We might not always realise just how close the relationship is between the sneakers we wear and the cars we drive, but the connection runs quite deep. Naturally, the biggest parallel we can draw between sneakers and cars is their ability to help people travel further, faster, and more comfortably – as well as in more style than ever before. With the continual research and development taking place in the motoring industry, innovations and concepts initially designed for cars inevitably trickle over to the footwear industry. Here are five ways that automobile innovations have found their way into shoe design.
Carbon fibre (technically carbon fibre reinforced polymer) is often used in performance motoring: forming body kits, spoilers, and engine hoods to shave weight but retain strength. Its value in footwear has been demonstrated for both sporting glory and sidewalk strolling. It’s appearing more often in genuine material form for performance, such as the full-length propulsion plate in the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%. However, more commonly seen is a fabric resembling the material, and used on upper panels for the hi-tech aesthetic.
Tyres are one of the significant factors that impact on what a car feels like to drive. Colloquially, some people refer to buying new tyres for their car as buying new ‘shoes’, so the link between rubber and sneakers is an easy one to spot. In fact, adidas currently make outsoles imbued with rubber compounds from neighbouring German tyre manufacturer Continental. It’s been used more notably on the outsoles of the UltraBOOST line: early adopters may remember the OG release didn’t feature the Conti rubber soles, while all subsequent releases use it. Before that, adidas had a footwear range with Goodyear that was rather popular in the 2000s. Michelin are another tyre manufacturer that have linked up with the sneaker industry, providing rubber outsoles for Etnies skate shoes, Under Armour styles, and even Camper casuals.
This one is still an emerging technology in the motoring industry, but both cars and sneakers are beginning to see the benefit of additive printing. In 2014, American manufacturer Local Motors was able to produce a car made from 75 per cent printed parts! Advances have also been made into 3D printing of shoe parts. Most prominently, we’ve seen adidas use it for 4D midsoles on a number of Futurecraft releases, and Nike with the still-experimental Flyprint uppers. Even New Balance got in amongst the action, but we’re yet to see an affordable offering from the major players, as the production scale is still low, and the RRPs still high.
Themes and Concepts
Sometimes, sneaker design references the world outside its own bubble. For example, it’s well understood in sneaker lore that many classic Air Jordan iterations drew their design inspiration from the sports cars that Michael Jordan liked to drive around in his spare time. The Air Jordan 14 is an overt homage to the Ferrari 550 Maranello, with the AJ14’s yellow Jumpman badge the most obvious reference to the famous prancing horse logo of the prestige Italian car manufacturer. Sometimes, brands go the whole hog and dedicate special packages to car manufacturers, such as 2010's Nike Kobe 'Aston Martin' Pack that featured a Hyperdunk and Zoom Kobe 5 in the grey livery of the famous British sports cars.
Like instantly recognised logos and brand names, spinners were the epitome of the ‘Bling Era’ of rap and hip hop music. They enhanced the next wave of the car as a symbol of status and wealth. It’s no different with sneakers: as a commodity there is an underlying purpose of collecting them to flaunt success. At the height of the bling era, spinners for the feet happened. Dada rode the wave of this time period with the Spree sneaker, aka Dada Spinners. The sneakers and the car rims had one thing in common: they did nothing except look cool.