Material Matters: 2018 Recap

Tom Sachs Nike Mars Yard Overshoe 3

The sneaker giants continued to push the envelope in 2018, as many brands introduced a bevy of new materials and cushioning technologies. Translucent uppers and TPE were everywhere in 2018, as were the likes of adidas’s 4D Futurecraft. Sustainability was also a point of emphasis, with materials like Flyleather and Parley’s recycled ocean plastic bringing a little moral fibre to our favourite silhouettes. Kicks also got a little bit of an utilitarian edge, as the likes of Fidlock and Gore-Tex brought their wares to a variety of different styles.

However, it wasn’t all new blood, as old standbys remained as relevant as ever. Air-based cushioning debuted in the 70s, but remained as relevant as ever in 2018 — 3D-printed latticework and energy-returning foams be damned. And despite the prevalence of TPE, knit uppers continued to reign supreme as Flyknit, Primeknit, and competing knit-centric tech was showcased in many of the year’s most popular drops.

With 2018 coming to an end, we’ve taken a look back at the past year, Material Matters style, and highlighted the construction-related trends that have dominated footwear over the last 12 months.

Serena The Sole Supplier
Image via The Sole Supplier
Image via BSTN

Translucent Uppers

One material-related trend stood above the rest throughout 2018: translucent construction. Dominated by Nike, and carried over from Virgil Abloh’s coveted ‘The Ten’ collaboration from 2017, the trend saw some of the year’s biggest kicks don uppers that were completely see-through. The React Element 87 immediately comes to mind, with its 100% TPE yarn textile upper, while the look also hit Nike’s Zoom Fly SP releases and Off-White colabs (including Converse’s Chuck 70, which finally dropped after surfacing a year earlier). The Jumpman is even getting in on the action with its new ‘Flight Utility’ ethos, while Kanye West’s ‘Static’ version of the Yeezy BOOST 350 V2 will sport a translucent ‘stripe’. Expect translucence to continue as a dominant aesthetic cue in 2019.,

Yeezy 350 Sesame Audrey Blog
Sneaker Freaker HQ

Knit Uppers

2018 may have been marked by the see-through look of the React Element 87, Zoom Flight SP, and Off-White colabs, but knit uppers continued to feature strongly throughout the year. Just about every brand imaginable continued to rock with the stretchy, lightweight construction as it hit everything from runners and basketball kicks to casual silhouettes. It seems that Flyknit, Primeknit, and other knit-centric technologies aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Image via Runner Wally


On the cushioning front, adi’s 3D-printed 4D tech finally brought Digital Light Synthesis to the masses, as Futurecraft made a wider debut in 2018. Kicking off in February with a Futurecraft 4D drop, the Three Stripes’ 3D-printed midsole latticework continued to be a point of emphasis in the months that followed, thanks to collaborations with Sneakersnstuff, INVINCIBLE, Kith, and Daniel Arsham; utilisation by the Yohji Yamamoto-led Y-3; the AlphaEDGE, and adi’s 4D-5923 hybrid. And don’t forget the ZX 4000, which fused the contemporary cushioning tech with a modern spin on classic ZX lineage.

Nike Epic React Flyknit Sketch 1 76924
Images via Nike
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Images via Nike
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Images via Nike
Nike Rn React Product Blu Detail2 76596
Images via Nike

Energy-Returning Foams

Like knit uppers, energy-returning foams may not exactly be new, but they continued to dominate performance footwear throughout 2018. Nike’s added emphasis on React brought the tech to some of its most popular releases of 2018, while BOOST continued to be a go-to for adidas — and Yeezy — years after its initial introduction. Don’t expect either to be supplanted on a major scale by new tech next year. If anything, expect even wider prominence: React will be utilised across a bevy of Jordan Brand drops in 2019.


Air Max

Air-based cushioning is now 40 years old, but it remains as prominent as ever, whether it be with new releases or tried-and-true retros. 2017’s VaporMax introduction made its way to a variety of silhouettes in 2018 and was the go-to cushioning tech for a variety of Nike hybrids. This year also saw the Swoosh introduce its biggest Air unit to date: the Air Max 270 (which will be supplanted with even more air in the form of 2019’s Air Max 720). Even old school Max Air units dominated the market, as kicks like the Air Max 95, Air Max 97, Air Max 98, Air Max Plus, and Air Max Deluxe stole the show throughout the year.

Sneaker Freaker
Sneaker Freaker
Sneaker Freaker

Flyleather and Parley’s Ocean Plastic

Sustainable construction is likely to be a major trend in the years to come, and some of the footwear world’s giants led the charge in 2018. The folks in Herzo continued their partnership with Parley for the Oceans, dropping a bevy of designs that make use of Parley’s signature recycled ocean plastic, while the Swoosh debuted Flyleather, which is made with at least 50% recycled natural leather fibre. The trend wasn’t just limited to the big guys, however, as Mats Rombaut’s eponymous label pushed its humanist, vegan values.

Tom Sachs Nike Mars Yard Overshoe 3
Image via Sneakernews

Fidlock Buckles

Known for its revolutionary takes on the humble buckle, Germany’s Fidlock was everywhere in 2018 as brands looked to ditch the laces in favour of a more futuristic fastening solution. Prominently showcased by the likes of the Errolson Hugh—design Komyuter from 2017, Fidlock’s magnetic buckle rose to even greater prominence this year thanks to the Air Force 1 Utility. The company’s hook design was in heavy use, too, as kicks like the Air Force 270 and Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard Overshoe adopted the buckles for a trustworthy lockdown.

Image via Livestock


With an increased emphasis on utilitarian makeovers, Gore-Tex had a huge 2018. The waterproof membrane helped a ton of different designs withstand the elements, and hit functional updates to old favourites like the ASICS GEL-Lyte V, adidas NMD, and New Balance 997. Even old school icons like the Chuck Taylor rocked the water-repelling laminate as Converse brought the trademarked synthetic to a full lineup of Chuck 70s.

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