Sneaker Tech

5 05 2010

It is no surprise that rapid advances in technology have such an impact in our society it can be seen on your feet. To be more exact, sneakers were a byproduct of the technological advance of vulcanized rubber.  Today, there are many technologies that go into making a contemporary sneaker.  Everything from the materials used to the cushioning systems involved all the way to the overall sneaker design is produced with advanced technology.  Often times, brand’s that use innovative technology in their sneakers enjoy a larger market share than other brands that lag behind in research and development.  Therefore, it is essential for brands to invest in using new technologies in their sneakers in order to appeal to the masses.

There are many technological advances that were used in forming a pair of sneakers.  However, I will only touch on a few that I think were significant in breakthrough technologies used in sneakers.

In 1979, Nike introduced its Air technology cushioning system. This was the first air technology developed by Nike, as there would be subsequent, and remains the standard for impact protection.  The Air technology is made possible from pressurized gas inside a tough yet flexible urethane plastic capsule.  The Air-Sole units are encapsulated in a variety of placements in the sneaker including:  the midsole beneath the heel, forefoot, or in both locations depending on the shoe and the needs of the athlete for whom the shoe was designed.  The Air-Sole works to cushion the foot by compressing and therefore reducing the force of the impact.

Nike Air Technologies Featured in Sneakers

By 2001, Nike again debut another breakthrough technology in their sneaker.  The 16 year development of the Nike Shox system provided a new and revolutionary style of cushioning for sneakers.  The system is designed to not only provide cushioning, but also return the energy of the impact to the wearer.  To achieve this, the system was composed of Nike Shox columns that returned energy just like a spring would.  The concept has been imitated by competitors, but Nike remains the favorite in such technology used in sneakers.

Nike Shox Column

Nike Shox Column-Bottom View

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In 1989, Reebok introduced The Pump.  As you might have guessed, the technology used in this sneaker features a pump.  The concept of using a pump system in a sneaker is to allow the wearer to fully adjust the fit around the mid foot and ankle.  The system worked when the bladders were inflated, the majority of the pumped air filled gaps around the ankle, and a marginal amount filled areas less in need of a snug fit such as the forefoot flex zone.  Since most peoples’ feet vary in shape and size, this system allows for maximum fit and comfort for each individual.  The pump system is still used today and has become even more advanced with self inflating valves.

Reebok The Pump

One of the more recent advances of technology in sneakers is the Adidas 1.  This has probably been one of the most technologically advances made in sneakers thus far.  The sneaker features a 20 MHz microprocessor built in.  Basically, it is a computerized sneaker.  The sneaker adjusts itself after each stride of the wearer using a motor in the middle of the sole.  This adjustment changes the compression characteristics of the heel pad.  There are also sensors that guide the changes in compression.  However, the engineering specifications and development fell short and the sneaker was discontinued a year after its release.

Adidas 1-Microprocessor

As I mentioned before, investment in technologies is essential for footwear brands.  Since Nike has remained ahead of its competitors when it come to developing technology, it is no wonder why they enjoy a larger market share than the rest.  I look forward to the new technologies featured in sneakers within the coming years and interested to see the limits they push.

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Art & Sole

21 04 2010

I would like to somewhat digress from my previous sneaker background posts and provide you all with the creative side of sneakers.  I recently purchased a book called, Art & Sole:  Contemporary Sneaker Art & Design, that is written and designed by Intercity.  It served as an inspiration for my topic of sneakers and helped me discover another side of the culture I would have otherwise not known.

Art & Sole Cover

It is a book that focuses exclusively on contemporary, cutting-edge sneaker design.  Further, it seeks out to explore and celebrate the creative side of sneaker culture.  One half of the book documents the burgeoning art scene connected with the sneaker phenomenon.  It showcases artist and designer collaborations, and emphasizes the iconic nature of the sneaker.  These artists and designers go as far as actually influencing the design of sneakers themselves.

Here are some of the interesting findings in the book in which artists base their work on sneakers:

In 2007, the collaboration between Tanaka and sports fashion brand Onitsuka Tiger celebrates Japanese creativity and innovation.  They created a unique design that allows sneaker enthusiasts to create their own customized origami sneakers.

Example of origami sneakers

To create your own design, download the origami template.

For a tutorial on how to create the paper art, visit the project website.

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I Have Pop was a concept conceived in 2003 by a graffiti artist who went by the name JUSE.  His idea was to create a different perspective on particular elements of pop culture through street art projects.

“The items themselves and the location create the context.  Not everyone will be able to understand what is being communicated, but the people who it is intended for will get it.”

Think Outside The Box Project

The featured project was produced in collaboration with Solebox, and the idea was to create sneakers from the boxes they are packaged in.

“Because most of my projects have a critical note, I dubbed the project Think Outside The Box, hoping to spur people on to think a little further than the next cool pair of sneakers.”

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The Electric Light Shoe is a homage to the ambiance and energy of Japan.  It was the focal point in the Electric Tiger Land campaign.  It was designed by Dutch agency Freedom of Creation, and measures one meter long.  The sculpture features a city within a shoe and incorporates many elements from Tokyo’s skyline including neon signage.  Many of the features are individually lit by one of the 300 LED lights and there is also an iPod dock which plays ambient sounds.

Electric Light Shoe created by FOC designers

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There are many other featured sneaker art and designs, and I intend to explore them in future posts.