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Inside Nike’s Journey Into Circular Design With the ISPA Link and Link Axis Sneakers Made to be Taken Apart

Nike has continuously raised the bar for sustainable footwear, and two of its forthcoming sneakers, which are part of the company’s pursuit of a circular future, should only raise the bar further.

Last week at an event to reveal the Serena Williams Building on Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the athletic giant debuted the ISPA Link and ISPA Link Axis, which were created with the end in mind. Darryl Matthews, Nike VP of product footwear design, catalyst, explained at the event that there are three removable components — upper, lace and tooling — that are interlinked through geometry.

“The idea was to eradicate the whole cementation process within the production line,” Matthews said.

Both sneakers feature interlocking modules that are connected without glue or cement, and can be completely disassembled. Nike explained that having materials that can be separated at the end of use are easier to process, recycle and reuse, which facilitates the reusability of materials and components and a transition to a circular economy.

“This shoe has reduced emissions quite considerably in the process, it takes eight minutes to make a shoe, there’s no heat tunnels, there’s no cooling tunnels, there’s no glue lines. It’s our first steps in understanding how we can get to a circular process of recyclability in footwear product,” Matthews said.

What’s more, Nike explained that designing for disassembly can also reduce labor, manufacturing footprint and carbon emissions, and may also allow in the future for components to be refurbished, replaced or customized based on aesthetic preferences or performance requirements.

Nike ISPA Link
Nike ISPA Link.

Specific to the ISPA Link Axis, Nike said the prototype builds on ISPA Link’s sustainable intent with the use of proprietary material innovations with recycled content. This includes 100% recycled polyester Flyknit uppers, 100% recycled TPU tooling with Nike airbag scrap material, 20% recycled TPU cages and 10% recycled EVA sockliners.

“The idea is that at the end of its life, the shoe can be separated and ground into another object or material,” Matthews said.

The Nike ISPA Link will arrive in June 2022, while the ISPA Link Axis will release in 2023.

Although this is Nike’s breakthrough into designing for disassembly, it has been something the athletic giant has sought to do for decades. For example, Nike created the Presto Clip in 2003 and the Zvezdochka that was designed in collaboration with Marc Newson in 2005. Nike said the ISPA team referenced both of these examples, as well as its Circular Design Guide throughout the creation process.

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