CHAMP INSIGHT: NIKE DESIGNER SEAN MCDOWELL
Sean McDowell and the 10 year anniversary of the Nike Free with writer and runner Tilly Stasiuk.
London’s marathon weekend hit the ground running with Friday’s 10th anniversary and launch of the 3.0 Nike Free. Taking us through our steps from concept to construction, Nike’s neon labyrinth in a repurposed basement gave us front row seats to the story of a decade of the most revolutionary running shoe to date. As well as an on site Nike Training Clubs,multi-marathon champ Paula Radcliffe and Run Dem Crew founder, dj, and poet Charlie Dark flew groups through an epic track of the city, setting spirits high on a 5k run.
As a writer, runner and rundemmer I wanted to learn about the philosophy and journey of the Free, it’s linear breakthrough in design, and which direction the shoe was heading next. I got my head down and took one of the days classes in Nike’s lecture room. Sean McDowell is an extraordinary man, and a lifelong runner. Hailing from Portland’s HQ, Creative director of Nike Running, he narrated his vision from start to finish; utilising new technologies- up tempo from strength to strength.
Armed with a new pair of kicks, and energised from a city run, I stretched out, sat down and freed up some space to bridge the 10 year gap in motion of the Nike Free.
Champ: So how did the free begin and where did your idea come from?
Sean: So Nike Free started in about 2000, we had a group of designers meet with this distance coach, Vin Lananna, who is one of the best of the best, and he was having his athletes run striders on the grass- just a hundred meters, back and forth. We loved seeing this idea, we had not seen this with any other teams or coaches before. Vin strongly believed that by opening up the foot and allowing for it to do what it does naturally, you actually strengthen the muscles in the foot and all the way up your full kinetic chain. We loved this idea and we started testing right away and coming up with this concept of what would a barefoot shoe really look like? Then that grew into natural motion…the barefoot ride.
Champ: How have people influenced the journey and development of the free?
Sean: The best part of working at Nike is that we get to talk to a lot of different runners, and a lot of different people across the globe. It gives you access to the best athletes in the world. So you’ve got Mo and you’ve got Galen Rupp running right on campus and they can try on stuff, go for a run and talk to use about it, which is amazing.
Champ: Incredible, and I guess the communication from someone who is a professional runner and believes that shoes should stride with us is important. Are concerned with what our feet fit like?
Sean: Yeah and for them, this is their job. This is their equipment, they need a tool to help them do their job- their career is on the line. Every individual is different, we are as individual as our finger prints and your products should move and work naturally with you.
Champ: What’s the most memorable moment of the 10 year Nike Free Journey?
Sean: I think probably the 2004 launch was probably the most exciting because it was so new and so different from anything else that was out there, that was a moment that really stands out in time. I’ll fast forward to today as well, I feel like with the 10 year anniversary we can celebrate that moment, and we can also celebrate the new elements that are in the shoe. For example, the new flex patterns are a lot more flexible, they work more intuitively with your body so we are excited about that.
Champ: Tell us about the six-sided hexagon technology?
Sean: We have this quote that there is no finish line at Nike, the free has been working really well for 10 years, but we did see the opportunity to be even a little bit better. If you look at the previous model, that square it actually gives you linear and lateral flexibility which is good but if you look at the hexagon it actually starts to access a third dimension. When you get into the actual bones themselves and look at how your bones mix exactly with your heel and your cuneiform and in with your metatarsal heads- there’s a little bit of rotation and twisting there, and this starts to free that up and it really unlocks your foot.
Tilly: Are you constantly learning about the body and motion with this journey?
Sean: Yes, exactly. For me this is one of the perfect jobs. Both of my parents were teachers, professors and they taught me that you’ve got to always be curious that you’ve got to keep learning all the time and I feel like that helps me with my job- I’m always asking questions. As a team, we’re always learning and that’s the fun part.
Tilly: What’s your favourite Free of all time?
Sean: This one, the 3.0, the one that we are just launching today is my favourite, favourite. It’s our best work to date, and it’s the one that works most closely with your body. Tilly, you ran in it today, what did you think?
Tilly: It was bouncy. It’s like a sock around my foot, no other brand is doing this. It really fits my foot and feels really natural. It doesn’t look bulky, it’s tailored to my foots. Dainty for a girl, masculine for a guy- it’s great, it’s my foot.
Sean: You just wrote the ad campaign right there, that’s perfect (and giggles).
Tilly: What’s new, what are you working on, can Champ have a tiny insight?
Sean: Well, we obviously can’t give away all of the trade secrets but I can tell you that we’ve got some really exciting stuff coming up for Rio 2016. The olympics are right around the corner and I think Nike does an excellent job of picking these moments in time and then working towards having certain breakthroughs at olympic games.
Sean: It was great meeting you today Tilly.
Tilly: Thank you Sean.