Never one to rest on its laurels, Nike unveiled the next level in running gear innovations at its headquarters in Portland, Oregon yesterday. Paired with the no-nonsense strapline, Nature Amplified, the newest additions include two pairs of shoes, and a capsule line of advanced thermal regulatory apparel.
In front of an audience of over 160 international press, Nike unveiled the Free Fly Knit, an enlightened hybrid of its popular Free and Fly Knit designs. Boasting an ultra lightweight knitted upper, which is designed to suit the anatomy and physiology of the foot, and a supple, supportive sole that offers the ultimate in mobility, the Free Fly Knit is a sock and a shoe rolled into one.
Every aspect of the knitted upper has been designed to complement the foot in motion. The compressive knitted fit hugs the ankle, while the bendable sole offers mid-range cushioning. The shoe flexes with every move, emulating the feel of running barefoot.
Alongside this, Nike also presented the Free Hyperfeel - a trainer that has been imagined as an extension of the body. The minimal shoe, which comprises only seven parts, is reduced to only the most essential amounts of padding and material. In this case, the foot is directly in contact with Nike's Lunarlon foam sole, allowing the athlete to experience every surface that they tread with a sort of weightlessness.
Unlike the Free Fly Knit, the Free Hyperfeel's sole is thin (0.7mm thick) and allows the foot to get closer to the ground. Each part of the engineered waffle sole behaves like a piston, strategically placed to reflect and relieve pressure, while the knitted upper again ensures a glove-like fit.
This natural feel of running is just what Nike is after. It's feedback that has been gleaned from rigorous product testing by Nike's arsenal of athletes. 'We're always in the pursuit of how to make the products better, and one of the things we wanted to focus on was the idea that you can make things more natural; products that actually work with the body,' explained Trevor Edwards, Nike's vice president of global branding. 'That's what "Nature Amplified" is really all about. Fly Knit allowed us to engineer a product without having seams. It was a big breakthrough in footwear because it allowed it to be much more comfortable and more seamless.'
The sophisticated support system built into the new shoes is designed to feel almost imperceptable. 'If you were just to run barefoot alone, it's not all it's cracked up to be from a comfort perspective. But the idea is that your body knows how to run and knows biomechanically how to operate and adjust. We are able to mimic barefoot running to give you a better ability to run more naturally. You're training your body to maximise its natural potential.'
It's true. Both shoes' knitted designs have been informed by the anatomy of the foot; thickly stitched areas provide support and durability, while more openly knitted parts allow for increased breathability. This pattern of form following function is also visible in the sports giant's two apparel launches: Aeroloft, a lightly insulated vest, filled with perforated down, and new innovations in its Dry Fit apparel range, which now includes knit and wool clothing that wicks away moisture and possesses improved ventilation in its newest iteration. These products promise to regulate a runner's body temperature in both warm and cold conditions, thanks to thorough data and physiology research that has informed every element of its design.
Together, Nike's new Nature Amplified products bring a 'less is more' ethos to sportswear design - and have us itching to hit the track.