Why It Took Nike Six Years To Design Their Wavy New Air Max

It’s a hell of a long time, so we got Nike’s resident product geek Rory Fraser to try and convince us that the VaporMax’s were worth the wait…

Why It Took Nike Six Years To Design Their Wavy New Air Max

by Lucy Morris |

Hypebeasts will back me up here, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of trainers out there. But, few are as iconic or as instantly recognisable as Nike’s Air Max’s. They’ve had our backs (and our feet #sorrynotsorry) since 1987, but this month they are preparing to launch their most revolutionary sneaker since the dawn of time. We have one question we’re desperate to get answered: why has it taken so bloody long?

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Thirty years ago a sneak-geek called Tinker Hatfield designed the OG Air Max 1. It had the type of bouncy sole that could only be made by trapping Earth’s most bountiful gases – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water (aka air) – in its sole. It was, obviously, revolutionary. It kickstarted a maelstrom of models and some 70 odd iterations later – including the unforgettable Air Max Thea’s, Air Force Max’s, CW Sensation’s, LeBron’s, Uptempo’s, TN’s, Roshe Run, Essential 90’s and Triax’s – and they have finally come up with their lightest ever trainer: the VaporMax.

People are hailing it the Air’s renaissance. It's a far cry from some of those clunky '90s models as it’s made of only two components: breathable and flexible Flyknit and a state-of-the-art cushioned sole. It’s the brands cleanest design yet as it’s entirely foamless with a contoured air bubble for a sole. The shoe comes out on March 26th and already has sneakerheads biting at the bit, so we hit up Rory Fraser, Nike’s International Product Development Manager, to get a grip on the buzz.

What Makes These Nike Air Max’s So Goddamn Special?

Traditional Air Max shoes have a lot of layers. Essentially the sole is a sandwich with a layer of foam, an air bag and the outer sole. Before we were forcing the airbag to fit in-between those two layers rather than putting it in direct contact with the foot. And with traditional running shoes, the foam eventually breaks down over time. That doesn’t happen with air. And with air, it feels the same whether it’s mile one or one hundred - if you are inclined to run that far.

Give Me The Top Line USP?

It lets the foot do what the foot’s supposed to do naturally. So the different chambers allow the shoe to move in a different way. There’s an airbag in the heel that's contoured for the foot, so the shoe is incredibly flexible. When you’re running your foot lands on the ground, it gets that nice cushioned support.

Is There Much Difference Between The Men’s And Women’s Silhouette?

No.

Nothing At All?

It’s going to be the same. We've kind of sized it down, but it’s built around the same cast and has the same fit.

How Long Did Nike Spend Designing Them?

About six years. The exact brief was to bring that sensation of air to life and make it feel like you’re running directly on the air bag. The challenge was: How do we remove all those different layers? How do we rethink the manufacturing process?

Why So Long?

The team set out to make the best Air Max running shoe they’ve ever made. So we sat down and asked runners what they like about it, what they don’t like and how we can improve it. A lot of them said Air Max’s felt like a bit stiff and could be a lot lighter. I actually ran in it four years ago and did a bit of testing myself. But we had people, almost from the very beginning testing it to the very end. We had people running far, fast, short and slow. Just to see how it works on different terrains, to make sure there were no issues with it. There’s been a lot of different testing by a lot of different people from all around the world. That’s why it took so long.

Does It Have Any Hidden Features That We Wouldn’t Necessarily Know About?

After ten miles there’s some confetti coming out of it, and it screams ‘amazing job!’ No, not really. I guess the nice thing about having a clear sole is you can see everything. So it’s very transparent in terms of what’s happening.

Give Us The Sneakerhead Perspective…

This is maybe a bit geeky, but some of the first gen Air Max VaporMax’s had a smooth sole. But lot of runners were like, ‘yeah…it’s cool…I’m slipping’. It would have been easier if we just layered a bunch of rubber on the bottom to create grip but that was too easy. Instead, there is a small waffle pattern on the sole - it’s not added on, it’s not glued on, it’s part of the sole. So the air bag is both your grip and your traction. I cannot emphasise enough how hard that is to do. It’s an incredible feat of engineering that someone a lot smarter than me came up with.

How Icky Is It For The Environment?

The construction is pretty sustainable. About 90 per cent of the waste from the air bags we’re able to recycle and reuse for future air bags. FlyKnit, in general, is a very sustainable product for us as there’s not a lot of waste from it.

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Follow Lucy on Instagram @lucyalicemorris

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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