Michael Jordan’s Back (Again)
With the launch of the latest shoe in the popular Air Jordan line, Nike is testing out some innovative – and green -- manufacturing techniquesBy Reena Jana
In 1993, before "eco-chic" was a popular concept, Nike began its first green initiative, using recycled materials from old sneakers in the manufacturing of new shoes. In the decade and a half since then, the company has developed other eco-friendly practices, from cutting down the use of chemical solvents to exploring ways to make its supply chain more earth-friendly. In 2005, it debuted the Considered line of formally eco-sensitive shoes with a boot that featured a woven hemp upper. Jan. 25 sees the launch of the latest product in the category, the Air Jordan XX3 sneaker, which is the first Considered basketball shoe—and the 23rd shoe in the massively popular Air Jordan line. Available in a limited edition of only 529 pairs (23 pairs in 23 stores), it arrives just in time for the NBA All-Star Weekend. Once again, retired great Michael Jordan consulted on the aesthetics of the shoe, which features a woven upper, and personally tested the prototypes to make sure they meet his performance standards.
After the initial launch, Nike will also roll out a larger, yet still limited edition, version in different colors, before a nationwide launch on Feb. 23, in yet more colors. The design and marketing strategies behind the shoe aim to promote not only a "greener" basketball shoe, but also a high-performance sneaker that will draw mass-market shoppers, and not just eco-conscious consumers.
Brainstorming for the Next Green Sneaker
Hatfield and his design team at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., wanted to reduce the amount of materials used in the Air Jordan XX3. Some of their early notes are seen here. One of their solutions was to create an outsole, midsole, and other elements that fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, without chemical glues. The pieces could be sewn together to reinforce the shoe. "We didn't completely eliminate adhesives, but [we] came close," Hatfield says.
Inventing a New Sewing Machine
Because the shoe relied on stitching, rather than adhesives, to keep it intact, Hatfield and his team had to come up with a way to efficiently sew the sneaker together. Working with one of its factories, Hatfield's team invented a sewing machine that could stitch the sneaker as it stands upright, making "3D" stitches around the whole shoe rather than just on flat sections. The sewing machine now has a patent pending. Seen here is a complex sketch showing how the shoe is constructed and sewn together. So far, there is only one of these machines in existence, though Hatfield says the company plans to use it for other shoes.
New Shoe, New Materials
Beyond the 3D sewing machine, the design team also worked on other ways to reduce the use of chemical cements and glues—for example, a proprietary, water-based bonding process. The company says it's the first time this bonding process was used on any Nike performance footwear. They also used a substance called Nike Grind, material derived from the waste of manufacturing other footwear outsoles, as well as materials from used sneakers. The designers also checked the shoe to make sure it was as breathable, resilient, and comfortable as other Air Jordan sneakers, given the new materials and techniques used. The "independent podular system" used for cushioning is also visible in this computer rendering of the silhouette of the Air Jordan XX3.
The final result: this limited edition Air Jordan XX3 sneaker, 23 pairs of which will be available in 23 stores (in homage to the XX3 brand) on Jan. 25. Each pair, in the color combination of white, titanium gray, and blue, retails for $230. The textured upper, with complex stitched patterns, also has new design cues to reinforce the Jordan brand, including an imprint of Michael Jordan's fingerprint as the traction pattern on the shoe's outsole. The athlete's thumbprint also appears on the back of the shoe's tongue. Another limited edition in white, black, and red will be available on Feb. 16, while the nationwide launch is scheduled for Feb. 23. The scattered released dates are intended to increase anticipation for the product. The later editions will cost $185.
The first Air
Nike Considered Boot
In 2005, the Nike Considered Boot (seen here), earned a Gold Industrial Design Excellence and Best in Show award from the IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America). The intentionally—almost comically—earthy-looking design emphasizes its eco-friendly construction. The boot features woven hemp lace between the leather upper and the sole; the weave allows the shoe to mold to a wearer's foot. Beyond coming up with the deliberately "crunchy" appearance of the shoe, Nike's designers worked to reduce energy consumption and the use of toxic solvents. According to Nike, the company used 35% less energy and 89% fewer solvents when making the Considered Boot.
Women's Zoom Sneaker
Since 2005, Nike has been steadily rolling out shoes according to the Considered ethos—but given the popularity of its original shoes, executives have switched strategy and taken the focus off the green aspects of the line. More recent Considered shoes, such as this women's running sneaker, which hit stores on Jan. 1 this year, don't look obviously "green." And though most of the shoe's upper and the liner contain recycled materials—the laces are made from 100% recycled polyester and 32% of the shoe is recycled—it's deliberately being marketed as a well-made shoe, period. Nike wants the shoes to appeal to the broadest market possible, including consumers who don't seek out green products. The non-green look is meant to encourage placing this eco-friendly product alongside other Nike shoes and not singling them out as sustainable. This, Nike hopes, will boost sales.