From the ground up

Back with a new twist, the Jordan Alpha Trunner revises one of Jordan Brand‘s most successful training shoes and emphasizes a renewed push towards high performance off-season footwear.

The now classic silhouette remains, bolstered in 2010 with advanced cushioning and stabilizing technology to strike the perfect balance of lateral training and running.

We spoke to Justin Taylor, seasoned Jordan Brand designer, about the process behind his innovations for the shoe.

HS: For those that might not know, what are some of the Jordan shoes had a hand in designing in the past?

JT: I started off with some team shoes, the Jordan Dentro and the Esterno. Then I did a shoe called the Jumpman Elite 1, and more recently I’ve taken over the Melo line. I’ve done the Melo 6 and the forthcoming Melo 7.

HS: What are some of the technical concerns that might differ between a basketball shoe and training shoe. You’ve done a few training shoes now, and obviously you mentioned the Melo, which is obviously a high performance hoop shoe.

JT: A couple of things we look at, beginning with the different ways your moving in the particular sport your playing. A training shoe is built more to handle the lateral aspect, when you’re doing shuffle drills and things like that, as well as surface traction. People should be able to wear it on turf and on a court surface. The street and treadmill too. You also are trying make it as light and breathable as possible, because a lot of people out there are out on hot summer days training, so you want to give them some comfort there.

In basketball we are looking at mainly controlled surfaces, so mainly basketball shoes are produced for indoor courts. We’re looking at a standard herringbone, the tried and true way to go, you’re not looking at doing lugs and nubs and things of that nature. At the same time, it is really built for lateral movement as well. The basketball player is doing a lot of quick cuts. But, the more recent movement has been to infuse more running DNA into the outsoles of basketball shoes, many people are wanting their hoop shoes to take a lighter weight and get more flexible in the forefoot area as well.

HS: Absolutely, I talked a little about that movement recently while looking at the Jordan Outdoor. Thinking about the running shoe DNA in a basketball shoe seems quite common in contemporary basketball shoe design.

JT: I would agree with that totally. I think its something we’ve got from our players. The small players are quick, and nowadays the big players are starting to get quicker… and even when they aren’t they think they are. They like to feel they can move their feet as quick as possible, even when trying to bang down low in the post. For someone like Melo, who has really quick footwork, it helps and benefits him if we can really focus on the forefoot aspect of the shoe.

HS: With the Alpha Trunner, your working with a pre-exisiting design palette… which is something common in the history and legacy of the brand. There are, for instance, frequent nods to past models in the newer Jordan offerings. From your perspective, what are the challenges in incorporating new tech in something that will retain an older look and feel?

JT: I would say the challenge is bringing the consumer a look they recognize, but at the same time take them some place new. In doing that, there is a fine balance of not moving the needle too far. If we move it too far, we might lose that original consumer that loved the Trunner. If we don’t move it enough, we might not gain a new consumer. What we are trying to do is hit a sweet spot where the old Trunner consumer recognizes it and falls in love right away, perhaps just based on the aesthetic, and the new consumer, who might be more technical minded, can look at it and appreciate the upgrades and new performance potential. It ends up being a balancing act, how much can we get away with changing the shoe but still resemble the original starting point.

HS: What was your main desire coming into the project? It is a running shoe and a training shoe combined, and you’ve talked a lot about basketball, so do you see it as a basketball trainer?

JT: I wouldn’t say it is more basketball geared. It is a training shoe that is appropriate for a basketball player. It is built around what our basketball players do, which is where the Trunner idea came from in the first place… we know we are primarily a basketball brand… all the gear that we were making was to help our basketball players perform better. The Trunner was born from that. We know our players run, we know they need something to run in. There is also a crossover appeal, because every athlete is training at some point. We engineered the shoe to be able to handle a broad spectrum. It can range from our large basketball player to a smaller field sport athlete.

HS: Do you test the shoe across the board when it comes to Jordan sponsored athletes?

JT: On this one, I think we did do some unique sizes and sent them out. Normally, we test a size 13 for basketball shoes. This one we did an eleven so we could send them out to athletes in a range of sports.

HS: Can you guide me through some of the new tech that has transformed the Trunner into the Alpha Trunner?

JT: First of all, we updated the materials on the quarter, where that floating wing is, that was an idea from the original and we adapted it with more modern materials to make it lighter, but still retain function. Around the heel, the original had a metal clip that you could form to your foot. We took that out and replaced it with a foam pad that helps to lock the Achilles in. It is a bit more comfortable now. We updated the materials around the heel with what we call the no-sole application. If you notice there is no stitching around the overlay panels that flow around the heel. This allows for the use of less material and lighter material, makes the construction more seamless. The big thing, which was new, is an update to the midsole and outsole. We played off an old basketball technology and relocated the pods to make it more responsive to linear motion, as opposed to for basketball. There’s pods under the toes and under the balls of your foot, and two in the heel for first impact cushioning. The way they are linked together helps with a smooth transition through the entire foot strike.

HS: Quick question about footstrike and cushioning. When a shoe is designed for both lateral and forward motion, how do you balance cushioning in the perfect midsole and outsole combo?

JT: One of the things is… if you are building a lateral movement geared shoe, you are only building cushioning around the forefoot area. This sacrifices flexibility, which is what you need when building a shoe for linear movement. So we are trying to find a fine balance of enough cushioning to keep the foot on the foot-bed while retaining enough flexibility for linear movement. That is why we did the real deep flex grooves in the sole. At the same time we let the midsole wrap high on both the lateral and medial side to keep the foot stable.

HS: What’s your favorite colorway of the Alpha Trunner?

JT: My favorite one is this yellow version we have floating around the office. It’s all yellow with a black wing on the side.

HS: You’re making me envious now.

JT: I don’t have it in my size. I like it a lot because being a training shoe, it is an energy product and to me that color scheme is the most energetic. I don’t even know if it is coming out. It looks nice though, take my word for it.

HS: Finally, how do you see the Alpha Trunner fitting with the other offerings from Jordan training.

JT: This one is our more all-purpose training shoe. When you look at our other offerings that are coming – like the Pregame XT, which has a distinct basketball focus – and Jeter is our main guy when it comes to training, which obviously has a baseball focus. Those are the two extremes. This one to me is all-purpose, something you can wear in general training and I think it translates best to off-court. Something you can rock just hanging out.

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