Well-Seasoned

So just a pre-warning, this is a pretty annoying thing that’s been bugging me for a while now. I make no apologies for my opinion but also don’t blame you for not being interested.

Footwear technology is pretty interesting at the moment, with seemingly new developments every week that are ready to revolutionise the way we think about shoes for good. Whilst throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s the revolution always centred around the newest greatest performance advancement nowadays the story seems to involve what is essentially a better way of making shoes rather than how they are performing.

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The rise of the knitted upper isn’t any coincidence when you look at it’s main benefits; a form-fitting upper that creates less waste and more efficient material usage. Translating that into real terms, it’s a cheaper and faster way of making shoes; an accountant’s wet dream. All those woven hybrid remakes of your favourite classic model? A pretty good way of putting out a new product that can use up a good amount of pre-existing parts.

adidas in particular have been pretty good about making the most of all this (remember when they and Nike went at it over Flyknit/Primeknit in 2012?) with woven uppers and BASF’s breakthrough development which was licensed and called “Boost” proving a resounding success when paired with some celebrity. As the exclusive rights to the material runs out and competitors have begun releasing their own iterations like Puma NRGY and Reebok’s Cloudride the jig is finally up.

For a while adi have been working away at their Speedfactory concept which apparently will pair on-site manufacturing with bio-mechanical tech in real-time. Having messed around with seemingly impractical and unsuccessful (outside of PR) concepts of 3D printed midsoles they have finally launched a version at consumer level with the AM4LDN shoe and subsequent city versions. (I’ll run with the London & Paris for this)

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The idea here as put forward by adidas’ press release is footwear “completely unique for the conditions of the city where they will be worn, utilising all the precision technology benefits you’d expect from adidas produced at great speed”

Seeing this and the accompanying digital campaign had me intrigued to see how this concept would be executed with the Boost technology instead of 3D printed midsoles. Being my sceptical self I came at it with a fair pinch of salt and from what I’ve seen my seasoning was right.

At first look the AM4LDN shoe looked quite familiar; taking a very similar silhouette to the MFG (Made for Germany) shoe that the three stripes had proudly touted as the first shoe to come out of their Speedfactory facility in Germany. My concerns were backed up with some evidence via a CrepeCity member who was able to spot little to no difference when side-by-side in hand. For all intents and purposes they are the same shoe.

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Potentially the MFG shoe was a test of the AM4LDN release? But with images of the Parisian counterpart coming out and echoing the same construction I can only suffice that runners in London and Paris coincidentally require exactly the same running shoe except for the colourway of the uppers…

The French-centric pair was apparently developed with female runners yet uses the same spec’s as the LDN. I find this rather odd considering ASICS (and most others including adidas) develop shoes specifically for women, even going to the extent of speccing the womens Gel Kayano with a different sole cushioning to the mens. The reason being that although mens and womens feet have similar fit requirement the way in which men and women run are fundamentally different amongst the general populous.

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So essentially what we have here; regardless of what actual testing and feedback was used during their development; is a shoe that does little to take advantage of the ability to quickly and efficiently create a customised shoe for a specific region and eschews that for the tried and tested “here’s a colour for your city” method.

Now let me just also clarify that I have similar feelings about a lot of campaigns, I think the Nike Zoom Fly SP is a beat-up re “it’s a development sample of the Vaporfly” and then dropping an Off-White version along with some city-specific colours. The whole inner-plate concept is one that does interest me.

The adidas Speedfactory and 3D/4D initiatives are exciting and the potential for innovation is superb. It’s obvious that with the financial benefits this part of footwear development will be a growing sector for certain, but what irks me is what seems to be a more apparent lack of respect for the end consumer.

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I’ve watched the general thirst for knowledge in lifestyle sports footwear consumers dwindle over the last 10 years and with it the intelligence in actual design and innovation has taken a turn with it. Now the innovation is more in line with the lifestyle mentalities which is great, but when a shoe is praised for it’s margin-savvy construction and ease of slipping into a leisurely life under a false guise of performance it really irks me. It just so happens that adidas’ rise under the flag of Boost (which remember in the Ultraboost was hailed as the best running shoes adidas had ever made yet I know few who rate it as an actual runner) really sums up the whole paradox.

Ironically there’s a low-tech approach to what adidas is bringing with Speedfactory (at least at this current level) and it’s what New Balance has been doing for decades. Manufacturing in the USA and UK has allowed them to have relatively short turn-arounds and produce product locally. The US is an even more fitting example with their NB1 program allowing a customer to create their own colourway of a pre-selected model and have it submitted, produced and shipped within a week.

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The real potential in Speedfactory and other similar developments which will no doubt come along soon is the ability to develop new products at a quicker pace which comes down to a knitted upper which requires little to no tooling for mass-production. In the end though “cheaper, faster production” doesn’t sound as sexy in a press release… Unless you’re an accountant of course.

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