Material Matters: 2017 Recap
It’s December again and we find ourselves lamenting the speed at which the year zoomed by. But, when you think about it, the past 12 months have been anything but boring. The year saw some serious changes to the sneaker world as we know it, and when broken down shoe by shoe, the memories roll out before you and illustrate the richness of the receding release calendar. So without further ado, we look back at the top tech innovations of the year and reflect on 2017 Material Matters style.
Let’s just get this first one out of the way: VaporMax. Easily the biggest new tech of the year, the all-Air sole was released in March to celebrate the Air Max line's 30th anniversary. After three decades of visible Air, the Swoosh were finally able to produce a sole with no foam, no plastic supports, nothing but clear, gas-filled bags. Since the initial drop, the VaporMax has been wheeled out for just about every weekend release lineup. There was the ultra-limited Comme des Garçons colab, then the colourful ‘Be True.' Of course, there were the Off-White and Doernbecher collaborations, as well as Marc Newson’s NikeLAB edition. Since its debut in Flyknit, the design has been plied with solid panelling, stripped of its laces and wrapped with a strap. We’ve even seen leaks of an off-road version and an Air Max Plus hybrid.
On the performance front, however, its wasn’t the Air bag that made the biggest impact; it was the VaporFly and its controversial carbon fibre spring plate design. Nike’s newest marathon running style was developed to help the brand's athletes break the yet-to-be-broken two-hour marathon. The new tech came under fire for being too good. Competitors complained that it went against certain international rulings that stipulate a shoe cannot actively improve an athlete’s performance. It’s testament to the effectiveness of the design that others sought to have it banned but the ruling is yet to be made and the record is yet to be broken. We can’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently had the barrier been broken.
The brand with the Big Cat sprung into action with their own crazy new sole design on the PUMA Jamming. Effectively a translucent sack filled with beads, the sole drew comparisons to an Air unit filled with BOOST pellets (regardless, those who’ve worn them swear by their unparalleled comfort). New Balance similarly amped up their sole game when they dropped the 574S, which combined ABZORB foam with retooled Fresh Foam to create a new kind of lifestyle sole. This was the first time the brand’s foremost new athletic technology has been completely overhauled for a non-sporting market, who in turn welcomed the design with open arms.
The crew from adidas took a different approach when it came to introducing their latest breakthrough. While new tech from the likes of Nike and PUMA was unveiled ready for market to quickly capitalise on the hype of a fresh design, The Stripes utilised their exclusive Futurecraft channel to tease their tech. The boldest feather in the Futurecraft bonnet right now has to be their 4D printing, which uses ‘Digital Light Synthesis’ to produce a latticed sole structure. Unfortunately, the design is yet to be made available to the public, though there were a small number of ‘Friends and Family’ pairs sent out into the world. Nevertheless, the attention garnered by the exclusive release was enough to win the Stripes an Innovation by Design award from Fastcompany.
There's been a massive turn towards outdoors aesthetic, which has been fuelled by designs that draw heavily on some Material Matters favourites such as ripstop and Gore-Tex. Recently, we've seen trek-centric releases from ASICS, Diadora and Karhu among others. Nike’s futuristic approach to their wilderness offering, spurred on by Errolson Hugh and their ACG revival, has seen them experimenting with straps, closures and silhouettes on designs like the KMTR and Gaiter Boot. But when it comes to footwear for far off places, Reebok takes the space cake. In a joint venture with commercial space flight pioneers Boeing, the brand designed the boot that will be worn aboard the CST-100 Starliner, which is scheduled to launch in 2018. Featuring a high-cut zipped shroud and the brand’s new Floatride foam, the aptly named SB-01 (that’s Space Boot -01) will ensure that mankind’s giant leap lands softly with ample ankle support.
This year also saw Nike sharing their previously exclusive Flyknit production technology with both Converse and Jordan Brand. Though Nike owns both, this is the first time that the heavily protected construction method has been allowed outside of the brand’s close-knit catalogue. When it comes to looking after number one, however, Nike haven’t lost sight of the future. Their new Flyleather produces a synthetic material that uses 90 per cent less water and has 80 per cent less of a carbon footprint than classic full-grain leather – happy hippies rejoice.
It’s hard to deny that the landscape of sneaker innovation was dominated by the Swoosh in 2017. If history is anything to go by (and it usually is, that's kind of its thing), then it’s only a matter of time before brands like adidas come through with their next big thing. One thing’s for sure, it’s been a good year for sneaker tech and we can’t wait to see what comes next.
Material Matters is our weekly tech section where we peek behind the mesh curtain and examine the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at Hybrids, The Do's and Don'ts of Basketball Shoes and Why Shoe Sizes Don't Make Sense.