Nike Hears Adidas’ Footsteps

The Wall Street Journal: “With the retail sector in flux, Nike Inc. is looking for new ways to sell sneakers and shirts, but some industry watchers worry that the company’s efforts to broaden its reach could damage its cultural cachet … Frequent online releases of coveted Jordan shoes could make them less rare and not as much in demand anymore, some industry watchers say. By making certain shoes available only through Nike channels or big chains such as Foot Locker, the company is diminishing the mom-and-pop shops that have served as community stewards of cool.”

“Matt Halfhill, founder of sneaker-news site Nice Kicks, which chronicles new releases across major shoe brands … said he has been involved in sneaker culture since the 1990s, believes the push toward direct sales actually hurts Nike’s connection with consumers.” He comments: “It’s a great way to sell commoditized shoes, but most boutiques even discourage you from buying on the phone. They only sell shoes in stores to customers, where you see everyone in line waiting for shoes talking to each other,” he said.”

Meanwhile: “Adidas’s resurgence includes new ‘franchises’—such as the NMD and Kanye West’s Yeezy line—that have gained a youthful following and made inroads on Nike’s cultural dominance. Nick Santora, a former sneaker-store owner and editor of online sneaker magazine Classic Kicks, said Adidas is more on point with youth culture of late.” He comments: “Kanye, for some people, for certain kids, that brand is now acceptable. Nike was always ‘sports, sports, sports,’ but if you’re over 11 years old right now, musicians are where it’s at.”

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Game On: The Future of Sports Arenas

The Guardian: “With its own dedicated fromagerie, microbrewery and Michelin-calibre restaurant, it might be easy to forget you have come to watch the football when you are reclining in one of the premium lounges of Tottenham Hotspur’s new £750m stadium. The 61,000-seat behemoth will feature the longest bar in the country, heated seats with built-in USB ports, a glass-walled tunnel so you can see the players before the game and even a ‘sky walk’ allowing fans to clamber over the roof of the arena.”

“Besides the fancy catering, the football pitch itself has to work a lot harder, too. This is the first field of its kind designed to split into three parts and slide seamlessly under the seating stands, revealing an astroturf field beneath for American football, positioned at a lower level to ensure perfect sight lines for both modes of play. Acoustic consultants were brought on board in order to guarantee maximum amplification of crowd noise, ensuring a “wall of sound” will resonate from the 17,000-seat south stand.”

Christopher Lee, an architect, “says the next big frontier is holographic representation, describing a world where players might be beamed on to the field from thousands of miles away.” However, architect Jacques Herzog “says his focus is always on capturing the local specificity of the place, designing a venue that somehow responds to the fan culture of the team in question, whether that’s a glowing lantern for Munich, a sharp white temple for Bordeaux, or an archaic masonry complex of vaults and buttresses for Stamford Bridge.”

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Nike Goes Local & Gets Physical

The New York Times: “Nike shaped itself into one of the globe’s most recognizable brands. Now it has a new idea: Go local. Facing pressure from investors and competitors like Adidas, Nike said Thursday that it was shaking up its organization to focus more on consumers in just a dozen cities around the world and on releasing new products faster in those places.”

“To keep its products relevant and make its service more personal, Nike aims to develop what it called a ‘local business, on a global scale’ and ‘deeply’ serve customers in 12 cities, including New York, Paris, Beijing and Milan. Those places are expected to deliver 80 percent of the company’s growth over the next two and a half years.”

“Despite the move to online shopping that is transforming retailing, Nike is not giving up on its physical stores. Instead, the company will use the stores to try to foster relationships with customers and further link the shops to its digital efforts. Nike, which is known for sponsoring star athletes like LeBron James and Rafael Nadal, will also try to speed up how quickly it designs and works with its suppliers to deliver new gear. The company wants to cut its product-creation cycle time in half.”

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Footwear Revolution: Sneaking Up on Fast Fashion

Quartz: “A sneaker starts with a sketch. Before a brand can turn that idea into a prototype, it has to produce the patterns that serve as the instructions for the factory putting it together, and create the metal mold used for the sole. This process alone takes weeks. It then makes a sample, which usually requires more fine tuning. Several samples may be necessary, with the process repeated each time a new one is made. It can take a year before a final design is ready for production.”

