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Nike is Going All in on Transparency. Sometimes Literally.

Consumers are increasingly clamoring for transparency in their products, and Nike, for one, is ready to deliver it.

And not always figuratively. The sportswear juggernaut’s upcoming faux-leather Air Force 1 Crater, poised to drop in October, will feature a transparent toe vamp that flaunts rather than obscures the rubber scraps Nike salvaged from the cutting-room floor. The Waffle Racer Crater, a “fresh twist on the 1977 OG,” also available next month, will boast a rugged terrazzo-esque outsole that colorfully broadcasts its recycled-rubber content. As for the impending Marble Ecodown Jacket, which will incorporate zero-waste patterning techniques, it’ll comprise a transparent recycled-polyester shell and lining—all the better to show off the puffs of recycled Thermore Ecodown bundled within.

The soon-to-be-released Marble Ecodown Jacket incorporates zero-waste patterning techniques and a transparent recycled-polyester shell and lining showing off the recycled Thermore Ecodown bundled within.
The soon-to-be-released Marble Ecodown Jacket incorporates zero-waste patterning techniques and a transparent recycled-polyester shell and lining showing off the recycled Thermore Ecodown bundled within. Courtesy

All of these products, said Golnaz Armin, Nike’s senior material design director, at a virtual presentation Thursday, are designed to “literally reveal the process to the consumer but also be transparent about talking about sustainability, which I think is a really exciting thing.”

Nike is experimenting with other ways of opening up to its customers. The Just Do It company is piloting a new “visual badging” system on Nike.com that will highlight some 2,000 products that contain more than 50 percent sustainable materials. The move was prompted by consumer demand.

“When we talk to our consumers, and we ask them what’s important to them, we hear the same answer, which is they want transparency, they want to be able to make an informed decision when they’re deciding who to shop with or what to buy,” said Michelle Warvel, vice president of Nike Direct service and experience. “And the things that we’re hearing that are really important are what are the materials in this product? And how is it made? So it’s really pushed our thinking as we’re reinventing shopping, both digital and physical.”

A door made from 20 kilograms of recycled materials greets guests at the Guangzhou Nike Rise store in China.
A door made from 20 kilograms of recycled materials greets guests at the Guangzhou Nike Rise store in China. Courtesy

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Customers will be able to “search, filter, really narrow their choices” based on their values, even drilling down to a specific material, such as organic cotton or recycled polyester.

Feedback has already been overwhelmingly positive, and Nike is seeing higher engagement and three times the conversion on these products, “which is really incredible,” Warvel said. “So we are rapidly scaling, continuing to go across the globe with this feature, as well as moving to the Nike app and pushing it out into our digital ecosystem.”

The badging concept translates to physical retail, too; customers, Warvel said, want the same information “at their fingertips” to guide their decision making. Nike will be testing physical badges, linking them to its broader Move to Zero campaign that promises a zero-carbon, zero-waste future for sport.

“So you’ll see on some of our footwear and apparel, these beautiful Move to Zero tags that talk about materials and the impacts that the process that we’re taking with these products is making to our environment,” she said.

The Air Force 1 Crater sneaker puts its Nike Grind material contribution front and center.
The Air Force 1 Crater sneaker puts its Nike Grind material contribution front and center. Courtesy

And that goes for digital in-store as well. Consumers will be able to visit a brick-and-mortar location, pull up the Nike app, scan a product and access that same information digitally. “So you can see we are constantly thinking online-offline,” Warvel said. “But we also are excited that this is the way our future consumers are going to shop.”

Later in the year, the Swoosh firm will start testing a clothing take-back program that will rework garments the way its Reuse-a-Shoe program has been recycling footwear for more than a quarter of a century. But even that initiative is getting a facelift: Soon, consumers will be able to dispatch their unwanted kicks from their homes via a prepaid mailer.

It has more “activations” based on Move to Zero in the cards, where influencers and store associates will “co-create” with consumers by taking Nike’s waste materials, deconstructing them and putting them “together into something really beautiful,” Warvel said. “This type of creation, in stores, in real life, is the best education opportunity for us to really talk to what we’re doing, but also have consumers feel this circular design and how they are giving back and how we’re doing it at Nike as well.”

The Nike Grind material palette tells a circular story.
The Nike Grind material palette tells a circular story. Courtesy

One of the best expressions of its “end-to-end sustainability journey,” she said, is the Nike Live store at Long Beach, Calif., which opened late last year. Nike Grind and other recycled materials are conspicuously discernible in its fixtures, flooring, hangers and mannequins. At its Nike Rise store in Guangzhou, China, a door derived from 20 kilograms of recycled materials greets guests. The entryway at House of Innovation 002 in Paris features 80 kilograms worth of castoffs.

“We keep it very transparent so you can recognize Nike Grind,” Warvel added. “And you can see how these materials are really coming back to life in a beautiful way.”