Following the recent Nike Zoom Innovation Summit we caught up Sebastian Teche, the man behind the latest Nike Zoom footwear collection.
Can you tell us a little about your background and time at Nike?
I have been at Nike for 12 years, spending most of my time in the UK leading up into the London Olympics in 2012. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great opportunities within Nike, working at DTC, Customer Operations, Sales, Strategic Planning and Merchandising. I served as the Running Footwear Product Manager for the London Games and moved over to Nike’s EHQ in Amsterdam in July 2012 to lead Running FTW Merchandising for Nike’s Western Europe business. In November 2013 I got the great honor of taking on the role of Product Line Manager for Track & Field/Racing to lead our Competition Product Strategy & Execution for the Rio Olympics in 2016. Ever since I have been living in Portland, Oregon, having a direct hand in the product creation for the world’s best athletes.
What was the first Nike project you worked on?
I've worked on numerous projects and initiatives here at Nike but the most exciting in my earlier career was without a doubt the London 2012 Olympics. Being part of that team and being responsible for how we and our products showed up in the London & UK marketplace was second to none.
Your main priority must be speed, functionality and running performance but do you factor in aesthetics into your design?
Absolutely. Performance is always our number one priority, as it is our job to ensure that our athletes have the best performance running shoes possible and that drives us every single day. But we have always done a great job in making our shoes and runners look good. Our Design Team is continuously pushing the boundaries of making performance products look cool and with that aesthetics and product design is as much part of our thought process as nailing the performance of a shoe.
Apart from input and feedback from athletes what other considerations do you take into your design approach?
Everything always starts with the athlete and direct runners insights. Once we have that insight and can formulate the problem to solve, we look at everything else from innovation to product positioning all the way to how we want to communicate the shoes benefits to runners. With that our Design Team starts ideating and building concepts to solve the problem, bringing everything, performance & design, together in the final shoe.
What interests do you have outside your role and do they influence your work?
Running has always been a huge part of my life and it’s fair to say that it has shaped the way I am and think today. From being fairly competitive in XC and on the roads earlier in my life, to today where I enjoy getting out there to do my fair share of Trail Running, I’ve always been part of Running and the Culture of the sport. One thing that I learned over the years, living in many different places and countries, is the fact that running means different things to a lot of different people. I guess that diversity aspect of it is what drives me today, making sure that our products speak to all runners equally.
What is Zoom Air technology? It’s featured across football boots, skate shoe, basketball shoes as well as runners in the past.
Zoom Air is our most responsive Footwear technology. So whenever we need a product to be responsive or create a certain propulsion benefit, Zoom Air would be our go to. And the magic of Zoom Air sits right between two sheets of plastic. We have a layer of tensile fibers inside the bag, which are constantly under tension once the bag is pressurised. As pressure is applied to the bag the fibers will compress and as soon as that pressure lets up slightly, the fibers would spring back into its original state to create that explosive propulsion. It’s pretty fascinating how efficiently it works to push the foot into a seamless foot strike and help getting runners on and off the ground as fast as possible.
Tell us about the history of Zoom Air, can you believe it’s now 20 years old.
It’s pretty amazing to think that it’s been 20 years already. It definitely doesn’t feel like that, as our Innovation Team is continuously pushing and updating our Zoom Air bags. Over the last 10 years we have updated shapes and sizes of Zoom Air bags and really obsessed the way they integrate into the Midsole and work as a system with the rest of the shoe. With that we have products today that leverage the power and propulsion benefits of Zoom Air better than ever before.
What were the objectives and goals when designing the latest Zoom Air models?
Again it’s all about the shoe working as a system and for our Team to pick the right ingredients to make it work. The focus on the Autumn '15 FAST products was all on the overall fit and performance of the shoes. All of our updates feature new upper constructions and with that we had a great opportunity to improve fit and as a result get better engagement and use out of our Zoom Air bags.
Did you keep any aspects from the previous Zoom Air models?
Our main priority within our FAST product line up (Zoom Air models) is to create consistency at the highest performance level. And with that we have maintained a lot of the great things that made shoes like the Pegasus 31 so good, and tweaked it just ever so slightly to make it a little better. We want runners to be able to come back time and time again and find the same things that they liked within our Zoom Air products, whilst experiencing slight improvements and updates.
Have any elements you’ve worked on been rolled out across other lines?
As part of the Track & Field Team we do work on a lot of Innovations and products that will influence our products of the future. Our main focus right now is to nail our product line up for the Rio Olympics in 2016 and with that you’ll see some of that great work be adopted by our Trainings products. Once we make things work for the best athletes in the world we want to make sure that every runner everywhere has a chance to experience and leverage the same technologies.
You’ve used a vast selection of materials and technologies, have any of them been developed exclusively for the Zoom Air Collection?
Everything that exists as a Running technology, material or Innovation is part of our huge tool box. And whenever we are trying to solve a problem we can leverage and pull from any of that to ensure we build the best possible running shoes. Zoom Air is pretty unique in a way that it really creates that propulsive benefit for runners better than any other technology. We do know that Zoom Air works better as a system with certain materials than others, so we are trying to be very thoughtful when building the concept of the shoe.
What’s next for the Zoom Air series?
The future is bright and exciting! Without giving too much away, we will be updating our platforms next time around and with that introduce another pretty significant iteration of Zoom Air. It’s going to be the next level and enable us to get even more performance out of Zoom Air. The shoes as a system will be improved again and tie in with our key Innovation stories.
The latest Nike Zoom footwear, including the Air Zoom Elite 8 is available online
and in selected size? stores now.
(Image credit - Ross Runner