When it comes to sneakers, the technological arms race gets fiercer with each passing year. Looking back on 2019, it appeared brands weren’t attempting to reinvent the wheel: they just strived to make it work better. While 2018 gave us glimpses into the future of future, 2019 got slightly closer to making those visions a reality. For example, after years of development, Nike finally implemented Adapt into other genres, and also took runners on a Joyride.
At the same time, proven textiles like GORE-TEX and CORDURA experienced a welcome resurgence. The implementation of these rugged materials prefaced the revival of off-road runners and hiking-inspired styles from just about every major brand this year.
Let’s take a look back at some of 2019’s most prominent materials.
Adapting to Change
Back to the Future Part II sparked the imagination of 80s and 90s kids worldwide with the prototypical Nike Air Mag. Ever since that seminal cinematic moment, the race was on for the Swoosh to develop and implement ‘power laces’. Uber-limited Air Mag ‘retros’ from a few years ago were not enough to wet sneakerheads’ whistles, and the HyperAdapt 1.0 was prohibitively expensive upon release. Finally, in 2019, the Adapt BB was ready for the courts – even coming in a colourway that paid homage to its BTTF ancestor. Not long after, the Adapt Huarache brought a spiritual successor to Tinker Hatfield’s 1992 foot-hugging concept. Now the rollout just needs to be wider, and arguably cheaper, for a real seachange.
You Know About GORE-TEX?
If our roundup didn’t make it clear, GORE-TEX was a dominant material in sneakers this year. A quick refresher: GORE-TEX is a waterproof yet breathable membrane that’s found in high-quality outdoor wear, and is increasingly being used in sneakers. Gumboots were the traditional waterproof footwear option, at a huge style expense. Thanks to GORE-TEX, it’s possible to stay steezy without getting steamy! In 2019, Nike’s huge Air Force 1 collection steered the waterproof ship, towing along high-profile colabs from Clarks, ASICS and Converse amongst others. Pretty good innings for technology that’s about to turn 50!
Keen for adiPRENE
BOOST may have been one of the decade’s most important material developments, but adidas clearly still had a soft spot for adiPRENE cushioning this year. The mainstay midsole makeup in revived silhouettes like the Ozweego and LXCON, adiPRENE also provided cushy steps for the relatively underrated Yeezy 500. Some pundits may argue the retro tech is even more comfortable than BOOST, but that’s a discussion for another day… Hopefully, we see more adiPRENE in 2020 on both archival revivals and new-age updates of the adidas lineup.
Joyriding for Fun
While adidas were focusing on either old-school adiPRENE or implementing their 4D printed sole, Nike were working out how to make running fun. Enter the appropriately-named Joyride: an all-new cushioning system composed of thousands of tiny TPE beads, freely moving in the midsole upon each step. Some skeptics were quick to compare it to PUMA’s Jamming system, which was introduced in 2017. However, Nike got on the front foot by explaining the differences and assuring it was more efficient too. Collaborative efforts from OBJ, Matthew M. Williams, and others are paving the way for more Joyrides in 2020.
CORDURA Us Crazy
Like GORE-TEX, hard-wearing CORDURA is not a new material, but it was particularly popular this year on sneakers. Leading the CORDURA charge was adidas, using it on new silhouettes like the Nite Jogger and ZX Torsion. New Balance weren’t far behind either, using it on the 997S, 997H and X-Racer. The lightweight textile has proved itself in military and outdoor applications over the decades, so it was inevitable it’d find its way onto sneakers once again.
Trail Takeover Complete
The implementation of GORE-TEX and CORDURA took sneaker materials off urban footpaths and into the great outdoors. Rugged soles made from Vibram MegaGrip beefed up the tread on New Balance styles like the Hierro v5, 850AT, and updated 575. Nike impressed adventurers with the Air Zoom Pegasus 36 Trail, even elevating it with a Gyakusou release. And Salomon increased their techwear grip (pardon the pun) via S/LAB-tier releases and colabs. The question remains, will trail tech lose its footing in 2020?