On October 23, Mark Parker announced that he would be stepping down as CEO of Nike. Parker was a driving force for innovation – he was responsible for creating the brand’s first sustainable sneaker and, most notably, its celebrated research and development group, Nike HTM. Often regarded as the their most avant-garde line, Nike HTM married innovation and heritage to explore the company’s newest technologies, while providing cutting-edge design.
Before the conception of Nike HTM, Mark Parker and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield spent years refining Nike’s product line to include the Nike Air Max 1, Air Trainer 2, ACG line, Air Jordan, and many others. The two spent plenty of time in Japan, where they often met with Hiroshi Fujiwara, the “godfather of streetwear,” to discuss products and design. Eventually, the trio founded Nike HTM – Hiroshi, Tinker, and Mark.
Fujiwara, Hatfield, and Parker each bring something unique to HTM – Parker likens the trio’s design process to a jam session, where they each riff off one another. Fujiwara is a stylist-designer who uses his heightened touch of wearability to create products that seamlessly blend into everyday life. Hatfield introduced products with personality, creating the blueprint for working with athletes by designing high-performance products that tell a story. Parker served as the business mind behind HTM and the man responsible for its creation. Speaking on the relationship between fashion and sneakers, Parker told Highsnobiety in 2018: “Nike is at our best when we’re exploring that spectrum of performance and style.”
Nike HTM debuted in 2002, as an exercise in using unique colors and materials to elevate classic designs; the design trio created an Air Force 1 constructed from premium leather, akin to a dress shoe with contrast stitching. Luxury sneakers were relatively uncommon at the time, and Nike HTM was an opportunity to bridge the gap between aspirational and approachable. This eventually changed, as HTM shifted towards new designs instead of re-issues. “HTM was about more than Japanese sneaker culture,” Parker told Highsnobiety. “HTM started with the idea of how the three of us – Hiroshi, Tinker, and I – could reconstruct a classic sneaker with a new twist to appeal to a different audience. It evolved into the partnership we have today, where each of us has the opportunity to explore new concepts to push the edges for the company.”
By studying Nike’s extensive archives, HTM incorporated new treatments into existing models. The Nike HTM Air Moc Mid, released in 2002, modified the original 1994 Air Moc. The textile upper was replaced with high-quality suede, and a pull cord was replaced with elastic siding inspired by Chelsea boots. A similar approach was used on the 2003 Air Presto Roam and Air Terra Humara.
The Nike Sock Dart, released in 2004, featured a new silhouette constructed from computerized knitting technology. After discovering the OG Sock Racer in Japan, Fujiwara asked his partners to rework the design under the HTM sub-line. The sneaker utilized a circular knitting process that inspired Nike’s inclination for sock-like fabrications.
Nike continued to innovate with a series of avant-garde designs that played with esoteric experiments from the company’s earliest days. The HTM Zoom Macropus featured a new boot design inspired by Clarks Wallabees, while the HTM Air Footscape Woven combined the fastening of the Air Woven with the sturdy instep of the Footscape. Even the Air Woven rainbow, with its multi-colored, one-piece upper (one of Nike’s oddest releases to date) was immensely popular. It was clear that HTM was not catering to Nike’s average customer, rather its early adopters and experimental buyers.
Eight years later, Nike introduced its revolutionary Flyknit technology through HTM. Flyknit no longer limited the restrictions of cut-and-sew construction. By manipulating fibers, yarns, and fabric structures, Nike could micro-engineer a supportive, lightweight, one-piece sneaker. Its general release was promoted by various athletes during the 2012 London Olympics – another instance of HTM testing the market, building hype, and paving the way for their newest silhouette to infiltrate the mainstream.
HTM continued to branch out with the KOBE 9 Elite Low HTM, the first low-cut Nike basketball shoe. Outstanding details such as flecked laces, anodized HTM aglets, carbon fiber, and reflective snake scales married the worlds of court and culture with one of basketball’s best-looking sneakers to date.
As of late, HTM entered the world of football with its Nike Free Mercurial Superfly. Using a Flyknit upper and a 5.0 free sole, the original black and volt colorway completely changed the Mercurial soccer cleat – the silhouette was seemingly transformed from a field cleat to a street-ready sneaker. It ignited the popularity of the Mercurial Superfly silhouette, a testament to HTM’s lasting influence on Nike’s extensive product line.
When asked about HTM’s legacy, Mark Parker responded: “The [Nike HTM] process is emblematic of how we approach design across the company. Nike is a place where exploration is best done together.” HTM is the ultimate realization of Nike’s design sensibilities. It allowed the company to ease disruptive technology into the market and measure its ensuing response before taking it mainstream. While Parker may be retiring, HTM is a lasting fingerprint of Nike’s brand ethos and an instrumental component in defining the future of footwear.
HTM is also an example of a collaboration that creates products that would have otherwise never existed. Speaking with Highsnobiety, Parker noted: “Collaboration is critical to our work at Nike – within our own teams to build on our ideas, and with outside partners who can help take us to new places. Each relationship brings a different point of view or skill that we’re interested in. Once you go through the creative process together, you always learn something. And you might not even realize what that is until you start the next project.”
It’s been several years since new HTM product was announced, and with Parker’s abdication of his CEO role, it remains up in the air whether the three-way collaboration will continue in the future.