Monday, 30 April 2012

Improving Flywire

To give a brief background to those less familiar with Flywire, it was invented by Jay Meschter, Director of Innovation at Nike, and debuted at the 2007 Athletics World Championships. Drawing inspiration from the mechanics of a suspension bridge whereby many cables provide the necessary structural support, Flywire allows support to be provided by fibers specifically to the areas that require it the most, namely the forefoot and the heel. Such a targeted support system avoids using layers of material to support the whole foot thus reducing the shoe’s net weight by up to 50%.

To best illustrate this fiber based architecture is by placing a light source within a shoe. In this case it was a Nike Hyperdunk. The striped and crisscrossed patterns clearly define the areas that require additional support for the athlete. The distribution of the fibers across the upper though based on the mechanics of a suspension bridge fail to capture the vertical linearity of said bridge. It’s visual similarity is far closer to the architecture of a dragonfly’s wing a natural design that could benefit the performance of Flywire further.

The various cellular shapes within a dragonfly’s wing carry the responsibility of determining the amount of stiffness or flexibility in that area of the wing whilst being as lightweight as possible. The somewhat randomized pattern is in fact optimized to allow rigid and flexible configurations along the span of the wings. For example the quadrilateral areas on the edges determine the more rigid and stiff portions of the wing while the largely compartmentalized hexagonal areas are responsible for the areas more likely to bend and sway. This same set of rules is applicable to the composition of a shoe.

The surface of a dragonfly’s wing can be interpreted as the single piece of fabric that would be used to cover the upper of a shoe. Integrating Flywire into this single sheet of fabric could allow for the exact same quadrilateral and hexagonal shapes to be created to reinforce the fabric in the same way it does for the dragonfly’s wing. By changing the vertically running lines to compartmentalized hexagonal cells would provided the same amount of support but increase the amount flexibility. The result would be a shoe that allowed the foot to move more naturally but with an increased level of support and protection. 

For such performance benefits the only conceivable compromise to be made would be in the aesthetic. The clean, simple and symmetrical lines on the current Hyperdunk would be replaced by a randomized collection of quadrilateral and hexagonal compartments. But by remaining with the dragonfly wings as the source of inspiration, the slightly more complex architectural details can be embellished with colour patterns as good as these:  

Friday, 20 April 2012

When Hirst and Sneakers Collide

"Cut us in half, we're all the fucking same." – Damien Hirst

Hirst’s bravado may hold true to the world of sneakers. What is a sneaker if not anything other than a vessel to contain and protect your foot? Cut any shoe in half and the empty cavity within it is always the same in shape if not size. Cut any mammal in half for that matter and they will all have mammary glands a gut and a spine. Why then do it and what is there to learn?  

Simultaneously being able to see the outside and the inside of something is somewhat of a childish but ever real fascination for many. From the gore enthusiasts to the scientifically minded, or from the weak stomached to simply curious, thousands upon thousands have marveled at Damien Hirst’s spliced cows and sheep. Such a fascination I do share but I hasten to add that it has also crossed my mind to adapt Hirst’s technique to discover what sort of world exists inside other forms that don’t necessarily live and breathe. For instance, why not consider an object such as a shoe? With Hirst’s animals one’s awareness is attuned to be in the presence of death. The basic impossibility that death can be cheated after being cut in half is something that we are aware of even from the youngest of ages. But this is a rule only relevant to what lives and breathes.  

However, to adopt a similar stance to cutting a shoe in half is not that drastically different. After all, the shoe is completely ineffectual once sawn in half. It cannot function without all its parts being together in exactly the same way an animal cant live without being whole. By substituting function for life, the action of sawing a shoe in half to reveal its inner workings is as effective in destroying its function as sawing an animal in half is to kill it. By experimenting in such practices the question is do we learn more about the living by dealing with the dead? Dissection after all is a scientific way of looking at something and a way to then explain it.

Keeping that all in mind, lets then have a look at my collection of dead shoes titled ‘Natural History’ and see if there is any truth in it all. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Intelligent | Materials

When the topic of Nike’s innovation kitchen is raised it is hard not to conjure up the image of a room filled with exotic materials and complicated pieces of technology. This is down partly to our naturally speculative nature but increasingly due to Nike’s memorable marketing material. Tales from the Kitchen is no exception. The increasingly complicated technological developments such as Hyperfuse are neatly summarized through a comical, comic book style story involving its creators. The result is that you are enlightened yet left quizzical as to what other advances will be made in the near and distant future. This is where intelligent materials come in. Having watched all the current installments from Tales from the Kitchen for a second, third and even fourth time, I would like to propose where I think Nike will be venturing next: photocromic materials.

