partially serious runner with Team GIRA2, Frank also harbors a rather bad Instagram obsession, along with most things on four wheels… and the occasional giant gummy bear.”