With a sense of show, Nike introduces new products

With a sense of show, Nike introduces new products

July 16–From the Nike labs that gave birth to Flyknit uppers — tightly threaded fabric uppers that reduce weight and footwear production waste — came two cousins Tuesday that share their predecessor’s DNA but offer a different look and feel.

This being Nike, a mere press release announcing the sneakers and clothing innovations would not do. The world’s largest sporting goods company invited journalists and bloggers from around the world — about 150 in all — to see the products up close and interview key players in their development.

“Not big news but cool shoe,” was footwear analyst Matt Powell’s assessment on Twitter.

But the event was important enough that chief executive Mark Parker, who joined the company in 1979 as a footwear designer, kicked off the gathering with a speech that retold Nike’s footwear design history.

The Oregon-based company presented the new products with a Hollywood sense of show and spectacle that almost overshadow the products. The setting in the Tiger Woods Center on the sprawling World Headquarters campus can have that effect.

Still, Flyknit was Tuesday’s star.

Two running shoes were introduced — the Nike Free Flyknit ($160) and Nike Free Hyperfeel ($175) — both using the Flyknit upper that was introduced in advance of the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Nike has touted the technology ever since, and Parker has played a role in its development.

Flyknit is a fabric produced with a single weaving machine, eliminating the need for cutting a sewing that has become part of athletic sneaker construction over the decades. Also, Flyknit uppers are in one piece, rather than the multiple pieces that result in mounds of waste in the far-off countries where contract factories produce them.

Nike Free Flyknit is the latest evolution from Nike’s emphasis on natural running, said Sean McDowell, vice president and creative director for Nike Running.

The journey began as early as 1985, he said, when the company fitted 1985 Boston Marathon winner Ingrid Kristiansen with a sock-like, lightweight running shoe, her feet secured to the sole by two straps.

Key developments, though, have evolved over the past decade, sparked by Nike designer Tobie Hatfield’s observation of Stanford University runners practicing barefoot on the grass. That begat the Nike Free shoe in 2004.

The Hyperfeel, perhaps even more than the Free Flyknit, encourages natural running with a minimal sole, said Tony Bignell, vice president of footwear innovation.

“When you put your foot in, I guarantee you’ll want to go out and go for a run,” Bignell told assembled journalists.

Make no mistake, though, these kinds of innovations may never be used for running, said Christopher Svezia, a footwear and apparel analyst for Susquehanna International Group.

“At the end of the day, 60 to 70 percent of these athletic purchases are not bought for their intended use,” Svezia said, though the phenomenon may be stronger with basketball shoes, especially Nike’s Jordan Brand sneakers. “It really comes down to fashion and styling, particularly for the Nike brand.”

The company also introduced two new apparel technologies, Aeroloft and Dri-Fit Knit.

Ever since Nike got into the apparel business decades ago, it has been overshadowed by the footwear side. One of apparel’s early leaders, Bob Woodell, once told The Oregonian he didn’t even know how to spell the word when then-Nike president Phil Knight asked him to head the division.

With the introduction of Aeroloft and Dri-Fit, however, Nike shows its commitment not only to the products but to innovation as well, said Lee Holman, vice president of Nike Apparel.

— Allan Brettman