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Nike Running Shoes technology

NikeProduction methods used to create the Nike Flyknit shoe reduces waste by 80% compared to traditional Nike running footwear. Photograph: Nike

When Nike footwear designers pioneered Nike Flyknit technology they had a primary goal in mind: create a shoe that delivers peak performance for athletes while reducing manufacturing waste in the process. Little did they know they were creating a revolution in sustainable design.

Yet that's exactly what Nike Flyknit promises to be thanks to a micro-level engineering process where computer-controlled "knitting" technology shapes the shoe upper by combining strands of polyester yarn. The innovative process has already proven to be a game changer, reducing waste of the Nike Flyknit Lunar1+ upper by some 80% compared to traditional Nike running footwear.

Nike Flyknit technology grew out of Nike's desire to answer a fundamental puzzle faced by footwear designers. How can you create a shoe that gives athletes exactly what they need, where they need it - without adding anything non-essential to a design?

Nike Free Flyknit

"Runners want performance without any distractions, " says Tony Bignell, VP of footwear innovation at Nike.

"So we started thinking: how could you make a running shoe feel like a sock? And how do you build structure and support into the sock without adding layers? Our goal was to innovate based on our 'nature amplified' design principles, which focus on the body's movement in sport performance and aim to help realise the athlete's natural ability."

Creating lightweight yet sturdy athletic shoes has obsessed the entire footwear industry for decades. As far back as the late 1980s Nike had experimented with an ultra lightweight mesh shoe called the Sock Racer but it wasn't sturdy enough to provide performance support for athletes. Then in 2008 Nike unveiled the Nike Flywire technology that utilises high-strength threads with minimal weight that act like cables on a suspension bridge, delivering engineered support precisely where it's needed. The Nike Flyknit breakthrough grew out of similar innovative thinking that led Nike's team of computer programmers, engineers and designers to take a knitting machine for socks and sweaters and re-engineer it to produce the upper part of a sneaker.

The result was an upper that felt like a sock but had the strength and support of the best running footwear. The shoe excelled in terms of both performance and sustainable design. Nike Free Flyknit has 35 fewer pieces to assemble than Nike's Air Pegasus+ 28 runner and that equates to a considerable reduction in terms of waste.

It was exactly this intersection between performance and sustainability that quickly made this innovation a front-runner both at Nike and with athletes around the world.

The next opportunity for Nike lies in what Nike Flyknit can do when engineered for other sports or for specific movements, such as sharp, intense lateral movements compared to those demanded in running.

Whatever Nike has in store, one thing is for certain: Nike Flyknit's computerised "knitting" process lends itself to a highly customisable design and production process that is changing the entire footwear industry as we know it.

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