Photochromism does not have a rigorous definition, but is usually used to describe compounds that undergo a reversible photochemical reaction. Without delving too deep into the science of it all this is when pigments can change from being colourless to coloured/opaque when exposed to natural/UV light. This colour shift effect appears in just a few seconds and can happen more than 1000 times before the reaction vanishes. The more light the pigments are absorbing the more the pigments shift into an intense colour. The video below will demonstrate:

As first seen with the Hyperfuse releases, there is a market for more adventurous colour combinations. Hyperfuse’s success is in the way it can layer colours due to the composite materials inability to completely absorb the colour pigment(s). Importantly, these colour combinations are pernament and are extremely unlikely to fluctuate over the course of time. Photocromic materials on the other hand would offer diverse flexibility of colourways and an additional tonal complexity. Depending on the sensitivity of the material, changes in colour could vary from muted tonal ranges of the original colour to altogether entirely new colours. Best of all these changes are entirely controlled by external factors of our living environment. Hypothetically this could mean that your shoes would never be the same for any prolonged period of time. Just as a closing thought, imagine if a Nike AF1 could transform itself into any of these colours and back again.   

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

You Can't Forget About The Socks!

Directed by Sneds By REE, this latest video homage to Bruce Kilgore’s original Air Force One design features the impressive AF1 collection of Afrokix. Like the many who have watched it, it is near impossible to fight the temptation in naming all the thirty AF1’s commemorating the design’s 30 years of existence. Once the naming novelty has worn off, there is a small but necessary stylistic criticism needing singling out: the need to match your socks with you kicks.

Throughout the entirety of the clip the same pair of socks is being paired with all 30 AF1’s. At times the matching/clashing of the sock’s colours and design makes the sneaker pop more than normal but more often than not the socks distract from the individuality of the shoes. It might just boil down to a taste thing but for me the shoe is the attraction and needs to be showcased to the best of its capabilities meaning socks have to toe the line. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Missing Shoe?

No one wants to be slow. The three videos that I have selected all share a general narrative that explores and celebrates what speed means to the human experience. Taken from Nike's the Art of Speed project, they all individually explore this phenomenon but crucially their scripts are left blank as to what tools (namely their footwear) might most benefit their athletic goals. It is thus up to us to best consider what shoe would be ideally suited to the physical demands of each athlete.

To commence proceedings we start with Cary Murnion & Jonathan Millot's 'Shortest Race'. From start to finish the shortest race is only 39.9" long. This concept turns the idea of a race upside down - anyone can compete in arguably any shoe. The film explores different philosophies about training for an event that's never been run before. The array in types of footwear reflects each of these individual philosophies from a Nike Dunk Low to the Nike Zoom MaxCat. Shot like a classic sporting event, every finish is a photo finish for what is a one stride race - cutting right to what everyone waits to see: the finish.  

Had I attended this prestigious meet myself, my footwear of choice would have been the rather serious Nike Free 3.0. V4 'Dark Grey'. With its low-profile Free 3.0 Phylite sole alongside a matching seamless booty and laces and a dark grey overlay that replaces the Dynamic Fit System of the Free Run+ 3 for of a more barefoot-like feel would definitely guarantee me a podium finish. (MORE VIDEOS AFTER THE BREAK)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Genealogy Of Speed | The Forgotten Bits

Two recent re-releases of 2012 (the Nike Air Flow & Current) have once again placed the spotlight upon the minimally designed runner/racer niche. For those who are believers that less is more, it has come as a welcome return of this neglected aesthetic. Over the years, however, Nike's lack of focus upon re-releasing old school runners has seen important members of this family forgotten, most noticeably the founding model, the Nike Sock Racer. In all honesty, its chances of seeing a re-issue are nominal at best. But that does not prevent the celebration of its approach towards innovation from which numerous successive models have taken inspiration.       

In the mid '80s foam was glued to the bottom of a pair of socks in an effort to make a minimal running shoe. Needless to say, they didn't quite have enough support, so Bruce Kilgore, intrigued with the notion of the minimalist approach, added anatomical contouring to the bottom, girdle material to the sock, and attached some nylon closures to two straps across the instep and ball. The idea of a running shoe made from a pair of socks was now no longer so left field. The elastic upper hugged your foot to provide the best-fitting running shoe available. Because it could conform to whoever was wearing it, it was virtually a custom fit. It was the first time anyone thought you could make a shoe that literally hugged the foot and removed everything else. It's bona fide legacy is still evident in Nike's latest venture, the Flyknit.