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Nike’s Latest Investment Makes Footwear More Inclusive

Nike wants to make it easier for customers to get in and out of its sneakers.

On Wednesday, the Oregon-based athleticwear giant announced a strategic investment in Handsfree Labs Inc., whose footwear innovation technology enables users to shoe their feet without using their hands or lacing shoes shut.

The deal also includes an exclusive intellectual property licensing partnership, Nike said.

“Our partnership with Handsfree builds on Nike’s leadership in using innovative technology to meet consumer needs,” Tom Clarke, Nike’s president of innovation, said. “Our Nike FlyEase platform is aimed at providing greater access to sport for all athletes, and we believe Handsfree’s ‘easy on and off’ technology has the potential to broaden and enhance this effort by removing barriers to play and making sport easier for more people.”

The ultimate goal of FlyEase isn’t just to make life easier for athletes with disabilities, Nike said, but to make shoes “easier for everyone.” FlyEase operates on three design principles: shoes should be easy to close, fit different foot shapes and require one or no hands to operate. The Nike Adapt Huarache, for example, features a voice-activated tightening mechanism and a magnetic heel allowing users to slide their foot in without using either hand.

Nike has made a strategic investment in Handsfree Labs inc. for its adaptive footwear platform, flyease
On Oct. 18, Nike unveiled the first-ever Jordan sneaker equipped with FlyEase closure technology, the Air Jordan I FlyEase, which lets wearers get into the shoe without using their hands. Nike

“Since its debut, FlyEase technologies have been employed in more than 20 footwear styles across basketball, running and sportswear,” Nike said. “Each successive design creates more sophisticated solutions that balance the rigor of FlyEase criteria and Nike’s overarching performance standards.”

The investment follows Nike’s recent push toward handsfree performance footwear, a category that also includes the smartphone-operated Nike Adapt smart sneakers.

“Handsfree Labs is passionate about bringing the comfort and convenience of hands-free shoes to everyone, and our partnership with Nike accelerates this vision,” Mike Pratt, Handsfree Labs founder and CEO, added. “With Nike, we are reinventing the way people put on shoes, and we are proud to introduce the world to this significant footwear advancement.”

This isn’t the first time the brand has either acquired or invested in a technology company devoted to developing product or supply chain innovations that could benefit its business. In August, Nike acquired Celect, a data science company that infuses sophisticated “demand-sensing” technology into its inventory operations.