Nike’s FlyEase Continues Smart Innovations in Growing Adaptive Fashion Market

The global adaptive fashion market is forecast to swell to nearly $350 billion by 2023, according to Coresight Research. Not surprisingly, Nike is at the forefront of the movement with its groundbreaking FlyEase technology, which continues to produce new, more exciting innovations.

FlyEase was first introduced in 2015, after Tobie Hatfield (younger brother of legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield) heard about a teenager named Matthew Walzer living with the challenges of cerebral palsy. Walzer wrote a letter to the athletic giant, detailing how his disability had him relying on his parents to help him lace up his shoes each day.

“At 16 years old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and embarrassing,” he wrote in his letter.

Hatfield, who at the time had been working with Paralympians on similar challenges, contacted Walzer and began developing prototypes to address the teen’s particular needs. He sent his first adaptive design to Walzer for wear testing in 2012, followed by additional prototypes, eventually leading to the creation of the FlyEase concept three years later.

Tobie Hatfield FlyEase
Nike designer Tobie Hatfield (R) was inspired by Matthew Walzer (L) to create FlyEase.

The FlyEase franchise kicked off with a wrap-around zipper solution that opens the back of the shoe near the heel counter, making it easier to slide the foot in and out and eliminating the need to tie traditional laces. “In talking to Matthew and many other athletes with disabilities, the ease of entry was just as important as the lacing solution,” Hatfield explained at the time.

Since then, FlyEase has continued to evolve with smarter ideas about how shoes should function, driven by insights from adaptive athletes across a wide range of sports. Among the latest releases: the Air Zoom UNVRS, which features a magnetic heel that folds down and connects to the midsole, allowing wearers to slide their foot in and out with no hands. The shoe was designed with WNBA player Elena Delle Donne, whose sister lives with disabilities.

Also new is the first Jordan shoe incorporating FlyEase, the Air Jordan I FlyEase, launched in October. It features a modified zipper and strap system, as well as an adjustable eyestay hook-and-loop for top entry.

Nike Air Jordan I FlyEase
The Nike Air Jordan I FlyEase basketball sneaker.
Nike Air Jordan I FlyEase
A closer look at the adaptive zipper and strap system on the Nike Air Jordan I FlyEase sneaker.

“Nike FlyEase is an example of how sustained development and research focused on a set of specific needs can advance footwear for a wider spectrum of people,” the company said in a press release this week. “It is not about singular solutions. Instead, FlyEase is driven by a design ethos that champions the value of a suite of systems that work toward a common goal: making shoes easier for everyone.”

All told, FlyEase has now been built into more than 20 footwear styles across the basketball, running and sportswear categories. And Nike is only getting started. On Wednesday, the Oregon brand announced a strategic investment in Handsfree Labs Inc., a pioneer in hands-free footwear technology that should give its adaptive initiatives even more momentum.

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