Nike Inc. today unveiled key elements of its plan for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo, July 24–Aug. 9. The athletic behemoth’s singular focus is clear: It views the global sporting event as the ultimate stage to showcase its most significant advancements in innovation as well as its heightened emphasis on sustainability.
From footwear that leverages its buzzed about Next% platform to eco-friendly apparel lines — including the “most sustainably designed medal stand uniform in Team USA history” — the brand is moving full speed ahead with plans for an ambitious showing, against a backdrop of increasing uncertainty in the lead-up to the summer games.
As it stands, a deadly coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc on travel and global markets; weather experts predict Tokyo will host the warmest Olympics on record; and until last week, it was unclear whether Nike’s controversial but wildly innovative Vaporfly sneakers, featuring the propulsive Next% technology, would even be allowed at the event.
But, the Swoosh didn’t grow its market capitalization to nearly $130 billion by being fixated on potential setbacks. Instead, noted chief design officer John Hoke, the brand has consistently centered its efforts on improving the performance of athletes and remaining flexible amid market shifts.
“We’re just focused on listening to the athlete and trying to resolve the athletes’ problems and constraints that they have,” he said. “We’re agile and fluid and we’re able to learn and adapt to any of the conditions and constraints in front us.”
So far, that approach has worked out.
A ruling last week by the World Athletics, which opted not to ban the Vaporfly and its Next% percent technology, abated those fears; and since it’s been preparing for the 2020 Olympics for several years, Nike had already woven into its 2020 strategy a focus on climate change, hence: sustainability. The coronavirus remains a public health emergency, which has seen companies, Nike among them, significantly pull back their business dealings in China for the time being.
“The truth is as soon the closing ceremonies happen for the Olympic event, we pivot immediately to the next venue,” explained Hoke. “I represent a team of literally hundreds of incredible designers, innovators, engineers. We know every four years, the Olympics offers a step-change moment for our athletes, the performances they give and our company. We want to make sure we meet those athletic ambitions with our own [efforts]. We take that very seriously.”
During the summer games, Nike-sponsored track and field athletes will wear the Air Zoom Alphafly Next% sneakers, which took their headline-making test run on elite marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, who broke the two-hour marathon barrier this past October wearing a prototype of the shoe. The official version, debuting at the Olympic games, will feature two new Nike Air Zoom pods, additional foam, an updated carbon fiber plate and an “ultra-breathable upper.”
“Everything we’re doing is performance-based, measurably better and backed by science,” explained Hoke. “All the shoes we’re testing — we know they help athletes perform. The Alphafly Next% is going to be groundbreaking, and [it will] continue to push that evolution of what a running shoe is and what’s possible in the sport of running.”
Nike’s sustainability emphasis will take center stage when Swoosh-endorsed athletes from Team USA take the podium in the Nike Air VaporMax 2020, constructed with recycled manufacturing material and precision-knit uppers for minimal waste. For apparel, they’ll sport Windrunner jackets reengineered with 100% recycled polyester and pants featuring 100% recycled nylon and recycled-rubber Nike Grind trim.
“We’ve been on this important journey around sustainability for upwards of 25 years. We were thinking about it back in Sydney [at the 2000 Summer Olympics],” said Hoke, pointing to the brand’s sustainable ‘Nike Considered’ line in the 2000s as one example.
He added, “What’s important for us is we’re not just designers or Nike employees or athletes. We’re also citizens and we see and feel some of the changes that are happening. And we feel like we have a role to play.”
For their footwear, members of Team USA basketball will slip into the Nike Air Zoom BB NXT, engineered to be “as light and responsive” as possible, the company said. The shoes feature the new Nike Air Zoom pod system, exposed Nike React foam and a thin plate positioned above the foam.
For skateboarding’s Olympic debut, Nike SB will introduce kits that the brand describes as being “on the forefront of sustainable design.” Athletes representing Team USA, France and Brazil will compete in uniforms designed with 100% recycled polyester, pattern efficiency for minimal waste and “bright, bold” styling, crafted in collaboration with Dutch artist Parra.
In addition to products the company developed for athletes participating in the Tokyo 2020 Games, Nike will launch this spring an exploratory footwear collection emphasizing its latest developments in sustainable product design. Space Hippie is constructed by transforming scrap material from factory floors — what Nike’s design teams have called “space junk” — into viable products.
Every detail of the Space Hippie capsule collection, including materials, manufacturing methods and packaging, was chosen according to its environmental impact, said Nike. The result: footwear with the company’s lowest carbon footprint ever.
Says Hoke, it’s a concept Nike is looking to scale.
“The Space Hippie product is a stunning step forward onto the frontier of how product is made, how we’ve design it and what we’re going to do with product, even beyond this collection,” said Hoke. “This product has a look, feel and aesthetic we call ‘rawthentic’ modernity. It’s still simple, elegant and beautiful. We’re into this idea that we want to show the world that sustainable product is beautiful and has a unique look and vibe.”