Bill Bowerman, Nike co-founder and former University of Oregon and US Olympics track and field coach, was obsessed with finding the perfect running shoe for his athletes. He adopted the role of a mad shoe scientist in the mid 1960s, when co-founder and former Bowerman student Phil Knight was launching the sportswear behemoth in its early stages as ‘Blue Ribbon’. Bowerman would hand out experimental shoes to his sporting protégés, that tested grip, arch, and instep – designed to optimise, agility, and sporting success. ‘He had come to believe that all feet are not created equal,’ Knight writes in his 2016 memoir Shoe Dog.

‘One of the things Bowerman realised from the get-go of the company was the critical performance implication of fit,’ says Adam Sussman, VP/GM direct digital and geographies at Nike. Today, at its European HQ in Amsterdam, the brand unveil a groundbreaking development in sizing technology. From August, customers will be able to purchase any shoe, be it online or in store, an Air Jordan Basketball sneaker or a performance-focused React runner, not using a standardised sizing system, but using a scan of their own foot, with an accuracy of sub two millimetres.

Shoe sizing has made little advancement since the 14th century, when the concept of crafting a shoe’s upper by hand around a wooden last was invented. Medieval fitting systems even based sizing increment on a grain of barley. The ‘Brannock’ shoe sizing device we see in stores today, was developed 93 years ago. It’s estimated today that three out of five people wear the wrong size shoe, which can lead to retail unsatisfaction, pain and underperformance. ‘Nike has invested heavily and gone through almost a dozen major iterations to try and improve different dimensions of fit,’ Sussman says. In 2000, it released the Air Presto, which is sized like a t-shirt according to S, M, L, XL fit measurement. In recent years it has bought its creation team in-house to form expert lasts and invested in 3D laser scanners. 

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Nike Fit will allow customers to personalise the sizing of any Nike footwear. Pictured, Air Max 720

‘Our game-changing technology solution incorporates every different aspect of the complex multifactorial fit problem, to get you into the right shoe,’ says Michael Martin, VP of direct products, growth and innovation at Nike. In a bid to bolster its sizing technology, the brand invested in Israeli startup Invertex in 2018, a company which was using scanning technologies to develop custom orthopaedic shoes. When customers purchase Nike footwear online, they will have the option of a touch camera icon when they select their size, which will allow them to scan their own feet at home. Simple directives will ease the process, including wearing socks and standing against a white wall.

‘This is the first time in the marketplace where footwear and your phone really work together,’ Martin adds. Once a customer’s foot has been scanned, the brand’s developed learning fit engine will then recommend a size dependant on their chosen shoe and fit preferences, like lacing tightness and the main activity the shoe will undertake. To increase performance and prevent pain, a long distance runner will be recommended a shoe with more space, in a size larger than they may expect. A footballer will be offered a snug football cleat with a tight fit. 

Since Nike’s foundation, it has striven to ensure all customers feel like professional athletes, whether they run ultra marathons or merely pop for a jog around the park. Nike Fit is a revolutionary upgrade on personalisation and a bespoke take on retail. Forget rubbed toes and tired ankles, with regular scanning it will even track changes in an individual’s foot morphology and update their sizing records accordingly. ‘Our mission is to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete,’ Martin says. ‘We want you to buying a shoe with your name, not size on the box.’ §