Nike’s search for new ideas

Growing up were you even a trainer fanatic if you didn’t trace around a photo of your favourite silhouette. Then colour it in the way you wanted or use a stencil to reimagine the shoes in always garish but sometimes inspired ways. During recent years Nike has looked to cultivate some of these ideas from beyond their own walls in an attempt to not only celebrate designers from around the world but also in the hope that the resulting creations will tell them something they don’t already know about trainer design. Showcasing something new – in turn inspiring them as they have inspired, and the Nike On Air Competition is a perfect example of exactly that. 

Nike’s 2017 Vote Forward Competition

The idea of design contests may not be all that new. Yet Nike’s 2017 Vote Forward competition is where they really began to come to prominence. As part of the Air Max Day celebrations for that year Nike invited a dozen creatives – ranging from artists and DJs to designers and retailers – from all over the world whom they dubbed as “Revolutionairs” to Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon and were given the simple task of reimagining some classic Air Max styles. The designs would then be put to the vote with the winning shoe getting its very own public release. 

Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 97/1

The concept was exciting for both those involved, and spectators alike. The twelve designs were all varied, diverse and innately different. Drawing inspiration from history, pop culture and the environment. The eventual winner is a name we have all come to know in the trainer world – Sean Wotherspoon. His take on the Air Max 97/1 single-handedly justified Nike’s decision to run the contest. Its appeal to this day has made it one of the hottest Air Max products to come out in recent years. The thought behind the design took inspiration from vintage Nike hats from the 80s. Its woven corduroy upper stands alone as the only one of its kind. Once again validating Nike’s process. Opening their eyes to something new and allowing them to continue to evolve with the times. 

Nike On Air

Naturally, Nike was delighted with the outcome and wanted to replicate this success. So a year later around the same time in April 2018 they launched their next contest. Entitled Nike On Air, Nike wanted to find their next Wotherspoon. They didn’t just want to find one however, now they were confident the formula works, they tried to find six. Nike achieved this by bringing together thousands of participants from six cities from across the globe – New York, London, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo – to workshops where locals dreamed up shoe designs inspired by their communities.

18 Finalists, 3 from each City

Nike was able to narrow it down to just 18 finalists, 3 from each City. From those 18, one winner was established from each city who were invited to work alongside Nike designers and developers to bring their designs to life, in the hope of once again cultivating some creativity from beyond Nike’s normal reach. The hopes of Nike were soon realised. Senior Creative Director of Nike Air Max, Dylan Raasch, stated that “There are attributes in the shoes this year that I would have never even considered, like introducing tools to encourage consumer modularity or pushing the boundaries of material usage.” It is that type of innovation the brand was so keenly looking to channel. As Raasch says “These concepts prove that there are always new ways to approach design.”


Each of the six winner’s designs speaks directly to the cities they are native to. All of them reflecting in varying ways aspects of the world the designers live in. South Korean designers Gwang Shin took inspiration from his countries national flag. As well as the vibrant neon signs of Seoul for his take on the Air Max 97. Londoner Jasmine Lasode also took the Air Max 97 as a base. To take us on a very personal journey to a first date spent in Primrose Hill.

Also, Chinese designer Cash Ru completes the trio of 97s with a mesmerising impression of Shanghai skies. The Air Max 98 is also represented in the collection. Through Gabrielle Serrano’s take on the ethnic diversity of New York. While Lou Matheron uses the Nike Air VaporMax Plus to express a much more literal vision of a still-under-construction Parisian courthouse. The six shoe collection is completed by Yuta Takuman’s homage to Tokyo’s dizzying urban maze of colourful tube lines which he has painted across a classic Air Max 1. 

As you can see the variation in designs and the differing inspirations behind them speak volumes of the contrast in cultures between each of the cities. What Nike has been able to achieve wonderfully well in their choice of winners, is expressing the correct balance between aesthetic diversity and storytelling while managing to remain faithful to the Air Max source material. Nike have shown there are a lot of great minds out there, and collaboration can only be a good thing. Long may it continue.

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