Material Matters: 2016 Recap

Date: December 22 2016

By: Adam Jane


Innovation is invariably linked to time – as the clock ticks we flow onward in a constant stream of progression. With another year drawing to a close, it gives us the chance to reflect on what went down. From Olympic dreams to futuristic fantasy, all of our favourite brands stepped the game up to new heights over the past 12 months.

Under Armour 3D printed sole

Early this year, we began to get hints of what the athletes would be sporting on foot at the Rio Olympics ­– so we were expecting an emphasis on new production methods to take the podium. The festival of human ability only comes around once every four years – for both brands and athletes, the games have been a long time coming. Nike have been using 3D printing to prototype their track spikes and while the soles that hit the track in Rio weren’t actually manufactured using a 3D printer, it had allowed the Swoosh to develop a whole new layout, with shorter spikes and increased secondary traction. Not to be outdone, Under Armour and Brooks both utilised 3D printed elements, while adidas was promising a 3D printed Futurecraft that was exclusively awarded to medal winning Three Stripe athletes.

adidas' 3D printed medal winners shoe

3D printed Nike prototype track spike

Nike's Olympic track spike

3D printed Nike prototype track spike

Nike's Olympic track spike

Yeezy Boost

Away from the spectacle of the Games, the protagonist of 2016 has to have been adidas’ Boosttechnology. Take a look around SF HQ and you won’t find a keyboard where those letters haven’t been rubbed off their tiny square platforms. The Boost phenomena spread like wildfire with models like NMD and Ultra Boost filling the release schedules. Still, the coveted releases remained out of reach for many – not to mention Yeezy fever. After years of ‘global Boost shortages’, it seems like the Stripes have really upped the production of their unique TPU pellets to meet the exponential demand. Elsewhere Nike rode the year out on a bed of Lunarlon, with additional laser siping and dual density layers, and their development of water-repellent TPU Flyknit yarns still has our minds boggled. Of course, if we’re talking about sole tech, let’s not forget about Reebok’s crazy Liquid Factory, utilising sci-fi style robots to draw layered soled in 3D.

adidas NMD OG


Yeezy Boost 350 V2

Nike Lunarepic Flyknit Shield

Reebok Liquid Speed

As knitting technology has set a new standard for seamless, streamlined construction, everything else seems to have followed. New Balance have been busy with their ‘Reengineered’ remixes of some old-world styles, bringing them up to speed with their FantomFit fusing system. For the classic heads out there, there’s been an alternative trend – natural leather. With cues from the hugely popular Hender Scheme, brands have been getting busy with the veg tan – and Nike’s vachetta leather quickly becoming a sign of quality.

Remember shoe laces? That might be a silly question in 2016, but the way things are going it looks like it may not always be. One of the biggest things to happen this year was Nike’s adaptive lacing system. Almost 30 years in the making, we were finally treated to the futuristic vision of footwear, as worn by Marty McFly, the Nike Mag. It turns out it was just a matter of time for technology to catch up to the idea but we’re glad we didn’t have to wait any longer.

New Balance Trailbuster

Hender Scheme

Hender Scheme

Nike Mag

If you’re a little concerned about the environmental impact of all this sneaker tech – kind of scary when you think about it – then adidas have the solution. Their ongoing partnership with Parley for the Oceans has been producing materials from recycled ocean plastic under the Futurecraft banner. As the name suggests, Futurecraft has been ground zero for experimental adidas evolution, playing host to BiofabricTailored Fibre and the semi-autonomous Speedfactory.

Traditional types will have been been all over Diadora this year – their Made in Italy product has been the height of quality, with the finest suede and leather, put together by hand. New Balance continued to pick the nicest hides that Horween had on offer, with numerous drops featuring the fill grain goodness. The Stripes took a look back at tradition with their woollen Primeknit, adding the natural fibre to an otherwise synthetic yarn, giving a little extra warmth to the toes. Gore-Tex were there for all the elemental warriors, making their mark on winter styles all over the place, and keeping toes cosy whatever the weather.

Diadora's Made in Italy production

adidas Futurecraft Biofabric

adidas Futurecraft MFG

Horween leather New Balance

Nike VaporMax

Parley x adidas UltraBoost Uncaged

Even before the clock ticks over to 2017 we can see that there’s plenty more good stuff to come. Nike have already shown us their new VaporMax, and we know everyone else has a few secrets up their sleeves. It’s been a good year, let’s keep it moving.

Material Matters is our weekly tech section, where we take a peek behind the mesh curtain and break down the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at Dye and ColourRipstop Fabric and Camo.

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