Incorperating Phil Knights well know philosophy "always listen to the voice of the athlete" and Bill Bowerman’s high expectations of "make it lighter", the beckbone for Nike’s well documented success, they have produced another defining piece of technology which will impact sport design and improve athletes perfomance by improving efficiency…
Imagine a paper-thin shoe, no more than two microns thick, whose only support comes from threads. This is Flywire. A revolutionary technology, its high-strength threads work like cables on a suspension bridge with support engineered precisely where a foot needs it. Flywire allowed Nike to make its lightest and strongest footwear ever, transforming how footwear is engineered by reducing the amount of material required for the upper of a shoe to the bare minimum. Thanks to this innovation, track spikes with Flywire are now under 100g a weight never before achieved – without compromising on durability or integrity and support.
Six and a half years ago all Flywire footwear’s creator Jay Meschter, Innovation Director of Nike’s Innovation Kitchen, had was a shoe last, the mold from which shoes are built, with pins and string placed only at key points where the foot requires support. The model looked like 1970s string art but held an uncharted realm of possibility. This single product concept held the potential to revolutionize the way footwear is constructed.
Creating a skeleton or cradle with engineered fibers strategically placed to hold the foot in place overturns the very assumptions that go into creating performance footwear – add more to a shoe to get more support, The Innovation Kitchen knew the possibilities the product held, but there was no easy or cost effective way to deliver the innovation into product. The project went into hibernation until Jay and his team could find the machinery and processes capable of delivering the technology to product.
A couple years later in Nike’s sample room Jay found the answer right before his eyes in a simple embroidery machine. Embroidery was the way to engineer Flywire. In theory the machine’s needle can pick up and move in any direction, creating the long stitches the new technology required. Of course it wasn’t that simple. The machine had to be broken and reprogrammed to deliver the engineering Jay was thinking about.
Stitching straight across the upper (rather than using a large jump stitch) would have made something no more effective than decoration on the side of the shoe. Creating a long stitch means the structure comes entirely from the thread. With its radical reduction of weight, Flywire also spells the end of using layers of material to create support, all of which adds weight and decreases flexibility.
Early on in the process, the design team started working with biomechanics experts in the Nike Sports Research Lab (NSRL). With duct tape in hand, they taped up designers’ feet. NSRL researcher Jeff Pisciotta had long been fascinated by the idea of creating an extra ligament that would facilitate movement. Ligaments guide joints in the right direction. “We were wrapping under the foot up to the heel with the tape to provide lateral stability. Through that and a bit of anatomy we were able to position the Flywire fibers in the right places,” he explains.
Such a precise placement of the Flywire filaments means the uppers are more like a second skin. The fabric is only there to keep out rocks and dirt. The threads provide all the support, and the new footwear provides a solution to what had been an unsolvable problem—slippage.
Walk or run in a shoe and with each step your foot slips. Your foot pulls back maybe just a millimeter, but over the course of a race those millimeters add up. Assuming a meter stride, over 1000 meters, could potentially equal a whole meter savings at the finish line—no small amount when the difference between first and third place is less than that.
“Flywire gets to that elusive thing of the plate just attaching to the bottom of the foot and forgetting about the shoe,” Meschter says. It also gets Nike one step closer to achieving one of Bill Bowerman’s goals. When he was a coach, he said the ideal track spike would be a nail through the foot. Now, with Flywire, it’s not quite as extreme as a nail, but it’s as close as anyone has gotten to applying a spike plate directly to feet. The technology is debuting in track and field with the Nike Zoom Victory Spike, Nike Zoom Victory +, as well as the Nike Hyperdunk basketball shoe.
In addition take a look at this interview with Lakers living legend Kobe Bryant from Nike’s very own Mark Parker.