HI-TEC Honour Nelson Mandela’s Legacy with the Freedom 67 Sneaker
Founded in 1974 by Frank van Wezel in Shoeburyness, England, HI-TEC initially made their name as a squash-court specialist, before turning their attention to the trail and pavement. Over the years, HI-TEC’s innovative and lightweight footwear has been laced up by everyone from elite marathon runners to tennis Grand Slam champs. However, the brand’s most storied devotee is actually better known for his exploits on the front pages of the news, rather than the sports section.
Back in 1990, the now-global icon of freedom, Nelson Mandela, emerged from 27 years of incarceration. Liberating the nation, he spent much of his time with a modest pair of size 10 HI-TECs on his feet. The revolutionary leader would later document his story in Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography still found on book shelves across the globe to this day. And some of the more public and literal steps of that famed walk were taken in the low-cut tennis silhouette with an eye-catching blue logo, known then as the Wimbledon.
Now, over 30 years since that fabled day, HI-TEC are ready to bring it back to the world, reintroducing it as the Freedom 67.
This is a project years in the making. When Mandela’s OG Wimbledons went up for auction back in 1996, van Wezel wasted no time in attempting to secure the significant pair. After putting in the winning bid, he later returned the shoes from his native Netherlands to South Africa, where they remain permanently displayed in the storefront window of HI-TEC’s Stellenbosch store, approximately two hours outside Cape Town.
‘From the first time I saw his sneaker in Amsterdam, I knew that one way or the other it belonged back in South Africa. Whether in reality, or as a style that we could replicate for the good of the people and as a product accessible to all,’ explains HI-TEC product designer Gordon Stokes.
When it came to the development of the Freedom 67, the decision making wasn’t quite as straight forward. Faced with uncertainty over the timing, HI-TEC’s team knew such a special project needed to be treated with the utmost thought and dignity.
‘The challenge was not only about re-creating his sneaker, but creating an object that paid homage to an incredible human being – a man that has dedicated his life to freedom for all,’ says Stokes.
‘Not only was Mandela fighting against apartheid, but he was also fighting for a better world, in which the freedom, justice and dignity of all were respected. The shoe had to be more than just a sneaker but needed to tell a story, from authentic messaging to significant symbolism.’
HI-TEC wanted to reconstruct all the elements as true to the original as possible. However, that approach wasn’t as simple as first thought. Faced with limited access to Mandela’s original Wimbledon, HI-TEC designed the Freedom 67 using imagery and 3D modelling, working tirelessly to recreate the sneaker despite restricted time and the impacts of COVID.
‘From the graphic elements, materials, sole and midsole, colour-blocking as well as sizing, everything had to be perfect,’ says Stokes. ‘[Even] the packaging, we had to treat with the same attention to detail as that of the sneaker, conveying consistent messaging throughout this project. Mandela’s legacy had to be respected in the body of this development, as much as it was to honour what he stood for.’
And honour they did, retaining the quality, white leather upper with blue accents. Additionally, the Freedom 67’s sole unit features clear blue rubber to represent the transparency for freedom. Down below, the outsole houses the embedded quote ‘The purpose of freedom is to create it for others’ as well as a sun symbol nodding to ‘a new dawn and the beginning of a new life’.
Meanwhile, the familiar side logo is given a modern look, with blue ‘Freedom. Shared.’ print all over to clearly display the shoe’s mantra. Complementing the theme is the ‘Shared’ tongue label, lateral ‘Freedom’ tab, closed-fist lace-keeper, and special stitched side element, which represents ‘healing’.
To support the ‘Freedom Shared’ campaign, HI-TEC have called on the help of ambassadors, including Karabo Poppy, Trevor Stuurman, Dr. Nokukhanya Khanyile, and Atandwa Kani, who all stand for unity and diversity, and live their lives according to Mandela’s legacy.
Limited to just 67 units, the HI-TEC Freedom pair number 67/67 will be auctioned on Mandela Day, July 18, and will be live for 67 hours as a symbol of Mandela’s 67-year fight for social justice. Head here to place your bids on this historic piece of footwear! Proceeds raised will be donated to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.
CLICK HERE TO BID
HI-TEC Freedom 67