We were as surprised as everyone else by the introduction of the adidas adiZero Primeknit runner via its limited launch last week in London. So we reached out to James Carnes, Head of Design for Sport Performance at adidas, to ask him a few questions in regards to Primeknit technology — where the idea came from, whether they were expecting the pre-emptive launch of Nike's Flyknit, and where Primeknit would be seen next. Read on for his answers.
How and when did the idea for Primeknit come about?
Well, four years ago—actually right after the Beijing Olympics—we started working on a project to just simply look at making footwear more innovative. The idea came about by looking at a piece of furniture. As you might know, in the furniture industry they do a lot with different processes than we do in footwear, and knitting was one of them. We started to kind of piece together some ideas on 'how we can go from sort of a modular Lego approach with footwear where you cut all the pieces and then you put it together to something more innovative like knitting,' and it started from there. We started seeing prototypes and working on the idea in early 2009.
How long did it take for you to develop this technology—was there a lot of trial and error?
If you look at where we started four years ago, I would say it was about three-and-a-half years of working on developing the technology for footwear, and there was a lot of trial and error for sure. I mean one of the reasons why it went through so many iterations was because it was a new process, and adapting an existing way of knitting from one industry to another in it of itself took a lot of development time. Looking at the yarns and how they can be adapted for footwear and then also just the necessary technical performance expectations that we put on product meant that there were a lot of iterations needed to really continue to get truly innovative in footwear, and for it not to be just a new way of making shoes but also be up to the adidas performance innovation standards.
Was it a surprise when Nike revealed their own knit shoe, and did that affect your release at all?
Well, it was interesting to see that they came out with something that we've been working on for almost four years, but it didn't really have any influence on our approach. We had planned to launch something at the Olympics—like i said we really started this right after Beijing, and the goal was to give ourselves another kind of cycle to come back in London and launch this idea. It ended up meeting our expectations in terms of launching what we believe is the superior way of making knitted product. It's something that we typically do—I mean, for us the World Cup and the Olympics are two big stages for innovation and you can go back as far as you want, in 1928 that's kind of where this all started with adidas bringing the first track spikes to the games in Amsterdam. It's something that we are pretty proud of being able to do, and it's exciting to see that making shoes this way is something other people will be following from here on out.
Primeknit will certainly be one of the main ways that we move forward out of current production techniques.
What else do you have planned for Primeknit? Will you be utilizing this technology in areas other than running?
Well, you know, I'd always have to say stay tuned because I can't tell you everything [laughs]. I can tell you that this will be one of the future ways of making high-performance products. We focus on a couple of key sports outside of running as our areas to innovate so not only do we focus on running, we also focus on soccer or football and we focus on basketball, and when we come up with something innovative we pretty much look at that application across those sports.
Do you see this replacing the conventional method of running shoe manufacture entirely at some point?
It will certainly be one of the main ways that we move forward out of current production techniques, I can say that. Will it completely replace it? That's to be determined, but we are investing in other revolutionary ways of manufacturing, primarily for a couple of reasons—one is that we think there are better ways of making product perform and two, we think that there are better ways of making product that are more responsible to not just the planet but to the places we produce product in. This particular production technique allows us to think differently about sustainability and not just think about the environment and being clean but also about the idea of sustainability in terms of economy. So if you think about the state of manufacturing around the world, it would be fantastic to be able to produce product in places where they could certainly use a boost like Spain or Greece. We made these in Germany but there's potential to make product in the U.S.A, Brazil, Japan and so on. That being one of the critical factors for us, I see this definitely being something that we'll expand.
How much does the shoe weigh?
150 grams, which translates to roughly about 5.2 ounces.
When do you think we will see a release in the states?
Coming soon. We've got something planned I think already for sure—later this year you'll see that first Primeknit shoe launch in, I would say four more colors that will be available more globally, and then we're planning a launch for the next generation of the shoe in 2013 in the U.S..