Nike is no stranger to innovation when it comes to crafting the perfect shoe and now it has taken its quest to a new level. This week, the athletic company introduced Flyprint, a 3D-printed textile upper for your sneaker. It’s the first of its kind and may bring about a new standard in performance running shoes.
These Flyprint uppers are produced by way of solid deposit modeling (SDM), which as Nike explains, is a process in which a “TPU filament is unwound from a coil, melted, and laid down in layers.” While that is the technical definition, it doesn’t get to the heart of what Nike is trying to achieve with this new technique. By 3D printing the uppers, Nike is able to create key changes to the shoe and the textile as determined by athlete data. The exact textile geometry of the upper is actually determined by its wearer, allowing for what Nike calls “proprietary modification” of the shoe. And because it’s 3D printed, it can be rapidly customized and produced for specific sports or specific athletes. In fact, Nike says that it can prototype a shoe 16 times faster than in any previous manufacturing method.
But it’s not just speed of production that sets 3D-printed textiles over 2D fabrics. The brand notes that the Flyknit also allows for increased dynamism, and is also lighter and more breathable than other materials. And because the 3D-printed upper is fused, it does away with much of the frictional resistance inherent to fabrics.
We’ll be able to see the Nike Flyprint in action for the first time in the form of the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite Flyprint, designed and manufactured specifically for Eliud Kipchoge, frequently described as “the greatest marathoner of the modern era,” and the 2016 Olympic marathon gold medalist. He will be sporting the new shoes during his next 26.2-mile race on April 22 in London. The Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite was created for the athlete after he provided feedback about how the 2017 Berlin Marathon, plagued by heavy rain and 99 percent humidity, created rather unfortunate conditions. Nike then took this information and determined how best to 3D print an upper that would not be bogged down by the wet and water.
Though Kipchoge will likely be the first person to run a race with the Flyprint technology, you may be lucky enough to get your hands on a pair, too. Nike is selling a limited run of these shoes in London via the Nike App during the London Marathon weekend.