newSKY: An Innovative Approach to Shoe Design

Design Lead for Wellness Drew Spieth and Senior Designer Christine Hall discuss the creation of newSKY.

With a minimal, thoughtfully-designed upper constructed entirely out of fabric made from post-consumer plastic bottles, newSKY represents an innovative approach to both material and shoe design as part of a greater effort from New Balance to adopt more sustainable practices. To learn more about the shoe’s development, we sat down with New Balance Senior Designer Christine Hall and Design Lead for Wellness Drew Spieth to discuss how they used recycled material to create a comfortable, stylish shoe.

“The principles of shoemaking didn’t necessarily apply to this fabric,” said Drew. “It doesn’t work like a regular shoe material.” To accommodate the fabric’s unique characteristics, the designers decided to reduce the amount of extraneous elements, including only what’s necessary and leaving out what’s not – a purposeful approach to shoe design that New Balance continues to implement through footwear collections such as the NB Minimus. In the development of newSKY, the designers borrowed elements from NB Minimus by utilizing the same outsole and last. “For the design intent of the upper, the same philosophies are applied – minimizing the amount of materials used so you’re not over-building the shoe, but making it as comfortable as possible,” said Drew.

The decision to use recycled fabric for the entire upper was one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, as well as the greatest opportunity for innovation. “A typical shoe has a lot of different types of materials,” said Drew. “What’s really interesting about this is, aside from the foam and the little rubber components [on the outsole] and a little bit of water based glue, the only material here is the recycled fabric.”

The designers were confronted with the challenge of replacing traditional elements of shoe construction such as foam, leather, or plastic with the recycled material – all while maintaining both comfort and durability. ”With every piece of the shoe we were challenged to go back to our old standbys for a lot of materials,” said Drew.

Every component has a specific purpose – boards that display each piece of material help the designers decide what to keep and what to leave out.

In traditional shoe design, materials like plastic and leather provide shape and structure; however, the designers reduced the need for conventional reinforcements. Typically, a rigid counter would be used to support the heel, but here, the heel has been reinforced with strategic stitching along the back seam combined with a thicker weight of fabric. “The heel is where most of the reinforcing happens,” said Christine. “But when we doubled-up the material you don’t need any reinforcement because the material is doing it itself.”

By working with the fabric’s distinctive features, the designers eliminated the need for many traditional, non-recycled materials. For a typical shoe, “there’s foam, a reinforcer, another reinforcer, and an external material,” said Drew. “A lot of stuff goes in there and we stripped all that out.”

The completed design of newSKY.

To learn more about how the fabric moved, flexed, and held up under different construction methods, the designers experimented with the shoe’s assembly. In early prototypes, the material was molded to see how it would react – the fabric was cut into one piece, heated, and then pressed to form the shape of the shoe. “As you mold it, the material becomes very rigid, so it has a really interesting look to it, but it’s kind of hard.” said Christine. “In our own design ethos, one of the things we talk about a lot is comfort and something that feels really nice and soft.” The decision was made to revert to a more traditional stitching technique – allowing the recycled material to be soft, pliable, but most importantly, very comfortable on the foot.

In the final design, each element of newSKY is a testament to thoughtful shoe construction through an innovative use of material. Fabric made from post-consumer plastic bottles was developed into a comfortable, well-designed shoe. “It was a big goal to keep it functional and looking stylish,” said Drew. “At the end of the day, it looks like an interesting shoe and also looks great on the foot.”

Exclusive: NB Minimus Zero: 9 Things You Should Know

Detail, NB Minimus Zero Trail

Our NB Minimus line offers an invigorating, award-winning, closer-to-barefoot experience with a dramatically lower heel-to-midfoot drop than traditional running shoes. In March 2012, at running stores across the country, we will extend the much talked-about NB Minimus line with the arrival of NB Minimus Zero – new road, trail and wellness shoes that continue to deliver that minimal, light and right experience, but with a 0mm heel-to-midfoot drop. This is a feature that many of the most vocal members of the NewBalance.com community, many of them experienced natural runners, have asked about. We asked New Balance SBU Manager for Performance Running and Outdoor, Katherine Petrecca, who introduced us to NB Minimus the first time around, to help us get up to speed on what we can expect.

