What makes Flyknit remarkable from a design and manufacturing perspective is that it addresses all of these issues. Rather than attempt to explain this myself, I’ll turn to two people with much greater expertise on the topic: Nike CEO Mark Parker and Eric Avar, the creative mind behind the KOBE 9 and a footwear design legend in his own right.
Mark Parker: Flyknit is, in many respects, game-changing in terms of performance, in terms of design … It used to be largely cut-and-sew construction for many centuries, which is more of a collage, where pieces come together. Today, we’re working at a fiber level and at a pixel level … down to the millimeter. On top of that, it changes the game of manufacturing. You’re taking one of the most labor intensive parts of the manufacturing process and simplifying it. There’s a sustainability factor and in this [KOBE 9 Elite High], there’s about 50% less waste than in a conventional basketball shoe. If you look at running [models], it’s potentially 80 to 90% less waste.
Eric Avar: You can design the amount of stretch and breathability exactly where you want it. Between the stitch and the fibers, you can create an unbelievable amount of performance properties. In the forefoot, where you really want some lockdown and security against all of the lateral forces, you can use a certain type of stitch and a certain type of fiber. Then, through the midfoot, where you want more of a dynamic and secure fit, you use another stitch and fiber … Knit, from a design perspective, allows us to use so many variables, and it’s essentially a blank canvas that allows us to design from a functional standpoint and also from a visual standpoint, so it’s really amazing.
These quotes come from Sole Collector, which interviewed Mark Parker, Eric Avar and Kobe Bryant at the launch of the KOBE 9 Elite last February. And, just to be clear, the stitch- and fiber-level control over performance characteristics that Parker and Avar highlight above is all built into a single layer of Flyknit construction. In the case of running applications, that single layer can constitute the entire upper, meaning that overlays and seams joining disparate materials are effectively eliminated. The net result is sock-like comfort and fit combined with precisely tuned support; the dramatic reduction in waste material is a huge attendant benefit.
Sports involving lots of lateral movement—e.g. basketball, soccer and American football—generate so much shear force that the Flyknit construction has to be reinforced to keep the wearer’s foot planted on the shoe’s footbed. But, even so, the KOBE 9 Elite completely dispenses with traditional overlays and is, instead, reinforced internally using a stitch-less process that Nike calls “Fuse.” Much as in running, the promise is an upper that fits and feels like a natural extension of the foot, but with no compromise in the support and overall protection required for court sports.