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Highsnobiety Q&A February, 12 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Nike Running Creative Director Sean McDowell Talks Flyknit Lunar2

On Thursday, February 6 we made our way over to the nearly-finished Nike store located in Berlin’s posh Charlottenburg district to join Nike teams across Europe in celebrating the launch of Flyknit Lunar2. Located directly across from the world-famous Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), we enjoyed a detailed explanation of the Oregon company’s latest innovation before sitting down with Nike Running’s Vice President and Creative Director Sean McDowell to get down to the nitty gritty of Flyknit Lunar2. Armed with a microphone and a fresh new pair of kicks, Sean walked us through Nike’s most advanced silhouette to date.

Could you walk us through the production process of Lunar2, from the initial concept to the final product?

For us it always starts with the athlete. So we did a lot of wear-testing on Flyknit Lunar1 and learned what can we dial in and make a little bit better. It’s an evolution, not a revolution and there’s really different methodologies and processes for us. When it’s a revolution we start with a blank piece of paper and go from scratch. With an evolution, we know exactly what the template’s gonna be, we know what the midsole heights are gonna be, we know what’s working. But then we’ll fix the things that aren’t working. So here we went through five different features.

It’s a more durable outsole, the foam is reformulated a little bit, it’s a little lighter, a little bouncier. We have a new Flyknit upper that is a little bit more supportive; there were four Flyknit cables before and now we’ve extended it to five. So you get a little bit more forefoot support, a little bit more heel lockdown. Also, we’ve been able to keep reengineering Flyknit and wove the tongue into the structure so it doesn’t roll to one side or the other.

How did you decide to improve on the Lunar1 as opposed to Racer or Trainer?

We got very good feedback on both Racer and Trainer and we’re seeing very good sell-throughs. We’re enjoying where those products are and so we’re gonna leave them alone for a little while and probably a year from now or 18 months from now, you’ll start to see updates on those.

Were there any challenges you faced when updating Lunar1?

I would say getting consensus and agreement. You know it’s a big organization and we’ve got some great players – everybody’s passionate. So many people are real runners and getting them to come together and agree on a single direction is not always easy, but this one came together nicely.

How many prototypes did Flyknit Lunar2 go through?

It’s gonna be a lot. I would wanna give you the exact number just to be perfect. But it’s gonna be five complete rounds of wear-test and I would say at least 12 to 15 of those flexible parts that we showed you; those parts where we’re testing new midsole geometries. So at least 10 to 15 of those and at least five rounds of wear-test.

What’s your favorite part of working on a new shoe?

The beginning’s the most fun for me. Going out, talking to athletes, talking to consumers: “What do you like? What can be fixed?” That’s my favorite part. I was Creative Director for the Olympics in 2008 and I still remember all that time, just interviewing athletes across all 28 sports, trying to make a great product for them. It’s just the most special time.

We’ve now seen Flyknit applied to basketball in the form of the Kobe 9 Elite and lifestyle in the form of the Lunar Chukka. Can we expect to see the technology in more shoes or other areas like apparel?

Yeah, I think that’s a really natural assumption. It’s a great new tool for us. It’s incredibly sustainable, we can engineer exactly what we want and where we want it, so it’s a very precise tool. And then it’s run by a computer, so once we get that pattern, it’s the same, machine after machine after machine, so we can mass produce it very well. Then, we can improve things like cushioning and comfort. We can improve waterproof. We can change quilting patterns, or make it more open and breathable. It’s a very versatile tool and I can see it coming across multiple lines.

What was the inspiration behind the first colorways?

There’s seven colors for men and seven colors for women. So we like to look at the entire Nike Running line first. How’s that coming together? How is Lunar, as a silo coming together? And then how is Flyknit Lunar2 coming together from a men’s perspective and a women’s perspective? So we’ll build that whole line and then we’ll pick the one that we’re most excited about as the lead colorway.

In the case of the men’s, we’re bringing a little bit of the Volt that we saw at the 2012 Olympics that’s still trending up for us. It feels like a really nice neutral but a very strong bright and we’re integrating that with two really seasonally relevant blues – very mainstream colors that feel bright but fresh. We haven’t seen this combination before.

On the women’s side, we do a lot of trend research making sure that we get out in front of the market place and we feel like we’re one of the market leaders in that. So, we’re starting to blend the orange, purple and pink into a nice blend. That hasn’t really been done before in the athletic world and that felt like a really fresh take for women.

Why do you think Flyknit continues to perform so well in the streetwear and lifestyle worlds?

I think it gives you a very different cosmetic. We’re engineering it from a performance perspective and we’re getting a lot of really good results. But when you start to twist those yarns and create some heathers, you start to get a very different cosmetic. It also simplifies everything. So there’s less bolted on to the outside. It’s stripped away, it’s more like a single surface and that goes with more outfits. It wasn’t something that we really predicted from our perspective – we really came from a performance perspective – but seeing it adopted in lifestyle has been magical.

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