Nike Flyleather was born out of a challenge to evolve leather into the performance material it once was—before the invention of advanced performance materials like engineered mesh and Flyknit. The key was to do so while still preserving the things people love about leather: the look, feel and even the smell.
Another crucial factor was the desire to reduce the environmental footprint associated with leather manufacturing, which not only uses a lot of energy and chemicals, but also results in a great deal of leftover scrap material. The mission became not only to invent a better version of leather, but also to reinvent the material production process to be more sustainable.
Here’s a detailed look at how engineers, scientists and designers created Nike’s lowest-carbon-footprint leather material ever.
HOW ITS MADE
During a typical leather manufacturing process, scrap pieces are discarded and often end up in a landfill. Flyleather is composed of that discarded leather scrap from the tannery floor. The scraps are combined with synthetic fibers and a fabric infrastructure via a hydro process with a force that’s so strong, it fuses everything into one material. The material then goes through a finishing process, which can include things like pigmentation, and is put on a roll to be cut.
WHAT IT LOOKS AND FEELS LIKE
Picture premium leather. Touch premium leather. Flyleather looks and feels just like that: premium leather. “Nike Flyleather completely mimics athletic, pigmented full-grain leathers in everything from fit to touch,” says Tony Bignell, Nike VP of Footwear Innovation. "And unlike traditional leathers, Flyleather can be produced with a consistent grade across a broader range of product."
WHY IT’S SO SUSTAINABLE
For Nike, leather is featured across many iconic footwear styles — but it has the second-highest environmental impact on the company's carbon emissions and water usage. Flyleather can change that. Here are the top three reasons why it's Nike’s most sustainable leather material ever:
Creating it uses less water and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing
Nike Flyleather is lighter and more durable than traditional leather (based on abrasion testing)
Because Nike Flyleather is produced on a roll, it improves cutting efficiency and creates less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods for full-grain leather
WHAT IT MEANS FOR SPORT
Flyleather has the potential to reinvent leather-like materials in performance footwear, especially in sports like football and basketball. (Early on, many performance basketball shoes were made out of leather, but over time, it was swapped out for other lighter, stronger, performance-engineered materials.)
“Similar to what Nike Flyknit did for knit, Nike Flyleather can do for leather,” says John Hoke, Nike Chief Design Officer. “New technologies and platforms allow us to get closer to working at the molecular level. Flyleather is the latest example of this, and is particularly exciting because it allows for increased potential to extend our craft with more precision. This means opportunity for greater strength, support, elasticity and so on, based on the needs of specific sports.”
This impact goes beyond the leather category. “By opening up the possibilities to engineer performance leather, we are creating a new conversation across performance categories to include materials that have otherwise been retired from the options list for products such as footwear, apparel and equipment,” says Bignell.
HOW YOU CAN EXPERIENCE IT
The shoe is now available in a White/Light Silver-White colorway from nike.com and at select retailers.
The first product to feature Nike Flyleather was the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, a distinctive, all-white version of the premium court shoe. It released on September 18, 2017.
To complement the release of the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, Nike also created limited editions of the next generation Nike Flyleather footwear — versions of the Air Force 1, Air Max 90, Cortez, Jordan 1, and Tennis Classic — made in Oregon and debuted in New York during Climate Week NYC.