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Will Nike’s New Material Innovation Be as Successful as Flyknit?

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Has Nike created the next Flyknit? The sneaker brand introduced Nike Flyleather last week, a new “super material” made with at least 50 percent recycled natural leather fiber and water power.

Touted as Nike’s most sustainable leather material ever, the Flyleather uses 90 percent less water and has an 80 percent lower carbon footprint than traditional manufacturing. One pair of Nike Flyleather shoes has about half the carbon footprint compared to shoes made with traditional leather. And, because the material is produced on a roll, cutting is more efficient and creates less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods for full-grain leather.

“Nike believes in science and that climate change is real,” said Hannah Jones, Nike chief sustainable officer and VP of the Innovation Accelerator. “That’s why Flyleather is a game-changer. As we witness the impact of climate change, the world is getting after a low-carbon economy, and Nike is innovating it.”

Nike reports that the material is also five times more durable than traditional leather and 40 percent lighter than full-grain leather, yet maintains the appearance and hand feel as regular premium leather without the waste.

According to Nike, up to 30 percent of a cow’s hide is typically discarded during a typical leather manufacturing process. To reduce this waste, Nike takes discarded leather scraps from the floors of tanneries and turns them into fibers. The fibers are combined with synthetic fibers and a fabric infrastructure through a hydro process that fuses the component together into one material. The material then goes through a finishing process, which can include things like pigmentation, and is completed by being put on a roll to be cut.

“Similar to what Nike Flyknit did for knit, Nike Flyleather can do for leather,” said Nike Chief Design Officer John Hoke. “New technologies and platforms allow us to get closer to working at the molecular level. Flyleather is the latest example of this, and is particularly exciting because it allows for increased potential to extend our craft with more precision. This means opportunity for greater strength, support, elasticity and so on, based on the needs of specific sports.”

The first product to feature Nike Flyleather is the all-white Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic. The unisex shoe launched last week on nike.com and at the Nike SoHo store, NikeLab 21 Mercer and Dover Street Market in New York City for $85, retail. To complement the release of the Nike Flyleather Tennis Classic, the brand has also created limited editions of the next generation Nike Flyleather footwear, including versions of the Air Force 1, Air Max 90, Cortez, Jordan 1, and Tennis Classic.

Nike believes Flyleather’s potential extends beyond footwear. Unlike with traditional leathers, Flyleather can be produced with a consistent grade across a broader range of product. “By opening up the possibilities to engineer performance leather, we are creating a new conversation across performance categories to include materials that have otherwise been retired from the options list for products such as footwear, apparel and equipment,” said Tony Bignell, Nike VP of footwear innovation.

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