The Nike Free Experience

Sometimes you just find yourself in the right place at the right time, and another two days with work in London meant I had the opportunity to attend the The Nike Free Experience at Victoria House, London before a flying exit back to Manchester.

With the 10 year anniversary of the Nike Free in full swing, Nike decided to ride the wave of excitement that was gathering in the city ahead of Sunday’s Virgin London Marathon, and offer a select handful of press, publishers and online influencers the chance to experience the evolution of Nike Free with classic swoosh flare.

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While the athlete remains at the heart of Nike’s brand ethos, creative spaces and incredible visuals displays fall hand in hand with product innovation, so to coincide with the launch of Nike’s latest developments in the natural motion revolution (specifically, Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit, Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit and Nike Free 5.0), the space showcased an array of colourful and dynamic installations, and dipped it’s toe into the running archives to pay homage to the pedigree of silhouettes that represent Free’s early family tree – The Geneology of Nike Free.

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The lucky shortlist of attendees also had the privilege of an audience with Nike Running Creative Director and VP, Sean McDowell – The visionary behind the latest Nike Free line. During a short interactive Q&A session, Sean offered the listeners valuable insight into the design process that has driven Nike’s pursuit of natural motion over the years.

Sean shared stories that spanned the most important moments of the Free journey, from Mark Parker’s demand for a t-shirt for the foot that would result in the Air Presto, a Tobie Hatfield design that ditched traditional shoe sizes for a xxxs-xxxl sizing structure, to the detailed study of Kenyan barefoot distance runners that would lead to the split-toed Air Rift.

A more anatomical heel shape, and distinctive hexagonal flex grooves were a few of the standout features introduced to the latest Nike Free range as a result of discoveries made at Nike’s Sports Research Lab at the brands global HQ in Portland. Sean emphasised the importance of Nike Co-Founder Bill Bowerman’s direction (“It’s all about the feet – it’s not about the shoes”), and their obligation as designers to find ways to mimic the body’s biomechanics through constant product innovation.

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To sweeten the deal, an on-site Nike ID studio meant that everyone got the chance to flex their creative muscles on the latest Nike Free ID options, and while I did take part (a little disappointed by the launching colour palette, I must admit. Introducing an incredible multi-blend upper on an ID Flyknit for the first time and two-toning it against a contrasting pale grey was a bad move guys…), I may have taken my eye off the ball a little bit.

For some reason, I’ve discovered that the Nike ID studio forces grown men and women to revert to a state of pre-school creativity where all combinations are worthy of consideration, the creator limited only by the amount of coloured crayons they have… As a result, I spent more time screen watching over people’s shoulders than working on my own, intrigued by their inability to commit to one swoosh over the other.

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An ongoing knee injury meant I missed the pleasure of a 5km test run lead by the one and only Charlie Dark, founder of London’s infamous Run Dem Crew, and my lack of appropriate fitness attire meant I also had to pass up on an NTC workout session with Joslyn Thompson. Next time, guys, next time… Just don’t miss me off the invite, OK?