“Now virtual prototyping is letting brands shorten that timeline dramatically … 3D printing is also hugely beneficial for rapid prototyping, since it lets brands skip the tooling step needed to build molds for foam soles. That alone can take a month. But brands can now print prototypes of a sole in a matter of hours.”

“Why should shoppers care? Together these changes in design and manufacturing mean they won’t need to wait to get the products they want, and it should soon be feasible to get items custom-made, since it will be easier and cheaper for brands to produce just one of an item … For the brands themselves, cutting back lead times will let them respond to the market better, meaning they won’t need to make vast quantities of shoes in advance.”

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Brand Sagamore: Baltimore Walks The Plank

The Wall Street Journal: “Rising high above the new Sagamore Spirit distillery in South Baltimore is a white water tower with three maroon diamonds on each side, a nod to the jockey silks of the thoroughbred farm that provides the spring water for the company’s rye whiskey. The distillery, which opened a few weeks ago, is the latest endeavor of the growing business empire of Kevin A. Plank, founder and chief executive of the sportswear company Under Armour. His new enterprises — collectively they are called Plank Industries but nearly all have Sagamore in their names — are reshaping Baltimore’s waterfront and restoring luster to Maryland traditions and landmarks.”

“In March, Mr. Plank’s Sagamore Pendry hotel opened not far away in the Recreation Pier building in the Fells Point neighborhood after a roughly $60 million renovation. Outside the hotel, a fleet of new water taxis owned by Mr. Plank and modeled after Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats will soon ferry riders to Port Covington, the industrial South Baltimore waterfront area that is undergoing a $5.5 billion overhaul led by his real estate firm, Sagamore Development.”

“Inside the production center of Sagamore Spirit’s three-building complex in Port Covington, another three-diamond-stamped beacon greets passers-by: a 40-foot copper column still with a mirror finish that is believed to be the first of its kind. Asked why the finish was essential, Brian Treacy, president of Sagamore Spirit, channeled Mr. Plank, a childhood friend. ‘Because it’s all about brand,’ he replied.”

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Nike Zoom Vaporfly: An Unfair Footwear Advantage?

The New York Times: A new Nike shoe design, Zoom Vaporfly, has “produced fast times and impressive results in international races. But they have also spurred yet another debate about the advance of technology and the gray area where innovation meets extremely vague rules about what is considered unfair performance enhancement for the feet. Where to draw the line of permissible assistance?”

“The shoes weigh about 6.5 ounces and feature a thick but lightweight midsole that is said to return 13 percent more energy than more conventional foam midsoles. Some runners have said the shoes reduce fatigue in their legs. Embedded in the length of the midsole is a thin, stiff carbon-fiber plate that is scooped like a spoon. Imagined another way, it is somewhat curved like a blade. The plate is designed to reduce the amount of oxygen needed to run at a fast pace. It stores and releases energy with each stride and is meant to act as a kind of slingshot, or catapult, to propel runners forward.”

“Nike says that the carbon-fiber plate saves 4 percent of the energy needed to run at a given speed when compared with another of its popular racing shoes … In truth, some experts said, debate about Nike’s latest shoes may only help increase sales to joggers and four-hour marathoners. A less expensive model than the Olympic shoe, with similar technology, goes on sale in June for $150.” Bret Schoolmeester of Nike comments: “To me, it’s kind of a compliment when you are delivering a big enough benefit that people are starting to ask, is this unfair? We don’t believe it is, but that’s pretty flattering.”

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Nike Luxury: It Means Better Service

Business Insider: “For anyone who has recently bought Nike shoes or apparel, or walked into one of its latest stores, this won’t be news: Nike has slid upscale recently … The brand’s promotional efforts skew towards its newest and greatest inventions, as well as its more expensive offerings.”

“More recently, Nike has signaled a different approach to welcoming customers into its stores. Its new store in New York’s Soho neighborhood offers customers the opportunity to make one-on-one appointments with Nike staff … Customers can bring in all kinds of concerns for the staff to help with … The store also has areas where customers can test out its shoes and equipment in an ‘immersive experience.’ It represents a shift in how the company sees brick-and-mortar retail, and is being called a guide for future stores from the brand.”

