Most of us have one (or more!) pairs or at the very least know someone who wears them. Nike have spent the last decade evolving these distinctive shoes and this year marks the 10 year anniversary of Nike Free, and Natural Motion – a philosophy that developed from pioneering new technologies aimed to mimic the biomechanics of running barefoot on grass.
The history behind Nike Free
Nike co-founder and track and field coach, Bill Bowerman, was obsessed with stripped-down, high performance running footwear. He created a legacy of like-minded, athlete-and-coach-turned-designers who continue to drive Nike’s design culture. Bowerman once described the ideal sneaker as ‘a second skin for the foot’. For more than four decades, his philosophical ideal has occupied the minds of designers, who have generated an evolutionary succession of sneaker models in their pursuit of it.
On a 2001 trip to Stanford University, a group of Nike designers, including Tobie Hatfield, observed coach Vin Lananna’s track team training barefoot on the grass of the university’s golf course. When the puzzled designers asked about the unusual technique, the coach shared his speculation that barefoot training was strengthening the runners’ feet and thereby increasing the athlete’s performance. Remembering Bill Bowerman’s words – ‘It’s all about the feet, it’s not about the shoes’ – Hatfield recognised how this stripped-down running approach resonated with Nike’s own design philosophy, and he saw an opportunity.
The science behind it all
Using advanced sports science technologies such as pressure mapping and motion capture, researchers at Nike’s sport research lab were able to analyse the biomechanics of the toes, ankles, knees and hips as athletes ran barefoot on grass. This information provided the scientific bases for
designers as they set out to design the first Nike Free.
When the Nike Free 5.0 was launched in the spring of 2004, it not only built on Nike’s design legacy, but also introduced a new understanding of biomechanics into performance footwear. To transplant the benefits of running naturally to concrete or asphalt, Nike’s designers re-invented the way athletic shoes were designed, engineered and manufactured. The launch of Nike Free in 2004 ushered a series of ground-breaking innovations into footwear design. Since 2004, the Nike Free has permeated sport categories and found cultural relevance globally – from surfing to golf, from style to art, expanding the reach and understanding of natural motion with each new adaptation.
The evolution of Nike Free
These five models have been instrumental to the development of Nike Free – can you see the similarities to the shoes that are on the shelves today? Keep an eye out as there are some great new styles launching in April to mark the anniversary!
Images / Supplied