Dezeen Magazine

Nike opens design studio in Hackney to explore advanced textiles

Sportswear brand Nike has opened a textile design studio in east London to develop new fabrics for its shoes and apparel.

John Hoke, Nike's vice president of global design
Dezeen spoke to John Hoke, Nike's vice president of global design, at the Nike Innovation Summit in New York last month

The studio, which opened last year in Hackney but has not been publicised, acts as a laboratory to explore new ways of using textiles in sportswear.

John Hoke, Nike's vice president of global design, told Dezeen that the new studio was a response to the increasing importance of advanced textiles to its sneakers.

nike flyknit lunar racer trainer_dezeen_sqa
Nike's Flyknit weaving technology, unveiled in February 2012, allowed the brand to create light uppers, knitted with different structures for different areas in polyester yarn with varying elasticity, thickness and strength

"Lately we've been hiring people with engineering and textile degrees, because this is now really a textile problem," he said. "Old shoes were just flat sheets that you stamped and moulded. But this is not," he said, referring to Nike's Flyknit weaving technology.

Unveiled in 2012, Flyknit combines yarns with different properties in varying densities, meaning a single piece of fabric can be stretchy in one area, stiff in another and so on.

Nike uses Flyknit material to create lightest-ever Air Force 1 trainers
In January, Nike updated its classic Air Force 1 high-top shoes, using its Flyknit material to reduce the weight of the shoe by half

Flyknit, which is now a billion-dollar product range for Nike, was invented almost accidentally when Hoke's team bought an off-the-peg knitting machine and started playing around with it.

"It's funny, we just hacked into a sweater machine," Hoke told Dezeen at the Nike Innovation Summit in New York last month. "We bought a sweater machine and thought, what it we hacked it and didn't make a sweater? And put different threads in? And elastics? How would that feel?"

Designers at Nike's new London studio are carrying on this experimental approach to material development, Hoke said.

AntiClog trainers and VaporMax trainers by Nike
Nike's AntiClog football boots, launched in March, have mud-proof soles made from a material the brand described as an "adaptive polymer that becomes compliant when exposed to water"

"We've hired a bunch of designers using digital tools, hacking these machines and giving us these samples," Hoke said, saying the presence of leading textile courses in the English capital was a key reason for the move.

"We're looking at waft and depth and materiality and they're just trying stuff. Through that trying we get a lot of great things."

AntiClog trainers and VaporMax trainers by Nike
In March 2016, Nike debuted its AeroSwift Vapor track and field kit, which features Aeroblades – tiny yellow silicon fins that improve aerodynamics

Hoke heads a team of over 700 designers, most of which are located at Nike's campus near Portland, Oregon. The brand also has designers in New York, Tokyo and South America.

"The London [studio] is relatively new," Hoke said. "It's just because there's a great expertise there. We found that we had a lot of young kids on the island of Britain who just love this. So we said let's be creative and open up a studio that lets these designers stay in their home country and explore and experiment."

Nike Pro TurboSpeed speed-suit
The Nike Pro TurboSpeed speed-suit, launched in 2012, is made from recycled materials including polyester fabric and plastic water bottles. It is covered in tiny spots, creating texture that reduces aerodynamic drag and increases speed

He added: "Every month we get these big boxes and it's like Christmas! Our guys are like, wow! It's a great source of energy for me and my leadership team. Part of the magic of innovation design at Nike is the ability to wonder, to design without a brief. To sit around and think about ideas that you find interesting, and refine and edit."

Last month's Nike Innovation Summit was held to present new products that athletes will wear at summer sporting events including the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament, plus other innovations including the Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 sneakers that have self-tightening laces.

At the summit, Nike footwear designer Tinker Hatfield told Dezeen the sneakers were "totally not a gimmick", and could help athletes perform better, and assist people with mobility issues who struggle to tie and untie their shoelaces.