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How Tom Sachs’ Impromptu Work as Wear-Tester Birthed a Whole New Shoe (Or: The Virtues of a Freakout)

Tom Sachs holds the Nike Mars Yard Overshoe.

The initial need for the Nike Mars Yard Overshoe was simple: In late winter, one's feet get cold and wet. 

“The Mars Yard Overshoe, its nickname is the March Yard — for March, the worst month of the year. It is wet, your feet are wet the whole month of March,” says Tom Sachs.   

Simple. 

But its story is more complex — one of trials and errors, questions and answers.

Sachs learns by doing, more explicitly by making, most directly by testing. The artist, who came to fame as a sculptor and now works across a variety of media, embraces transparency in materials and the underpinnings of how things work. 

His collaborative journey with Nike, under the moniker NIKECraft, is no exception. “NIKECraft is an adjective," says Sachs. "It means a combination of things only Nike can produce and things only Sachs can produce. It is fifty-fifty. It is an aesthetic of transparency."

A full, transparent breakdown of the Nike Mars Yard Overshoe

If Sachs learns by doing (his first Nike product arrived in 2012, his experience in footwear expanding exponentially since then), he reveals areas of intrigue by questioning. This often happens by pushing the limits of an item's function. Sachs wants to know not just why something works, but how far it will work — always with unrelenting vigor. This can disrupt Nike design-thinking (Sachs is damn good at rallying a fresh perspective on solutions), but it also gives him cause to find fresh angles for himself. Again, NIKECraft is a fifty-fifty enterprise.

“For me, the biggest challenge I’ve overcome stems from this: It is very easy to make things in the studio. We have a privilege, and an advantage, because we make things one at a time. We are like a 19th-century-style workshop. When you do things the Nike way, you engineer for the manufacturing process," he explains. "As an artist, the greatest thing Nike has given me is the ability to expand my creative process and think ‘these are not constraints, these are other ways of thinking.’ It’s very valuable." 

For example, Sachs found that, through heavy daily use, the initial Mars Yard shoe didn’t meet his expectations. 

His work as an impromptu wear-tester (now more recognized and more standardized — the Sachs studio is actually the first true urban wear-test center in Nike history) led to the Mars Yard 2.0 in 2017. This replaced the original Vectran®️ upper with a polyester warp-knit tricot mesh and inverted the tread of the outsole for more appropriate wear in urban environments.

Sachs' latest Nike project, the Mars Yard Overshoe, is an extension of this process. It's all about working under the consideration of how the Mars Yard 2.0 performs when conditions sour. What could Sachs employ to transition his equipment? Answering for questions of weather appropriateness, it allowed frustrations (freakout-inducing cold, wet feet) to channel solutions (the employment of a Dyneema®️, a super-strong fiber often used in boat rope and sails). Experience also diversified function. While wearing the Overshoe all the way up fends off the elements, rolling it down makes inside, heated spaces tolerable. The duality serves well for the annoyances of a New York March, and allows chic navigation of street, subway and fashion week. A new tread pattern, created by a small siping at the highpoints of the outsole, is designed from a mastery of New York's winters too.

As with all of Sachs' product, the Mars Yard Overshoe balances the raw honesty of the materials and manufacturing with the artist's touch. 

As an artist, the greatest thing Nike has given me is the ability to expand my creative process and think ‘these are not constraints, these are other ways of thinking.’

Tom Sachs

In celebration of the London premiere of Sachs’ latest film Paradox Bullets, a limited release of the Nike Mars Yard Overshoe will be available October 11 at DSM London. (Product available in-store only via online raffle. Conditions apply. Please follow DSM for details). A global release date for the shoe will be announced in the coming months.