At the 2012 London Summer Olympics, Nike wowed the sneaker world when it unveiled Flyknit, a game-changing approach to how shoes are made. The woven, fit-like-a-sock upper (i.e. everything above the sole) replaced OG materials like plastic, synthetic, and mesh, and helped set a new “knit” trend that has dominated the footwear industry ever since. It’s only fitting the company is introducing its newest revolutionary material, Flyprint, at the London Marathon this Sunday, April 22.
Flyprint is made with 3D printing, a technique that’s been used for years to create sample prototypes or individual, customized products (see: Allyson Felix’s holographic track spikes from the 2016 Olympics). But most 3D-printed objects look hard and sculptural — not exactly ideal for running long distances. (The fashion industry has encountered problems with wearability, too.)
With Flyprint, Nike wants to change this reputation by creating a 3D-printed textile that is as strong as it is light, flexible, and, yes, comfortable. The textile is made using TPU Filaments, which look like thin wires that are unwound, melted, and placed in layers to create the finished upper. Nike designers approached the process like “using a paintbrush, and intentionally laid down every line [of the material],” Roger Chen, Nike Senior Director of Innovation told Refinery29.
There are a few benefits to this. For one, the shoe is much lighter — 6% lighter than Nike’s previous model, the Zoom Vaporfly Elite — because there's no extraneous material. When you see one of the finished shoes, you’ll notice the lines toward the top of the foot are closer together, but open up to create an almost wave-like pattern along the sides of the foot. These openings are meant to make the shoes more breathable, and allow water to wick through.
Nike designed the new material with elite runner Eliud Kipchoge, who ran the world’s fastest marathon last September in the Zoom Vaporfly Elite. You don’t need to be an elite runner to understand the pain points Kipchoge experienced during that race: Heavy rain and humidity left his shoes soaking wet and heavy on his feet. Anyone who goes for the lightest of light jogs in sweltering, New York City summer heat can relate. Flyprint is meant to address these concerns.
At first glance, the shoes look light to the point of being fragile, but Chen reassures runners the sneakers can stand up to wear. Kipchoge will put the new sneaker technology to the test at the London Marathon. The shoe will also be available for limited release in London via the Nike App. But don’t sweat it if you don’t get a pair this time around. While Flyknit isn’t going anywhere, Nike is positioning Flyprint as the material of the future.