Adidas is close to making completely personalized sneakers
Last night in Brooklyn, in an industrial container hidden from the drizzling rain by the canopy of the Manhattan Bridge overhead, Adidas unveiled a sneaker made especially for New York City.
The Speedfactory AM4NYC isn't the first in the AM4 ("Adidas Made For") franchise. Previous iterations have appeared in Germany, Paris, and London. But this shoe is genuinely new—not just in colour (black, naturally), but in execution.
To illustrate this point, senior designer Zachary Coonrod from the Adidas Futures team gestures to the mass-produced Ultra Boosts I'm wearing: "When you buy those shoes, they’re built for a really large cross-section of the population." Conversely, the AM4NYC is built for a very specific segment of people. "The AM4 program is about taking shoes to cities and giving them context, and figuring out how to work in a smaller bucket."
For New York, that meant tailoring the shoes to the needs of folks who are moving quickly through a densely populated city. "Compared to the shoes that were released for London and Paris, there’s an extra eyelet: five on either side, as opposed to four," Coonrod explains. "That lets you put a little more adjustment into the forefoot. You can cinch around the smaller bones that connect your toes to your feet, which makes you a little more stable when you’re up on your toes running in the city."
Recognizing need for that sort of thing came from working directly with New York runners, who got rigged up in motion capture gear before sitting down to talk about their needs with the Adidas team. Reflective elements for running at night were a big priority, so the shoes have 3M material built into the laces. "We’ve also got more reinforcement, so you have more to push against when you want to change directions to dodge a puddle or a taxi cab."
And then there's that all-black colourway, a departure from more colourful versions in cities past. Even though the stereotype of New Yorkers wearing all black holds truer than one might expect, that wasn't the only reason for the decision. "People love all-white shoes. They’re sexy. But they’re going to last all of five minutes in New York City," Coonrod says.
"People are going to hit trash, or a puddle, and it’s going to go from being all white to all brown real quick. At the beginning [of the design session with the New York runners], everybody was hyped on triple white, but by the end—talking to us and each other about what they wanted to build—it was black. I’m a big fan of all-black shoes personally, so I was happy about that."
While it's certainly exciting to have a shoe built just for New York, Coonrad and his team aren't done yet. Each city is just one step along the path towards the end goal: "This whole setup, the AM4 system, is about trying to get us to building one-of-one product," he says. He's talking about completely custom-created shoes, perfectly suited to a single person. "We go from cities, which are smaller batches of people, to individual, tailored, one-of-one products."
That's a hell of a task, and one that takes no small degree of innovation—and information. "We’ve got to learn how to pull the data. What systems are needed, what’s useful to us, what people can understand and interact with," Coonrod says. To that end, the folks attending last night's event were scanned and tested, having their feet mapped and their stride analyzed as they ran. It was futuristic and a little strange and ultimately a lot of fun.
But while the event wasn't a real lab setup, and I'm pretty sure Adidas wasn't collecting this info in hopes of making me a pair of custom AM4JE sneakers in the near future (though I would not object!), it did serve a greater purpose. If Adidas wants to make completely personal sneakers, the company needs to understand how people will interact with the process and adapt to that. "It's not just about showing off the products," Coonrod says, "but giving you little pieces about how an experience to make tailored products could be in the future, and helping us learn."
Who knows when this whole project will come to fruition for guys like me who fall (very) far outside of the world of elite athletes. But I'm looking forward to it nonetheless.
The AM4NYC retails for $200 and is available starting Thursday, April 26. It goes on sale together with the AM4LDN 1.1 and AM4PAR 1.1 at Adidas’ New York City 5th Avenue flagship store, (565 5th Avenue), the brand concept store on Broadway (610 Broadway), as well as via adidas.com, and select retailers. New iterations of the AM4LDN and AM4PAR will also release simultaneously.