Material Matters: New Year's Revolutions
Sneaker brands never rest in their perpetual quest to push the envelope of footwear functionality and style. Year after year they roll out flagship models sporting cutting-edge tech, which soon become landmarks along the endless road to the ideal shoe. You can bet your Yeezys that the henchmen of Herzo are cooking up doughy 4D-printed foot beds, while the Beaverton boffins tinker with technological wizardry. So what can we expect to see throughout 2018? It’s still early days, but let’s tickle the tip of that iceberg, Material Matters style.
If you inspect the well-worn keyboards of the SF editorial team, you’ll note that some keys have received far more love than others, and that little more than the ghosts of letters once proudly printed on their surface remain. The letters that spell BOOST have been tapped into oblivion. Over the last couple of years, adidas’ reactionary rubber has been the talk of the town. With such immense success, the Stripes would be remiss to let this year’s fifth anniversary of the frisky foam go by without making fuss. The brand have already revealed their plans to retro the OG Energy BOOST, but what we’re really itching for is an update of the actual BOOST tech.
But don’t bet on it happening. The release of second-gen BOOST is unlikely because as far as we can tell there is no obvious way to improve it without completely reinventing the compound. It’s been suggested that the half-and-half POD configuration will be adidas’ big push this year, but essentially it’s just BOOST dressed a little differently. That isn’t to say that adidas haven’t delivered the goods lately; 2018 will see their 4D-printed design made available to the public. Trust us when we say this, the Futurecraft 4D is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The way it flexes underfoot… well, you’ll see.
This year, consumers will also get the chance to own a shoe boasting soles made with the world’s first 2D material, graphene. It boggles the mind, but graphene – 200 times stronger than steel! – is made as a sheet that is a single atom thick! British brand Inov-8 have been working with a team of scientists to lace the soles of their runners with the tough stuff. The resulting outsoles are said to be the toughest, most flexible and grippiest available. They might not be the most on-trend style right now, but we’re pretty keen to give them a try.
While the Stripes currently own the foam front, there’s no denying that Nike dominate the knit game. Their Flyknit tech has been so fiercely patented and protected that no other brand has been able to come close to replicating its intricacies. But they’re trying. The legal eagles have been involved in a long-running battle, with adidas trying to overturn Nike’s technological exclusivity by claiming that the production techniques aren't original enough to warrant patent. Team Trefoil are going at it with gusto and show no signs of slowing. Can you imagine what would happen if adidas got their hands on Flyknit tech? It would be a dark day in Niketown.
Just as the Stripes are attempting to sneak into Nike’s knit territory, so too are the Swoosh making offensive manoeuvres in the foam field. In fact, they’ve been using such covert tactics that most people missed the first move. Last year their Hyperdunk 2017 introduced React foam to the world. Nike stated that for the time being it was only to be used in their basketball line and the wider limelight quickly faded. But once the foam received the on-court tick of approval, the brand did something sneaky, slipping React foam into their top-tier runners without telling anyone.
The recently leaked Nike Epic React shows the first ever runner to utilise a sole made entirely from the new compound – a shoe set to rival springy pellets of adidas’ BOOST. What we just learned, however, is that Nike’s Zoom VaporFly designs – the fastest shoes on the market – incorporated elements of React alongside the Zoom X foam in their midsoles. That’s a pretty good sign for the new foam.
Nike have also continued along their Air odyssey with the unveiling of their first ever Air unit designed specifically for lifestyle application. The Air Max 270 plays off last year’s ,VaporMax tech, but has been designed with a much higher heel for improved all-day comfort. In a similar fashion, New Balance’s recently released 574S reshaped their Fresh Foam sole tech into its first ever lifestyle design. Believe it or not, running shoes aren’t supposed to be worn around all day in the way that we so often wear them. If the trend of translating top performance tech into lifestyle applications continues, we’ll end up with some crazy comfortable shoes.
Outside of the mainstream sporting brands, we wouldn’t be surprised to see luxury fashion houses grabbing a bigger slice of the sneaker pie this year. With the success of Balenciaga’s Triple S and Speed Trainer, our faith in the ability of sneakerheads to drop ludicrous sums of money on remarkably impractical shoes has been restored. Of course, the more players in the game, the more progression we’re likely to see. Brands like Fendi and Valentino aren’t tied down by the performance considerations that typically restrict big sporting brands, which allows them to push the concept of what a sneaker can be to entirely new, often bizarre places. Not only that, but these manufacturing giants have premium materials and production techniques at their disposal, the likes of which athletic companies can only dream of. It looks like we’ll continue rubbing our eyes in disbelief at the avant-garde high-end designs for the next 12 months at least.
While we’re sure we’ve only just brushed the surface of what 2018 has in store, it’s enough to get us excited about the year ahead. With feet clad in auto-lacing, graphene-knitted future boots, we stride forward into the new year with confidence – we can feel it, this is going to be a good one.
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 Hybrids, The Do's and Don'ts of Basketball Shoes and Why Shoe Sizes Don't Make Sense.