“Nike clearly believes that an elevated price point also means elevated service, and it’s headed full speed in that direction. As Nike places a larger emphasis on its direct-to-consumer division, it’s also taking greater care of how it is perceived by customers, as well as how it interacts with those customers.”

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Costco Golf Balls: The New ‘Two-Buck Chuck’

The Wall Street Journal: Costco, the warehouse retail giant, first began selling golf balls last fall, under its Kirkland Signature brand that is affixed to a wide range of products and carries discount prices. Available for $29.99 for two dozen, the balls instantly ranked among the cheapest on the market … But what made the balls a hot item among fanatical golfers is the revelation that, by some accounts, they perform like rivals that sell for more than twice as much.”

“That idea sent shock waves through a billion-dollar industry, left Costco out of stock for weeks at a time and caused secondary-market prices for the ball to soar. Its popularity is threatening one of the sport’s long-held consumer beliefs: when it comes to the quality of golf balls, you generally get what you pay for.”

“The balls were made at a factory in South Korea by a company called Nassau Golf, which also manufactures balls for TaylorMade, one of the major equipment manufacturers … the company had an excess supply that it sold to Costco through a third-party trader … According to a Nassau executive based in Europe … both Nassau and TaylorMade, its biggest client, are unhappy with the rise of the $1.25 golf ball and that the company won’t sell excess supply in such large quantities again.”

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Adidas Speedfactory: Robotic Innovation

The Economist: “Behind closed doors in the Bavarian town of Ansbach a new factory is taking shape. That it will use robots and novel production techniques such as additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing) is not surprising for Germany … What is unique about this factory is that it will not be making cars, aircraft or electronics but trainers (athletic shoes) … an $80bn-a-year industry that has been offshored largely to China, Indonesia and Vietnam. By bringing production home, this factory is out to reinvent an industry.”

“The Speedfactory, as the Ansbach plant is called, belongs to Adidas … The machines carrying out this work will be highly automated and use processes such as computerised knitting, robotic cutting and additive manufacturing … Driven by software, the robots, knitting machines and 3D printers take their instructions directly from the computer-design program, so they can switch from making one thing to another quickly, without having to stop production for what can amount to several days in order to retool conventional machines and instruct manual workers.”

“Sneakerheads are likely to approve … Leaving behind manual production methods will allow Adidas to come up with novel shapes and finishes. One new material the firm has already experimented with is Biosteel, a synthetic silk made by AMSilk, a German biotech company. Production will also become more customised, perhaps even with bespoke trainers fashioned from a computer scan of how a person walks or runs.”

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Adidas Biofabric: A Shoe That Melts in Your Sink

Wired: “The Adidas Futurecraft Biofabric, a biodegradable running shoe, debuted at last week’s Biofabricate conference in New York … the Futurecraft Biofabric looks a lot like a modern athletic shoe. The open-knit upper has a golden sheen, and it connects to Adidas’s trademark Boost sole … the shoe is 15 percent lighter than one made from traditional polymers, and credits its weight-savings … a synthetic spider silk it calls Biosteel.”

“AMSilk creates that Biosteel textile by fermenting genetically modified bacteria.That process creates a powder substrate, which AMSilk then spins into its Biosteel yarn. All of this happens in a lab, and … uses a fraction of the electricity and fossil fuels that plastics take to produce … AMSilk also created an enzyme solution that lets shoe owners dissolve their kicks at home, in the sink, after about two years of high-impact wear … the solution comes in little packets … and can safely disintegrate a pair of Futurecraft Biofabric shoes in a matter of hours.”

“Biodegradability both defines the shoe’s appeal and presents its biggest obstacle … High performance sportswear has certainly trended slimmer and lighter … But a shoe that’s designed to disintegrate?” James Carnes of Adidas thinks it’s on trend: “Most people don’t think about buying a product that’s intended to break down. Luxury absolutely used to mean heavy and stiff and solid, and slowly it’s changed into buying other things. Like if you buy a down jacket, it’s expected to be insulated and lightweight.”

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