Earlier this week, at the suitably epic and cosmic Greenwich Planetarium in South-East London, Nike Sportswear unveiled their latest groundbreaking technology that has re-written the rule book in performance shoe design. It’s called Hyperfuse and at its core, is a new approach to creating a stitch-less, one piece shoe upper, which takes its cues from the innovative carbon fibre composites used for engineering Formula One race cars. So instead of building a shoe by stitching panels, Hyperfuse is a three layer, composite, specifically invented by Nike, fused together to form one continuous upper that pushed the boundaries in both durability and breathability. The inspiration catalyst for Hyperfuse started over two years ago, when Nike were looking for a solution for the hardcore conditions that China’s staggeringly basketball-playing population were putting themselves through.
Hyperfuse is the creation of Nike’s Portland-based mad scientist laboratory - the Innovation Kitchen, with two of their lead designers on the project being Shane Kohatsu (Head of Innovation Design) and Ben Schaffer (Head of Sportswear Design), who presented the game changing collection in London. The Hyperfuse technology has not only been feverishly adopted by over one third of the entire NBA professional players on the court - including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant - but has now been introduced to a new generation of Air Force Ones, Air Max Ones, Air Max 90s and Dunks. Dazed Digital sat down with Kohatsu and Schaffer to talk about literally building a new kind of shoe and Nike’s future icons.
Dazed Digital: Can you talk explain the Formula One inspirations?
Shane Kohatsu: Race cars back in the day were a bunch of steel bolted together, whilst today it’s just one giant part. This is only possible because of carbon fibre composites, which is basically a bucket of glue... or a ball of yarn. But it’s a very special ball of yarn and process, you’re left with this secret material.
DD: It’s about innovating performance?
Shane Kohatsu: Hyperfuse started as a humble thing, we were looking at kids in China and asking how do we make products a little more durable and breathable? It turned out that we had to invent something new to get to that. We weren’t just inventing a shoe, we had to innovate around a certain process and we’re reaping the rewards on this now - it’s not just an item, it’s a technology.
DD: Translating the Hyperfuse into Nike Sportswear is an interesting balance of combining street wear with an insane new technology.
Ben Schaffer: If you took that engineered process and tried to translate that into our Nike icons, so technology fused with old school vaulted shoes, we ask ourselves what does that mean in the mix? And we came out with some pretty fun things.
Shane Kohatsu: It’s about having an eye that fusion - walking through the mad scientist laboratory you’re keeping an eye out for what looks good. It used to not be - taking an upper from this generation and fusing it with a sole from somewhere else. And in this case the big challenge was to ensure that we were honouring the original designs as close as possible. It’s a totally different challenge.
DD: In your minds, what makes an icon shoe?
Ben Schaffer: I think that over the years certain icons that have been made because there’s been innovations that have been the core of it. The first Hyperdunk might be a future icon in ten years time because in the Kitchen, our goal is to be totally pure. Function will lead an aesthetic that will ultimately become an icon.
Shane Kohatsu: I think of it as not looking backwards. There’s a secret sauce with footwear design, and it has nothing to do with the lines or how it looks. It’s about proportions and balance and as long as you keep to that - you can put out the wackiest new technologies that really push the boundaries of performance - and it will become an icon.