Material Matters: adidas BOOST Technology

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There’s no shortage of technological wizardry happening behind the scenes at adidas HQ – the energetic pellets that combine to make their BOOST soles being by far the most successful in recent years. Given that the sole is the foundation of any running shoe, it’s important you’ve got the right stuff down where it counts. A BOOST-equipped sneaker will cushion your foot with each pound of the pavement, before it springs back and returns the stored energy into your forward momentum. Although it might sound like a bit of cheat, it’s really just the result of some very clever thinking.

Ever since the dawn of running shoes, the sliver of something between the foot and the earth has been a big focus for athletes trying to get an edge on the competition. The idea of returning energy using a springy midsole has been at the core of product development since the mid 80s. For years the work focused around foam rubber compounds like EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) and PU (polyurethane). These materials offered cushioning and support, could be moulded and shaped, but they just weren’t quite right. Despite experiments with chemical compounds and advances in pressure moulding – which gave us Phylon from EVA – the foams were still subject to the effects of temperature and high compression set – the eventual loss of springiness – and so the full effects of energy return stayed out of reach.

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A few years ago, in order to get a leg up on the competition, adidas sought the assistance of one of the world’s largest chemical companies, BASF. With their combined expertise, the pair were able to create a new form of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) that had a unique block-copolymer structure providing just the right amount of bounce. The difficulty hadn’t simply been in finding springier substances – rubber that springs back too quickly has a jarring effect – it’s all about fine-tuning the reaction. This is where the strange bubbly BOOST profile comes into play. Every BOOST sole is made by squishing together lots of small capsules, allowing each little pellet to retain its own shape and giving the finished sole a precise reaction – something that’s much harder to achieve with a big, single-density slab.

The frisky foam first appeared in 2013 on the adidas Energy BOOST. It was such a success that adidas couldn’t make the soles fast enough and soon the world slipped into a global BOOST shortage. Even as production of the core material increased, so too did demand. The following years saw BOOST technology infiltrate every area of adidas’ product offering – the Crazylight took BOOST to the ball court, Y-3 bounced down the catwalk, the RG3 sprung up on the field – BOOST had well and truly taken over.

Now adidas have taken BOOST to every corner of their footwear empire. The NMD gained unstoppable momentum throughout 2016, keeping footpaths outside stores lined with camp chairs as hungry youngsters gnashed their teeth at queue-jumpers and resellers. The clandestine alteration of the UltraBOOST support structures spawned the UltraBOOST Uncaged, while a laceless football boot was channelled to produce the Ace 16+ Pure Control. Even the more traditional sneakerheads out there got a taste of the action with the EQT Support 93/16 lifting a classic silhouette onto a bed of BOOST.

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Of course, we can’t mention the B-word without thinking of Kanye. The Yeezy Boost 750 first appeared on the scene in 2015. It was through 2016, however, that we really started to see the Stripes crank things up and build momentum on Ye’s promise of Yeezys for everyone. New colours of the 350, 750 and 700 continue to demand our attention, while supporting a major sector of the resale economy. As if one megastar wasn’t enough, adidas followed up with the introduction of Pharrell Williams’ Hu NMD, which preceded another empire of BOOST-bolstered signature sneakers that tend to sell out before most people even realise they've dropped.

One of the biggest conversations throughout the early days of BOOST was its stark white finish. The bouncy foam was simply too far ahead of other technology. Nothing could be found to match the elasticity and memory of the compound, so the Stripes opted to leave the sole white, rather than sacrifice long-term durability for aesthetics. Until 2016, adidas hadn't released a coloured version, so the aptly named ‘Color BOOST’ releases created a huge amount of buzz.

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Nowadays, BOOST is such an integral part of the Three Stripes product offering that it exists in just about every shape and colour that their designers could think of. It’s helped to revisit old areas of the adidas archive, like the BOOST You Wear that dips back to the mid 90s, while it remains at the forefront of athletic tech, like in the Harden Vol. 2. There’s no doubt about it, adidas changed the game with BOOST. If you haven’t already got a bit of BOOST in your rotation, what are you waiting for? Get out there.

Material Matters is our weekly tech section where we peek behind the mesh curtain and examine the building blocks of the industry. Recently, we’ve looked at Denim DissectedThe Archival Inspiration Behind DBZ x adidas and Nike React vs. adidas BOOST.

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