Nike Air Huarache: The Sneaker of the Gods
Nike’s innovative DNA can only be accredited to its co-founder Bill Bowerman, a track coach from the University of Oregon.

Bowerman was so obsessed with the improved performance of his athletes that he sought every competitive opportunity which would enhance the athletes under his care. His obsessions manifested in updated training techniques, dietary plans, and even his own modified clothing and footwear.

Bowerman’s ultimate performance vision for footwear was a pair of shoes so lightweight and minimalistic, that it would simply fall apart at the very moment the athlete crossed the finish line.

To this day Nike’s designers continue to nurture this minimalistic mantra and have created various iconic sneakers worthy of Bowerman’s vision. The Air Huarache is regarded as a highly noteworthy attempt of this minimalist design pursuit.

The Air Huarache first went to market in 1991 and is another notch in the design belt of the legendary Tinker Hatfield. The design inspiration first hit Tinker while he was water-skiing. The boots for the water skis were made of Neoprene (the same material used for wetsuits). Tinker was not only surprised by the comfort of these boots, but also enjoyed its snug foot fitting appeal and most importantly how universally comfortable this fit was, irrespective of the different types of feet who fitted them on.

When Tinker returned to the drawing board, he created 3 distinct features in the design. Firstly, the snug fitting sock like upper would be its primary focal point since the enveloping fit would be the key selling point of this construction. Secondly, Tinker did not create the traditional rigid heel counter. This time an external and flexible sandal-like strap gave heel support while still offering increased heel mobility. Finally, the shoe would not show off the Nike SWOOSH logo. Tinker believed that the swoosh was not necessary for this shoe since it would add unnecessary weight to the upper and given its bold design, he believed people would know that it was a Nike shoe.

Upon showing the design to Sandy Bodecker, (the man responsible for establishing Nike SB) Sandy is quoted as referring to the design as the “Sneaker of the gods”.

This was because Sandy interpreted the design aesthetic as a really futurist sandal appropriate only for those who stand on Mount Olympus. This “sandal” idea helped in the naming of the shoe.  Huarache is the name of an ancient woven Mexican sandal dating back to a pre-Columbian legacy.

Upon sharing the samples and images of Tinker’s design with retailers, Nike was met with exceptionally disappointing feedback since only a few partners placed orders for the Air Huarache.

Prior to the New York Marathon a gutsy Nike employee had the vision and the insight to request the manufacturing of 5000 pairs of the Air Huarache to be showcased at a running exhibition. The gamble paid off big time! All the shoes were sold out days before the marathon and Nike got all the press it required.

In addition to this, Nike followed through with the Air Huarache’s advertising campaign which exclaimed “Have you hugged your feet today?”

Today, Nike has taken the concept of the advanced fit delivered by the Air Huarache and shared this innovation across other categories like basketball, tennis and training. One of the most striking applications of the Huarache technology is the Nike Adapt Huarache, which takes advantage of the superior fit concept and adds the futuristic self-lacing innovation into the fold.

The Air Huarache marks another bold move in the Nike design innovation story, but begs the question. “Do you have any sneakers in your collection which are capable of hugging your feet?”

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