Who are the new athletes?
To answer this question we have to go back in time and precisely to the beginning of the 70s at Oregon University where, the then coach of the athletics team – although he liked to call himself a COMPETITIVE REACTION PROFESSOR – met a guy who poles vaulting, and then became his trainee.
The two people in question are Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike and Tinker Hatfield, the most important and influential sneaker designer in history and who will make the Beaverton company’s fortune.
While attending his second year of college, Tinker fell from 5 meters during a training session and fractured his ankle very seriously. The doctors were skeptical of the possibility that Hatfield could continue his sport. Since he was admitted to the University of Oregon on a scholarship, his very stay at the UO was in danger, he risked losing it.
After 5 operations Tinker got back on his feet and his coach, Bowerman, built him a special pair of shoes with cleats and an insole on one side because he was limping. Those shoes allowed the young Hatfield to continue competing and therefore to stay at university.
Tinker Hatfield graduated in Architecture in 1977.
The close relationship between Bill Bowerman and Tinker Hatfield taught the latter what we now call the “Hatfield approach”, which is to make the athlete participate in the creative process of the shoe that is being created.
But in what way? By participating in each other’s working life, getting to know each other and understanding the needs and wishes of the athlete himself.
Contemporaneity has changed things, or rather, focused them.
Nike has decided to overturn the classic modus operandi of studying athletes and their competitive needs and adapt them to the context within which we all move every day, the city.
The metropolises we are all used to living in now force us to move around a lot, the work we do leads us to stay out of the house for more than 9/10 hours sometimes and we often face the unpredictability of a changing climate due to the strong environmental impact that man is having on the planet.
The Portland company has responded to this new and necessary need with Nike Space Hippie, released today June 11, an experimental collection of 4 different shoes inspired by life on Mars, where raw materials are scarce and no supply mission is underway. Created with waste, Space Hippie is the result of the encounter between sustainable practices and radical design.
Nike’s mission was to create their shoe with the lowest environmental impact ever using recycled waste.
The company rethought the entire production cycle, from raw materials to launch, to redefine the design in a whole new way.
One athlete’s waste is another athlete’s treasure. Space Hippie’s Flyknit yarns are made of 100% recycled material from plastic bottles, t-shirts and production waste. The Crater Foam structure uses approximately 12% Nike Grind rubber combined with other foam materials for greater sustainability, lightness and responsiveness.
Nike Space Hippie is nothing more than a standardized exemplification of a project that has been going on for years, in the shadows but not much, and that has a precise name, ISPA (IMPROVISE / SCAVENGE / PROTECT / ADAPT).
These are the four keywords that describe a design logic that looks mainly at the environment that we are around and that we have built.
ISPA has been developed by a global team that has studied everything from the long and difficult journeys around the metropolis to the unpredictable reality of a changing climate. It is a set of principles that has already transformed the company’s production and is applicable to both clothing and sneakers, exactly what has been done with Space Hippie. The details are set out in a company memo: reconsider the many factors that regulate city life such as water, air pollution, transport, climate and urban sprawl.
The ISPA team is the hand behind Nike’s most important collaborations in recent years: The Ten, Tom Sachs, Matthew Williams, Martine Rose, Comme des Garçons, sacai, Undercover, A-COLD-WALL*, AMBUSH, Stüssy and I could go on.
ISPA is a survivalist philosophy: functionality, versatility, adaptability, reuse and recycling based on the surrounding environment and focused on urban performance. Within this environment (contemporary cities) we live in a constant state of evolution, our state as human beings is updated and evolves. ISPA wants to be a response and a solution to these changes, a declaration of intent and awareness of the challenges we face as inhabitants of this planet, as new athletes. A set of experimental design principles that represent a pinnacle guided by experimentation and aimed at solving problems.
It represents the principle that, with the right inspiration, any problem can be solved with the material at hand.
Part of his philosophy is explained by a guide:
- Never be blocked by the first answer to a problem, IMPROVISE to see if it can be improved
- To find the materials you need, SCAVENGE and pull together the best available options to solve the problem
- Your solution must PROTECT against the problem
- ADAPT all solutions to fit their broadest potential
The guys at ISPA call the new athletes, unique athletes: people who push themselves and their bodies to be part of the idiosyncratic routine we live every day. Each one of us is treated like any other top athlete, helping us, through a new design concept, to face all the small challenges that our playing field, the city, places before us.
To answer the initial question, the new athletes are all of us. We, the inhabitants of contemporary metropolises, face our urban battles every day without ever breaking down, just like any professional athlete.
ISPA and Nike’s latest release, Space Hippie, represent the concrete and sustainable future of Beaverton’s company.