In our latest Q&A, we sat down with Nike Sportswear Footwear Design Director Graeme McMillan to talk about the Free Breathe OG and Free OG, as well as the NRG “Geneology of Free” pack.

Following our interview with Run Dem’s Charlie Dark, we took some time to speak with Graeme McMillan, Nike Sportswear’s Footwear Design Director. Celebrating a number of updated silhouettes, including a careful curation dubbed the “Genealogy of Free” pack, Graeme walked us through Nike Sportswear’s latest innovations for Summer 2014. Check out the full interview below.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Graeme McMillan, I’m the Nike Sportswear Footwear Design Director for Sportswear Running, Global Football and Tennis.

Could you give us some background info on the materials involved in the Free Breathe OG?

Every summer season in Sportswear we try to make a product that’s relevant for the season but also resonates with the consumer and works well with some of the heritage models and some of the new creations that we’re bringing out. So it’s really about the functionality of the material and the feel of the product. The mesh that we have on the Free Breathe is a sandwich mesh – that means it’s not just a flat single layer. There’s two layers of mesh and then there’s a knit structure between it that gives it some loft. What that does is allow for airflow and it has kind of a semi-translucent look to it. That makes the shoe more breathable than just having a shoe that has a single-layer mesh against your foot. So it’s that sandwich space that allows for airflow and keeps your foot cool.

How about the colorways for this summer?

We typically like to blow color out for our summer releases. Another issue is moving out of the winter into spring. Consumers are kind of coming out of the cave, so to speak, and they’re starting to shed layers and they want a little bit more excitement and vibrancy in their footwear, so this summer the palette was something we worked on with our color designers and our senior color designers. We had to really come up with a relevant expression that was fun and also lended itself well to the material applications of that special mesh we’re using.

We’ve also recently seen the Breathe concept applied to several Air Max silhouettes. What’s the story with these?

It’s a different package and a different construction. There’s a slightly different construction and challenge when working on one of the Max icons that are so important to us. So wanted to be able to pay homage to the design and not stray too far away from the expression, the clean lines of the upper. We wanted to put more of a functional filter in terms of breathability. So you’ve got along the ramp, the mudguard here, that’s a laminated package. It’s a three-layer package of single-layer mesh on top, a mid-layer that has larger perforations to help let airflow through and then there’s a breathable lining layer. It also just creates a unique look that we haven’t really seen.

All the seams on the upper have been removed as much as possible to make it super flexible and lightweight, as well as deconstructed. Even the tape we used for the seam is a micro-suede so it’s considerably softer than tapes we’ve used on other similar constructions. So this is really about being deconstructed and lightweight and breathable.

There’s a bunch of other things we’ve done beyond materials to really consider how people are gonna wear these and made them barefoot sneakers. If you look inside the shoe there’s a single layer of elastic mesh adjusted that basically holds the tongue in place. So if you want to just wear your shoes barefoot and not do the laces just to be more comfortable. the shoe is gonna sit on your foot quite nicely. It’s not going to create any heat and it’s gonna continue to be breathable.

Overall, this combination of laminated mesh and singular meshes makes the shoe the most breathable Max we’ve ever made.

Can we expect to see the Breathe concept applied to other silhouettes?

Yeah, I mean we want to try and think more about how we’re innovating for our consumers, taking constructions and technologies from performance and really adapting them for lifestyle use. So yeah we’re gonna continue to work on the Breathe concept. You’ll see kind of connected expressions but not as bold. We want our icons and team-models to be the boldest expression in what the Breathe is for summer. You’ll see some of the similar meshes on other shoes – throughout the line – whether it’s some of our more retro styles or some of our lightweight styles. But let’s say that the Free and the Max 1 and even the Max 90 are the key silhouettes for us to really tell that story, because these are shoes that everyone in the sneaker community loves and we can use to communicate the story of summer functionality.

Moving on to the “Genealogy of Free” pack, can you explain the theme to us, how the idea came about, etc.?

Nike is an innovation company and we’ve been innovating for athletes for nearly 40 years. We always put the athlete first and that’s what’s driven the design department, our Research and Development, to really come up with new ideas and provide solutions, whether it‘s around cushioning, weight or breathability. The “Genealogy of Free” shows the lineage of where we started with some of the early exploration around natural motion and how we built on that to get to where we are today. The Free Breathe OG is a great example of how we reflected on 40 years of innovation, whether it’s from free and natural motion to things related to fit and comfort. We have a ton of innovations that we’ve created over the years and quite often they’re built on previous ideas. It’s a very collaborative environment here at Nike so quite often we find ourselves working with people in our sports research lab and in performance categories to share ideas and come up with new expressions of innovation.

How did you guys decide which shoes to incorporate into the pack?

Things like the Rift and the Sock Racer, if you look what they did in terms of moving the needle for running innovation at the time, they were quite pivotal in terms of changing the thought of what a running shoe could be. So we wanted the real breakthrough innovations and silhouettes to be lined up and we wanted to tell a story of how they changed the game for runners in some way. So it was basically the big moves we’ve done over our 40-year history.

When you bring back these classic silhouettes, do you apply new materials and innovations or do you try to just replicate them as they were when they came out?

When it comes to reissuing or bringing them back we always try and improve things that couldn’t be done from the past, so quite often there are more advancements in materials and we have additional knowledge of things like Free. We wouldn’t just bring back a shoe with the same materials and same construction – we want to make it lighter and better. We don’t want to sacrifice the aesthetic of it but we want to make it more contemporary for today’s consumer.

A lot of times there were materials that didn’t exist in the late ’80s or ’90s when some of the older Air shoes came out, so now we have the ability to improve and make them more lightweight and comfortable by using new materials. Again, it still looks like the same Max 1 or Max 90 but when you stack it up against the OG it’s ended being more comfortable in terms of the fit of the upper and the materials are lighter. Innovation for us can also mean stripping away layers, removing reinforcements or working with our engineers to make shoes more comfortable from the inside out.


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