Nike’s creativity may start with Flyknit, but it extends well beyond that into cat whiskers, foam toe separators, spiral hair rollers, liquid foam and plenty more when designers start experimenting in the design of “Natural Motion.”
As part of Milan Design Week, Nike tasked shoe designers to think beyond the norm and experiment with materials, adding to simplistic Nike Flyknit uppers with both futuristic and mundane household elements.
The inspired designs ranged from form shifting to repurposing materials. Designs included a gliding convex outsole to propel athletes forward, pine needles underfoot for a new sensation, hair rollers as a customizable cushioning system, foam toe separators for a new way to build shoe density, bouncy balls, 3D-printed outsoles, a TPU airbag system (and another with the bags filled with liquid), Nike Zoom Air tensile fibers and even Beaverton, Oregon, rocks to mimic the Taiwanese tradition of walking on cobblestone to improve health.
With over a two dozen wild ideas in hand for the shoes, Nike further enlisted the help of 10 worldwide contemporary designers to explore natural motion beyond sneakers. Some works were conceptual as designers looked to future technologies, while others remained practical. Often they designed with materials unique to Nike, whether more Flyknit or even shoelaces.
American architect Greg Lynn joined in the fray by building a carbon fiber chair with sensors to calculate the body temperature of the user. That data can then fire up cooling modules and aluminum heat sinks to help an athlete cool or heat between periods of physical activity.
Dutch designer Bertjan Pot explored materials, using ropes and Nike laces and belts, to fashion “resting pods” that engaged hand-weaving techniques and investigated how high-performance materials play a role in the process.
From the highly conceptual shoes to the larger designs, Nike has taken to Milan in an experimental way. But who knows, maybe we’ll see some toe separators come to life in a future Nike Flyknit line.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.