This July, Nike released a single image, meant to represent the cusp of something new. A sea of vacant black is punctuated by a luminous, gel-like structure outlining the character omega. The translucent white base graduates to an amalgam of electric magenta and cyan, which reflects itself onto a black heel barely distinguishable from the negative space that surrounds it. The picture communicates less of an upcoming shoe release than a re-centering shot of energy — the sun rising over a black monolith, set by the sepia-toned haze of a sneaker market flooded with archival releases and lazy mash ups.
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” explores the exciting new trajectories brought about by the technological age, while addressing fears of its sterile, objective rigidity; Nike’s environmentally conscious intentions with the shoe are an appeal to the former. Their assertions of eco-benevolence as a corporate mega giant are a press-friendly spin on confronting waste issues that have gone unchecked until recent years.
Expected to release on Air Max Day (Nike’s designated anniversary of the massively successful line, celebrated on Mar. 26th) of next year, the shoe’s credentials pack an undeniable punch. As purported by their website, the 720 will boast the largest heel of any sneaker in history, allowing for unparalleled comfort and agility for a trainer or a person that’s going to be trotting around midtown all day. Using their Vapormax technology, they removed the need for a foam midsole (a significant waste-causer that’s problematic across the industry) and crafted the shoe out of about 75% recycled materials. It should also be noted that Nike is committed to using dying processes for the shoe that allow for virtually no water pollution and upcycling about 95% of sourced materials. With yearly plastic production projected to clock in at over half a billion tonnes over the next few decades, the eco-friendly race within sneaker and fashion communities is no longer just about feel-good PR or appealing to a vocal minority.
It should go without saying that reckless industry and consumerism has run up a tab on the environment that may not be easily paid off. According to a recent study at MIT, the average lightweight running shoe (like the ones that, according to a tweet by Matt Powell, Nike sells at a rate of about 25 per second) produces almost 30 pounds of carbonic waste and existing processes are greatly contributing to the plastic barge in the ocean that will outweigh the total underwater life count in terms of weight by 2050. Currently at its zenith with about 20 billion pairs of shoes coming off the line each year, “drop” culture and its perpetrators have an ethical responsibility to implement procedures that reduce waste from the standpoint of both material and the construction itself.
While they may not be leading that charge, the Air Max 720 is a powerful step forward. In light of the IPCC’s recent report indicating that a concerted effort will have to be made in order to prevent permanent damage do the environment over the next century, it’s heartening to see titans of industry, like Nike, create products that acknowledge the dire circumstances under which contemporary industries are working. The introduction of new technology (coupled with, hopefully, a slower-paced sneaker release calendar in coming years) that is attractive, ethical and sustainable from the market’s leader will undoubtedly have an impact on future developments from competitors as well as habits of the consumer. The 21st century may be sold separately from a Pan Am sponsored trip to Jupiter or AI that has a pragmatic take on human life, but Nike’s retro-futuristic installment of footwear will at least have the aesthetic chops to sit next to those fabulous Djinn chairs.