Nike began as a running shoe brand. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman partnered up at the University of Oregon to become the juggernaut we know and wear today. Their path to greatness is littered with tons of ad campaigns, amazing technologies, and shoe models that we don’t ever see or hear about anymore.
Take a gander through any Eastbay catalog from the ’90s and you’ll see sneakers that most likely haven’t felt the pavement in years, although not from lack of desire and popularity from fans. In most cases, many ’90s Nike models would be expensive to reproduce today i.e. the Nike Air Command Force High (which actually did come back finally). Manufacturing costs, inflation and other factors contribute to Nike’s decision on the price that consumers are asked to pay.
Nike is a business at the end of the day; a business that has a pretty good idea of what people will pay for though some have argued that they’ve been getting less realistic in the last few years. In some other cases, Nike may no longer have the mold to bring them back in their original form—a model like the Nike Air Max 120 would be somewhat difficult to bring back in it’s original state (though there are rumors of a retro coming).
One of Nike’s most successful technologies, Zoom Air, has been going through a bit of resurgence in popularity. While Nike Basketball models with Nike Air technology have been getting retroed for the last couple of years, it seems as though many of the classic runners of the era are long gone. I think it’s time for those models to come back in a big way, and I think NikeLab could be the key to doing that.
The original Nike Zoom Air running sneaker, the Nike Zoom Alpha, is the first time Nike ever used the technology outside of its basketball line. It was known as Tensile Air when it was first introduced by Nike and gained the name Zoom Air shortly after. Zoom Air units have tensile fibers attached the bottom and top of the bag. This allows them to compress and spring back, giving Zoom that super springy feeling. Along with being springy, Zoom Air’s ease of compression allow it to be more responsive than Max Air, making it very useful for basketball due to the need for court feel while still giving feet protection. In running shoes, the Zoom unit is usually a bit thicker, but the idea is still the same. As we see now every year with a new Zoom Running collection, the technology still works.
The question is: does Nike care about bringing back their classic runners in their original form, akin to how Brooks or Asics does? They could even bring them back in an updated form like they’ve done with the flagship models in the Air Max line.
Admittedly, Nike’s more technical runners don’t the same following as the Air Max line—excluding the Nike Free line. But that doesn’t mean they should just let these designs collect dust in the vault. A lot of older heads would love a retro of the Zoom Spiridon’s. The Zoom Alpha’s can be found in What-Did-You-Wear-Today? forums all over the web. Some Nike Zoom Air Talaria fans won’t even forgive Nike for the version they released in 2014 that redid the tooling. The Nike Air Zoom Citizen gained a cult following when they were first released although the futuristic design may have thrown many more people off. Re-releasing any of these models with the proper creative inspiration behind them could make them instantly popular again.
Here is where NikeLab comes in. As we’ve seen throughout this year, Nike has been no stranger to bringing back some classic models in special ways, whether through fusing them with another modern model à la the Roshe LD-1000 or altering a core part of the shoe in a unique way, like the “Big Teeth” version of the Cortez. Many of these concepts were introduced to us through NikeLab, a new creative concept that takes Nike models and applies some type of innovation that rethinks the shoe for modern sensibilities.
NikeLab has collaborated with reputable brands like Fragment Design, Pigalle, and Sacai on new and old Nike models, giving them fresh ideas while still maintaining the original DNA that made them so popular. Not every single model from NikeLab has been amazingly designed or well received, but I think the concept of NikeLab is great for pushing the mindset of the sneaker design industry forward especially when they draw from the history of Nike. It would be interesting to see NikeLab’s modernized take on the Zoom Spiridon or Zoom Alpha, while still maintaining the heritage and nostalgia factor that made those shoes so great.
Many shoes fall by the wayside after they release and they’re never heard from again. Sometimes, the technological centerpiece of the shoe just doesn’t work in a casual setting, or it’s too expensive to reproduce and keep Nike’s profit margins. Other times, the shoe is well designed, but the way it’s brought to consumers may leave them with a bad taste in their mouth. This can come from a shoe releasing in too many/too few colorways.
Some shoes contain elements from other great Nike designs, rather than creating new ones and most times, it just leaves us wanting the original shoe to return. Other times, Nike brings shoes back in an almost original form, but they’ll add something unnecessary to it and then the shoe is could be viewed as tarnished or overdone (I’m looking at you Air Max Terra Sertig). The thing is, it’s not like Nike has been having problems keeping Zoom Air relevant.
Nike develops a new Zoom Running collection annually. The LeBron line implements new ways of incorporating Zoom Air technology into the cushioning every year, the most recent being the Hex Zoom technology that debuted on the Zoom Hypercross Trainer. The Hypercross seems to have been received extremely well, evidenced by the fact that Nike brought it back and updated it this year, making it even better. Kevin Durant’s signature line is using a full-length Zoom bag this year, with articulated portions for better flexibility, a similar concept to Hex Zoom. The newest Calvin Johnson trainers are extremely popular and utilize Hex Zoom cushioning this year while the Field General series has used Zoom from the beginning. Hell, even the Zoom Penny 6 utilizes Zoom Air cushioning in the heel.
Maybe someone from Nike will see this and get the ball rolling but maybe I just don’t understand the industry. There really may be no type of profit in bringing back those classic runners. Hell, a guy can dream. Specifically, I’ll be dreaming of some size 13 Zoom Spiridon’s.