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How technology is shaping the world of sneakers

A trip through the most important 10 years in sneaker evolution.

A decade to remember for sneakers.

As much as we think of technology as just gadgets or apps, there are many other areas where innovation takes place. And, over the past decade, one of the best examples of where tech has flourished is the footwear industry. From self-lacing tech to cushioning systems made from tiny foam particles, brands like Nike, Adidas and others have gone all out trying to change what footwear design means.

Since 2010, the sneaker space simply hasn't been the same. What were once pipe dreams — like power laces or sustainable shoes — are here, and they're now paving the way for what people will be wearing on their feet in the future.

Adidas

In 2012, Adidas introduced Boost, a material made out of expanded Thermoplastic Polyurethane (eTPU) particles that formed “closed cells around tiny pockets of air.” The result was a cushioning system that make shoes feel as if you're walking or running with a soft pillow under your feet.

This technology was actually developed by a German chemical company called Badische Anilin & Soda-Fabrik (BASF), but it was licensed to Adidas, which then created the product that would become known as Boost.

Even though Adidas debuted its first running sneaker with Boost in 2013, it wasn't until 2015 that the technology became a hit. That was the year the company introduced the Ultraboost, and once Kanye West was pictured wearing it, Adidas couldn't keep it on its shelves.

As comfortable as the Ultraboost is, its “cool” factor was largely thanks to Kanye.

Eventually, in June of 2016, the rapper and designer signed a long-term deal with Adidas. The cushioning technology has since been featured in most of Kanye's Adidas sneakers, including the Yeezy Boost 750 you see here.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

While Adidas worked on Boost, Nike was busy developing a new sneaker tech of its own: FlyKnit.

This upper material, which used lightweight, high-strength fibers, was designed to offer equal amounts of support, stretch and breathability for your feet. Nike launched FlyKnit in 2012, quickly becoming one of the company's flagship technologies.

Nike

2019

The year Nike unveiled its Joyride Run Flyknit, featuring a midsole with tiny plastic beads. Old and new tech in one shoe.

Adidas, meanwhile, introduced a midsole made entirely out of 3D-printed materials in October of 2015, as part of a new project called Futurecraft.

Adidas

THE FUTURECRAFT 3D.

Adidas

Only a few weeks after Adidas launched the Futurecraft 3D, Nike revealed what might be the hottest sneaker of the decade: the 2015 Nike Mag.

Needless to say, the shoe made headlines.

Nike

What started out as a prop for the movie Back to the Future Part II became a reality with the 2015 Nike Mag, a limited-edition pair of sneakers with an auto-lacing system.

As Marty McFly said in BTF, “Power laces, alright!”

Nike

“We started creating something for fiction and we turned it into fact, inventing a new technology that will benefit all athletes.”

Nike CEO Mark Parker on the self-lacing Mag, which was limited to 89 pairs.

Nike

The “benefit” for all athletes that Parker spoke of came with the Adapt BB in 2019, Nike's first self-lacing basketball sneaker. Unlike the Nike Mag, the Adapt BB was available to the masses for $350, though it sold out instantly when it launched in January of this year.

Nike also took its auto-lacing tech further, as it allowed the shoes to be controlled with a smartphone app. The company has since brought Adapt Fit, as it calls its technology, to lifestyle sneakers like the Huarache.

Nike

Nike's vision for “adaptive” fit goes beyond self-lacing sneakers.

With FlyEase, the company has created a collection designed for people with disabilities, making it easier for them to get their sneakers on and off. In October of 2019, Nike announced its first Air Jordan featuring the technology.

The return of Puma's RS-Computer Shoe.

Earlier this year, the brand brought back a classic from 1986. The difference: Whereas the original RS-Computer Shoe could be paired to an Apple IIE, Commodore 64 via a 16-pin cord to get running stats, the new version comes with Bluetooth support for pairing with an iOS or Android phone.

Puma

As we look to the future of footwear, sustainability efforts from brands are going to be vital. Because there are simply too many wasted materials in fashion.

Adidas has already shown what it can do with the Adidas X Parley Ultraboost, a sneaker made entirely out of recycled ocean waste, which arrived in 2016.

Adidas

2020

SUSTAINABILITY. NOW.

Nike

Reebok, which is owned by Adidas, has also designed plant-based sneakers. In 2018, it introduced a $95 pair that features corn and cotton materials, instead of the traditional plastic.

Following up the C+C models, in 2020, Reebok is set to drop another vegan model, the Forever Floatride GLOW (pictured), which is made from algae and eucalyptus tree.

As part of this sustainability push, Kanye West (member of the Adidas family) recently revealed he's working on a pair of clogs partially made from algae. The Croc-like footwear is expected to be available later in 2020 — not a bad way to kick off the next decade.

Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Also in 2020, Nike is set to launch its "Space Hippie" collection, as part of the brand's latest effort to make more sustainable products. These sneakers are made entirely from excess materials, including recycled plastic water bottles, t-shirts, and yarn scraps.

“We want everything that we do to be more thoughtful about the precious resources that we have, because we're fighting for keeping the playgrounds here, and the clean air and the space to play, and being able to participate in sports in a warming environment.”

Nike's chief design officer, John Hoke, told Input in a February interview.

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