The initial concept behind the Nike GO FlyEase was to create a shoe that can help athletes with special needs better. The sports brand wanted to find an easier way to help those who find it hard to tie shoelaces.
But as Nike developed this hands-free sneaker, its design team found its use and appeal extended beyond a select few. The GO FlyEase can work for anyone.
Think of a pregnant lady in her third trimester who is having difficulty putting on shoes, a parent carrying tons of bags and guiding kids into their home while trying to take off their shoes, a young person hurrying out the door as they’re late for class, or even for any one of us living through the COVID-19 pandemic and not needing to touch the footwear we wore outside.
Nike’s Sr. Director of Athlete Innovation Tobie Hatfield calls it “an everyday performance lifestyle shoe.”
Sarah Reinertsen, the lead designer for the shoe, said, “It’s unlike any silhouette seen from Nike before.”
Reinertsen knows what’s needed to make this particular sneaker. She is a Paralympic athlete who had her leg amputated above the knee as a child because of a bone growth disorder.
Where it began
Nike started pursuing the idea of a hands-free shoe back in 2008. Then-Nike CEO Mark Parker tasked Hatfield to design a shoe for its first employee, Jeff Johnson. He had a stroke and lost the ability to articulate his right hand, so tying shoes was no longer possible.
Hatfield came up with a prototype for Johnson with two hinged velcro pieces, with one wrapped around the instep and another around the heel. Since it was designed specifically for Johnson, the idea laid dormant after that.
But around the 2012 London Olympics, Parker asked Hatfield to look into creating another unique shoe. He read a blog of 16-year-old Miami native Matthew Walzer. A huge sneakerhead and Nike fanatic, Walzer also had cerebral palsy. He found that wearing hightops were more comfortable to keep his ankles stable instead of orthopedic braces. But his challenge was he couldn’t tie his shoes on his own.
What Hatfield was able to design started the FlyEase system. He called it a “cutting-edge wrap-around zipper system.” It only required one hand for zipping and unzipping the shoe, giving Walzer an easier way to dress.
The FlyEase system and the GO FlyEase
The previous iterations of this technology still required a hand. But what the GO FlyEase offers is a completely hands-free experience.
The rough prototype of this shoe was submitted three years ago as part of an internal design challenge. Hatfield told Wired, “When Tim Hopkins [Nike principal innovation engineer] and Haley Toelle [designer in Nike’s Explore Team and NXT Lab] were working on this idea, I was just amazed. To take something that’s complicated but make it elegantly simple, and, for the wearer, intuitive. Those are at opposite ends—complex, simple—and in that’s the beauty of this. It takes a lot of iterations, it takes a lot of patience.”
Fast Company’s Mark Wilson describes it as a single shoe with the heart of two shoes.”
“Honestly, we reinvented the mechanics of the shoe,” Nike Chief Design Officer John Hoke told Fast Company.
When you aren’t wearing the GO FlyEase, it’s like a clog made out of neoprene, titled at around 30 degrees. The patent-pending bi-stable hinge and flexible tensioner keep the shoe open when not in use and closed when you’re wearing it.
When your foot steps into the shoe, the hinge releases, and the shoe snaps shut for a comfortable, snug fit.
The tensioner is like a rubber band wrapping around the foot from the toe to behind the heel. It’s made from material used on the bottom of shoes for durability.
You will not feel the hinge underfoot as there is a diving board material seen in many other Nike designs running through the bottom.
It’s easy to take off these sneakers, too. Nike integrated into its design a typical action many people do when taking off shoes like sneakers: you can just step on the special “kickstand heel” with your opposite foot to snap the sneaker open. You can see it in action in the GIF below.
When Wired asked what the most challenging part of constructing the shoe is, Hatfield said, “If the team were here they would say, ‘What wasn’t difficult?’ When I first saw the first prototype it shook me a little bit—and I’ve been doing this for a long time.”
“Ultimately, the whole shoe was a challenge. You fix one thing and another might start not working. We’re used to this, but cause and effect was magnified a little bit more here because you’re literally breaking the shoe in half. We’ve just never done that before.”
If Nike is basically breaking the shoe in half, what about its durability?
Hatfield said the shoe “underwent extensive testing, both on foot and mechanically.” And it passed all of Nike’s internal standards for shoes, apparel, and equipment.
A yes for sustainability
Aside from providing access to more people, the GO FlyEase aligns with Nike’s sustainability efforts. The materials used for the sneaker can be recycled into Nike Grind, a post-consumer material that can be used in different products.
Nike was also conscious of not using metals or magnets for the hinge. Instead, it only uses traditional footwear materials.
Can I buy it, you ask?
The Nike GO FlyEase is available in the three colorways you see in this post’s photos for USD 120 (around PHP 5,764) starting February 15. It is available in sizes 3 1/2 to 13 for women and 5 to 14 1/2 for men. It’ll be offered initially to select Nike members, with a broader release planned for the spring.