1. Minimal means many things.
“From the start, we envisioned creating a range of “minimal” within the collection in order to satisfy the interests and needs of a broad spectrum of runners. The response to our original 10 series product (4mm drop) has been terrific, but we know that there are many runners who are intensely interested in zero drop products. There are good reasons why a runner might prefer one style over the other – and we ultimately want to support them both and more.”

2. ‘Zero’ refers to more than just the size of the drop.
“We define our NB Minimus collection by 3 measures: weight, stack height and the heel-to-toe drop. Those are the levers that we can pull to create different levels of minimal product. In addition to the reduced drop, NB Minimus Zero products also feature lower stack heights and weights than the 10 series – 6.4 oz for NB Minimus Zero Road and 4.4 oz for NB Minimus Zero Trail.”

3. Zero wouldn’t have been possible without the first round of NB Minimus product.
“We definitely learned a lot in the process of making the first NB Minimus product. I don’t think we’ve ever done more prototype rounds on a shoe than the MT10!”

4. We’ve had too many ideas to fit into just one model.
“We had some ideas for the 10 series that we weren’t able to execute at the time. You’ll begin to see those on the NB Minimus Zero product. One example is the coring of the midsole on the Zero that greatly reduces weight and provides amazing flexibility. In fact, we had an idea for the original product that we are still working on for the third evolution of NB Minimus in 2013.”

Sole detail, NB Minimus Zero Trail

5. These shoes are going to make you work for it.
“The NB Minimus Zero series product is for runners who are looking to go even more minimal – more ground feel, more independent foot movement, less weight. The Trail Zero is particularly minimal. It will really force the runner to pay attention to how they are running because the shoe won’t be doing any of the work for them.”

6. You’re going to want to come prepared.
“We would recommend the NB Minimus Zeros to runners who are already experienced with minimal trainers. NB Minimus Zero would be a big departure for people who are running in traditional shoes – even more so than our current line. The zero drop is only part of the minimal equation that runners should note. We have significantly reduced the amount of foam and rubber underfoot.”

7. Zero drop is going to be an adjustment for a lot of people.
“Transition times vary per person, but it’s important that even experienced minimal runners make transitions cautiously. Incorporate more minimal products slowly into your running schedule and be hyper-aware of what you are feeling in your feet, ankles and calves. We also highly recommend employing Good Form Running techniques while using minimal shoes.”

8. NB Minimus is inspiring updates in other running shoes.
“In general, we’ve found that runners are increasingly interested in more neutral platforms. We have taken this thinking into other areas of our running product line and have expanded our use of non-traditional off-sets. In Spring 2012, we’ll launch 2 key performance updates that will move from a 12mm to an 8mm drop.”

9. And even in some places that don’t have anything to do with running.
“You’ll definitely see that influence in other products…you’ve already seen it with NB Minimus Life and NB Minimus Training.”

DJ Mars Runs Through His Past, Present, and Future

 

In his video’s opening statement, DJ Mars sums it all up: “I’m not an athlete, but I feel like I’ve been running my entire life.” That idea kicked off the “Where Are You Running To?” collaboration between Mars and New Balance, a collection of testimony and short films documenting how NB plays an important part in the lives of not just athletes, but all those who are constantly running.

NewBalance.com: What does “Where Are You Running To?” mean to you? What were some of your goals for this series as a whole?

DJ Mars: “Where are you running to?” is a phrase that describes my lifestyle. The term isn’t specific to me, it could be applied to anyone who has a busy schedule. For example, the single mother who has to take her children to school and then rush to work. The businessman who travels overseas for a company meeting. Or in my case, the DJ who lives in hotels more often than his own house. All of these people come from different walks of life, but share one common thing – they’re all extremely busy!

