In November 2020, I wrote a blog about my two favorite topics of innovation and running  I was sharing my thoughts on the new carbon fiber running shoes and how Nike’s innovation led to new and improved running shoes. Well, they are at it again. This blog will focus on their latest steps in innovation.

In a recent BusinessWeek article, “How Nike Designed Hands-Free Sneakers for People With Disabilities,” we learn about a new shoe called “Go FlyEase.” This breakthrough is Nike’s attempts to make a sneaker that is effortless to put on and take off.

Instead of lying flat on the ground, a band squeezes the shoe so its sole bends in the middle, creating an unusually large opening for a person’s foot. You’d just slide your toes down into the gap and press down with your heel. That makes the band contract to close the shoe into its proper shape and hold the foot firmly in place.

Removing the shoe is a little more complicated than putting it on—wearers use a hand or the other foot to engage a built-in kickstand—but the band system makes a significant difference for many people with disabilities who struggle to lace up Air Jordans. If the technology can be integrated into other sneaker designs, the Go FlyEase could open up all sorts of possibilities.

Innovation in Every Step

The innovative design team was led by Sarah Reinertsen. The accomplished distance runner and triathlete who has represented the U.S. at the Paralympic Games and set marathon records, had her left leg was amputated almost four decades ago, when she was seven.

Nike’s work in this area began in the mid-2000s, when Nike’s Tobie Hatfield started tinkering with custom gear for a colleague who had suffered a stroke. His focus on ease of use coalesced in 2012, when he read a letter from a teenager with cerebral palsy who wanted to be self-sufficient but couldn’t tie his shoes.

Three years later the first FlyEase hit the market in the form of a LeBron James high-top that used a wraparound zipper to open the rear of the shoe. Now, 10 years later, there is a shoe on the market that may begin a revolution for individuals with disabilities.

Learn more about the FlyEase story in this short video.

Moral for my readers?

These steps in innovation are for the consumer market. Still, the takeaway for my readers is this: “listen to customers.” Technology suppliers must continually listen to the market and develop disruptive process technologies to meet the future needs for innovation in the chemical process industries.