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Snap-on Sneaker

How Nike designed sneakers to be hands-free

NIKE

As a teen, Matthew Walzer of Parkland, Florida, looked forward to leaving home for college. But he worried he wouldn’t be able to because he couldn’t tie his shoes. Walzer has cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects his muscles. His right hand is not very flexible, so he can’t tie shoelaces without help. 

In 2012, when Walzer was 16, he wrote to Nike. He asked the company to make sneakers that are more accessible, or easy to use. Nike had already been working on sneaker designs for people with disabilities. After receiving Walzer’s letter, the company invited him to test prototypes, or early models, of the shoes.

Since then, Nike has created a series of accessible sneakers. The newest version, the Nike Go FlyEase (above), can be put on and taken off hands-free!

Matthew Walzer is from Parkland, Florida. He looked forward to leaving home for college as a teen. But he worried he wouldn’t be able to go. That’s because he couldn’t tie his shoes. Walzer has cerebral palsy. This disorder affects his muscles. It’s hard for him to bend his right hand. So he can’t tie shoelaces without help.

Walzer wrote to Nike in 2012 when he was 16. He asked the company to make sneakers that were more accessible, or easy to use. Nike had already been working on prototypes of accessible sneakers. These early shoe models were designed for people with disabilities. The company invited Walzer to test them.

Nike has made a series of accessible sneakers since then. The newest version is called the Nike Go FlyEase (above). It can be put on and taken off hands-free!

Rethinking Sneakers

To make accessible sneakers, Nike designers first outlined their criteria, or standards. 

The shoes had to be easy to put on and take off without two hands. They needed wide openings so they would fit people who wear leg braces or other supports. 

The team brainstormed designs and built prototypes. Walzer and other people with disabilities tried the sneakers out. Nike improved the designs based on their feedback, says Sarah Reinertsen. She’s a professional athlete with a leg disability who helps Nike design accessible shoes. 

In 2015, Nike released the first FlyEase sneaker. The design was based on a shoe called the LeBron Soldier, named after NBA player LeBron James. The new design had a wide opening, a zipper instead of laces, and a strap to pull it on or off with one hand. Next, Nike wanted to make FlyEase sneakers entirely hands-free.

Nike designers came up with their criteria before making the sneakers. One standard was that the shoes had to be easy to put on without two hands. They had to be easy to take off too. They also needed wide openings. That way they’d fit people who wear leg braces or other supports. 

The team thought up designs. Then they built prototypes. Walzer and other people with disabilities tried the sneakers out. They gave their feedback. And Nike improved the designs, says Sarah Reinertsen. She’s a professional athlete with a leg disability. She helps Nike design accessible shoes. 

Nike released the first FlyEase sneaker in 2015. The design was based on another shoe called the LeBron Soldier. It was named after NBA player LeBron James. The new design had a zipper instead of laces. It also had a strap to pull it on or off with one hand. 

NIKE

Prototype: Nike designers cut up a shoe and attached stretchy tubing to it to test the new design.

Look, No Hands!

A few years later, a Nike engineer cut a sneaker so it could bend open in the middle. He used stretchy surgical tubing to connect the two halves. Stepping into the shoe snapped the halves together. Pushing on the heel with the other foot forced the shoe back open.

Designers built the Nike Go FlyEase based on this model. They added hinges to help the shoes bend more easily. Instead of surgical tubing, they used stretchy rubber strips. The final shoes are convenient for people with disabilities—and anyone in a hurry. “If a shoe is easier to get on for an athlete with one hand or no hands, it’s easier for everybody,” says Reinertsen. 

Walzer took his FlyEase sneakers with him to college. If Nike hadn’t reached out, leaving home for college might not have been possible, he says. “My life would look very different.”

Next, Nike wanted to make FlyEase sneakers totally hands-free. A Nike engineer cut a sneaker so it could bend open in the middle. He used stretchy tubing to connect the two halves. Stepping into the shoe snapped he halves together. Pushing on the heel with the other foot forced the shoe back open.

Designers built the Nike Go FlyEase based on this model. They added hinges. The hinges helped the shoes bend more easily. Designers used rubber strips instead of stretchy tubing. The final shoes are helpful for people with disabilities and anyone in a hurry. “If a shoe is easier to get on for an athlete with one hand or no hands, it’s easier for everybody,” says Reinertsen. 

Walzer took his FlyEase sneakers with him to college. Leaving home for college might not have been possible if Nike hadn’t reached out, he says. “My life would look very different.”

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