The goal was to offer the brand and its consumers a new way of looking at each other. Often thought of as just a running brand, New Balance has a place in all of our lives.

NewBalance.com: What was your first pair of NBs? What about your most memorable pair?

DJ Mars: My first pair of New Balances were probably a pair of 576s. I don’t remember the model number but I do remember the color was navy and grey.

My uncle bought them for me in 1985. I remember him buying them in Holyoke, Massachusetts. They were the most expensive shoes that I owned at the time.

As far as my most memorable pair, ironically, I would have to say my black 710s. There’s a back story to that shoe for me. Back in high school, my friends and I all worked at McDonald’s, and we used to save our money to go shopping in New York. Well, one Christmas we all went to NY and we found them at a store in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Sometime after that, a rapper named Kool G. Rap had on a pair on either his album or video, and we were super excited that we had the shoes before he did. Back then, most kids got their sense of style from the rappers. We were ahead of the curve.

NewBalance.com: What does New Balance as a brand mean to you, and what do you think it means to Hip Hop culture as a whole?

DJ Mars: In the late 80’s and early 90’s New Balance was one of the shoes of choice in the Hip Hop community. Especially when the rappers were dressing preppy. That was the shoe that set them apart from the Run DMC era.

To me New Balance means classic, iconic, simple style. Nothing too over the top or corny. They are who they are, and that’s it. Either you like it or you don’t, and that’s kind of how Hip Hop is. Both of them have an “I’m here to stay” vibe to them.

 

Original ‘Where Are You Running To’ Concept Video

NewBalance.com: What young artists do you see as the future of Hip Hop?

DJ Mars: As far as the future of Hip Hop, there are a lot of very exciting groups out there. Some of my favorite new ones are Jay Electronica, Killa Mike, Foreign Exchange, The Hall of Justice Crew, Pac Div, and The New Boyz. Those are some of my favorite new MC’s. On any given day you could find me listening to them.

NewBalance.com: How do you handle an unresponsive or negative crowd? Was there ever a time when you temporarily lost an audience, and then switched things up and won them back?

DJ Mars: Sometimes crowds can be very unpredictable. You can walk into a room and have no idea as to what the crowd is into that particular night. There have been times where I decided to go left and the crowd was like, “na brother you better stay right!” Good DJs are ones who can bounce back from that moment. It happens to every single one of us. If a DJ says otherwise, either he doesn’t play out too often or he’s lying.

NewBalance.com: Has Max the dog ever chewed up a pair of your NBs?

DJ Mars: Thank God I had Max go through obedience training before I brought him home. With that being said, he has not sunk his teeth into a pair of New Balance’s. That’s a funny thing, because most dogs tear their owners’ shoes up. Max on the other hand opts for his beef bone.

NewBalance.com: What are your other passions outside of DJing? If for some reason you had to give up DJing, what else would you be doing?

DJ Mars: Outside of DJing, I would definitely say I have a passion for brand development and marketing. In college I always felt as though marketing should have been my major. DJs far and wide are responsible for finding the new cool. Be it records, fashion, club venues, products, or artists, we are a part of the cycle that makes things hot.

I want to approach marketing and brand development the same way I would a new record. By that, I mean find a product that has potential and magnify it for my world to see.

NewBalance.com: You’ve done a lot in your career – toured with Outkast and Usher, founded the World Famous Super Friends, and became a star in the DJ scene. What are some goals you’re still running to?

DJ Mars: I’ve done a lot, but I would definitely say there are a few more things I’d like to scratch off my list. I’m just starting to get into production, I believe that’s the next step for me. I want to tour the world on accord, meaning go because DJ Mars is being booked – not the artist that I work for. And most importantly, have my company be viewed as a resource to reach untapped markets. I appreciate New Balance for having that initial faith in me.

DJ Mars is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University, a founder of the World Famous Super Friends, and was a contender on last year’s Smirnoff: Master of the Mix. Be sure to check back here for more on the “Where Are You Running To?” project, and for new videos every week. For more information on DJ Mars, visit his blog at historyofmixtapes.com.