Once upon a time, if you stumped into any outdoor specialist store, you’d be bushwacked with a bevy of boots’n’bobs uglier than a Paul McCartney divorce. Enter Nike’s All Conditions Gear (ACG). Representing the youth who won’t do trash on the trail, ACG has been the wellspring of plenty of experimental Nikes that have over the years become icons in their own right. We spoke with ACG’s Andrea Corradini about two new styles that are sure to keep the ladies puddle-proof and toasty this year – the new ACG Blazer and Valenka boot.

Hey Andrea. ACG’s birthday is coming up… are you excited?
I can’t tell you how exciting this is for the whole team. It’s taken just over two years to reposition ourselves in the Outdoor industry, and through the thick and thin of it, we’re finally feeling the fruits of all that labor. Not only are we ready to launch our 20th anniversary, we’re doing it with the most kick-ass product out there. It’s innovative, it’s Nike DNA at its best, and it’s all about performance.

Tell us about the new ACG Blazer, I’m really digging the design. It looks quite tough with the chunky sole and it’s not the most obvious move to use a ball shoe in this way.
I love it that you said, ‘it’s not the most obvious move.’ That’s perfect! Roger Stevens (who ‘dreamed’ the concept) is possibly the biggest Blazer fan on our team. So the formula was simple. Peter Fogg, the designer, took the Blazer and made it awesome for the outdoors, as we strongly felt that the kid who loves our sneakers shouldn’t have to take them off and put on a traditional hiking shoe to go explore in the outdoors. We took off the herringbone outsole and added our Sticky Rubber compound. We also took out the autoclave midsole, and replaced it with Phylon and a heel airbag, yet kept the same midsole height and texturing of the original Blazer, so you get basically the same visual, but extremely lightweight comfort. For stability, a fully molded sock-liner was created, along with a full-length lightweight shank that provides immediate torsional rigidity. We put all the technology on the inside unlike traditional hiking shoes.
As for the upper, we took off the leather overlays and replaced it with climbing rubber and added a gusseted tongue for protection. The grand finale was our Goretex version for Holiday, Peter nailed it with a ‘style meets performance’ shoe like only Nike can do. I’d put it up against any ‘multi-sport’ or ‘light hiker’ in the industry.

I also love it because it’s not a girly-girl looking shoe. What sort of customer will gravitate to the ACG Blazer?
That’s the cool thing about it. We believe it’s going to cater to, at the very least, two types of consumers. First, the young College kid that shops at their local Outdoor or Sporting Goods store, living in Boston, Boulder or Whistler, for example. They are truly our ‘cultural scavengers.’ They love Nike because it represents irreverence and lifestyle; it’s young and cool. They may not associate it with the Blazer, or even know what the Blazer is, but it’s something that will connect with them for sure. Second, you’ll definitely get the kid who loves Nike products and really knows the Blazer. He will not wear a leather black boot when it’s crappy outside, and has been dying for something to wear on the streets in inclement weather. He hates to get his kicks dirty so now he has an option.

Tell us about your new Valenka boot? It’s definitely a different style of Nike for the ladies.
Yes, for sure it’s a departure. We did what we do best, took an innovation and put a collection out there that we felt would really resonate with our customer, it’s a boot that is constructed like nothing else out there and creates an amazing visual. The kudos on the design of the midsole/outsole goes to Mike Aveni in our Innovation Kitchen, who really taught us how to put together shoes with almost zero solvents. That’s why you see the webbing holding it together. We’ve created an entire collection of footwear on that tooling.

Then we handed the technology off to one of our designers, Kelly O’Connor, who was inspired by the Russian Valenki boots on a trip to Moscow we did in 2007. Made of pure wool to keep the foot warm, they were just beautiful. With Aveni’s tooling, Kelly put a beautifully simple upper on it to create an amazing collection. She also found a way to put a waterproof (or ‘puddleproof’ as the hangtag will say) bootie in it which we actually wear-tested in Australia. We had women standing for hours in water and their feet kept completely dry. My final important point, is that from a ‘Considered’ angle, it’s about as ‘green’ as you can get. From the patterning to the material sourcing and of course the tooling being solvent free…  we were over the top with this project.

You’ve also worked with Pendleton to create the signature woolen fabric… is wool regarded as environmentally sound?
Yeah, the Pendleton collection is amazing.  Wool is just the most basic of materials. Its natural warmth coupled with the quality of the virgin wool they use was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. Also, because the patterning is so exquisite, we don’t waste anything we don’t have to, so each shoe has the beauty of being its own unique piece of art. The collaboration actually started in our ACG apparel collection, and we were so excited by the potential it had in footwear, we jumped at the opportunity to create an integrated collection, so we picked the Blazer in mens and the Valenka boot in womens.

Is that a tex-mex kinda thing going on there?
Yes, they made that fabric just for us. Pendleton’s designs are made to celebrate and respect Native American culture, inspired by ‘ancient designs and legends.’

Is that the first official Nike blanket ever made? I think I definitely need one of those for my next X-country picnic.
The blankets are going to be pretty tough to come by. But you know we’ll hook you up for that next  picnic. As long as the ACG crew can crash it!

You guys should make a little super-lightweight picnic set with Nike flywire cutlery and ACG Goretex flasks in a gossamer backpack. You can have that idea for free...
Ummm, while I appreciate your love for innovation (and I mean REALLY appreciate…otherwise you probably wouldn’t have done this piece!) I’m thinking we’ll work on our Flywire x ACG boot first. Oops! Did I just spill the proverbial picnic beans?

This article appeared in Issue 13 of Sneaker Freaker. Buy it here