In July of 2015, Nike introduced FlyEase, a wrap-around zipper solution that opens the back of the shoe near the heel-counter, making it easier to slide the foot in and out. Additionally, the system provides sufficient lockdown and eliminates the need to tie traditional laces.
The launch of the system generated tremendous, unsolicited feedback — much of which was quickly incorporated into improving and expanding the FlyEase line. Now, Nike is inviting innovators, designers, engineers, and makers to advance the design of footwear in a way that helps all athletes* live more active and independent lives.
Today, Nike announced the Nike Ease Challenge — inviting ideas for new thoughts on alternate closure/entry systems. Here, Tobie Hatfield, the creator of Nike FlyEase footwear, discusses Nike's legacy of alternative closure systems, the impact of FlyEase and more.
You’ve been designing shoes with alternative entry and closure systems for several years. How and why did you get involved in this work?
It’s our nature to innovate at Nike – and that involves finding new and better ways to do things that serve athletes. Just because laces have been used for many years, doesn’t mean it’s the best way or the only way – and for many people, the act of tying laces is physically difficult. I’m inspired by the challenge of creating solutions that benefit athletes of all abilities.
FlyEase was named as one of TIME Magazine’s Innovations of the Year and Mashable lauded it as “one of the innovations that changed the world in 2015.” Were you surprised by the reaction to this product in particular?
I think we knew it had the potential to be more than a shoe for people who needed it, but I never imagined how many people would proactively reach out to us with their feedback - which meant the world to those of us who worked on FlyEase and has actually helped us improve the product. We saw all of these posts on social media, many of which included constructive feedback on accommodating ankle-foot orthotics, expanding the size range, introducing new widths, etc. – and so we did all of those things.
Today, Nike announced the Nike Ease Challenge, which invites innovators, designers, makers, and engineers to contribute their ideas for alternative entry/closure systems. Why did Nike decide to invite outside ideas?
We have a lot of innovative ideas already in motion inside the company, but we’re certainly open to the possibility that great minds outside the company are also inspired by these challenges and working on new solutions. Knowing how important — how life-changing — it can be for people who’ve never tied their own shoes to have a viable alternative, we feel a great sense of urgency to explore new solutions for all. The extensive amount of feedback we received regarding FlyEase taught us two things: 1) We are on the right path 2) There is still more work to be done.
If there are innovators out there with actionable plans, we’re definitely listening.
How does this tie back to what Nike is known for, performance products for athletes competing at the highest levels?
Nike excels at designing for extremes in a way that ultimately benefits everyone. When we create products for professional athletes possessing extreme size, strength, or speed, we can confidently assert it will more than meet the demands you or I might place upon that same product. Similarly, if we can design shoes that are easy to put on for a person with limited dexterity, then a person not faced with that challenge will certainly find the shoes easy to put on as well. We’ve also heard from triathletes and decathletes among others about the benefits of reducing the time and energy required to change their shoes between events. The world’s greatest decathlete himself, Ashton Eaton, actually wore a laceless pair of Nike spikes during the Olympic Trials as part of this effort. At the end of the day though, it all comes back to our belief that if you have a body, you’re an athlete. We exist to serve athletes of all abilities on all levels and that’s what we’re doing.
About the Nike Ease Challenge
The Nike Ease Challenge calls on a broad community of innovators to design a new, innovative footwear solution that provides a more hands-free design and helps athletes of all abilities to more easily put on, secure and take off their shoes. Nike is looking for designers, engineers, makers, and innovators who share Nike’s passion for innovation and desire to remove barriers for all athletes. The challenge is focused on advancing and reinventing footwear design for athletes of all abilities, and continues Nike’s leadership in driving footwear innovations that help all athletes to live more active and independent lives.