Nike ISPA Link turns the spiral of fast fashion into a circle with its 'take apart' sneakers

Nike debuts two new dismantlable sneakers under its ISPA Link series which echo the brand’s pursuit of sustainable innovation and circular design in its products.

by STIRworldPublished on : May 12, 2022

In their cradle to grave journey, a pair of sneakers emits almost 13.6 kg of carbon dioxide, of which roughly 70 per cent is released during their manufacturing phase. In an era where these facts are more than just relevant, the swoosh fanclub can rejoice as the American multinational sports giant Nike has introduced their new sneakers from the ISPA (Improvise, Scavenge, Protect, Adapt) series. The ISPA Link and ISPA Link Axis have been designed on the foundation of the brand's circular design principle of 'disassembly', featuring a technique similar to modular construction. As claimed by the brand, the completely glueless shoe requires only eight minutes to assemble, thereby taking Nike’s game beyond visuals and towards a more sustainable approach in the manufacturing and usage of its iconic sneakers.

The sneakers comprise three modules which can be assembled and disassembled to aid quicker recycling | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
The sneakers comprise three modules which can be assembled and disassembled to aid quicker recycling Image: Courtesy of Nike

In more ways than one, the realm of architecture too has made significant advances towards contributing to a circular system of design and construction, especially considering that construction accounts as a major contributor to the emissions and waste cycle. In the ever evolving confluence between design and architecture, an interesting paradigm - that of exploring dismantlable modular architecture on a more feasible scale, wherein the compositional elements of a building including the space, the skeleton, and the skin, could be assembled and disassembled at ease - is proposed through the Nike ISPA Link pairs.

The organic pegs of the sole link to the knitted upper skin, thereby appearing to be a complementing whole with separate modules | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
The organic pegs of the sole link to the knitted upper skin, thereby appearing to be a complementing whole with separate modules Image: Courtesy of Nike

With over 30 years of expertise in sports apparel and sneaker design, Nike had come forward with a Circular Design Guide in 2019, emphasising 10 principles that support a universal call to action for the industry in order to have a positive impact on the planet. In coherence with this, the ISPA team outlined circularity through disassembly for their new series, wherein apart from the prance, performance, and agility associated with the brand, the product can also be taken apart and recycled. The ISPA link series features three interlocking modules with an ultralight mid-sole of uneven pegs that seamlessly fit the knitted fabric upper skin and interlink to form a whole.

The Nike ISPA Link Axis builds on the Link’s sustainable advancements and is set to arrive in 2023 | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
The Nike ISPA Link Axis builds on the Link’s sustainable advancements and is set to arrive in 2023 Image: Courtesy of Nike

Contrary to the conventional (and rather complicated) anatomy of a sneaker, the ISPA Link and Link Axis simplify the complexity of product design for the consumer, thereby initiating a step toward sustainable fashion through a closed-loop system that yields no waste. For all its buzz in architecture, any initiative towards sustainable design is particularly remarkable in a realm as notorious as fashion for producing waste and products with a much smaller, mortal life span. Additionally, the team conceives a rather organic design that seems to stimulate reciprocity between future innovation and current actions. Beyond consumerism and ownership, the shoes may thereby be perceived as a countercultural symbol for human-centric urban streets, while actively caring about the planet. Although the design does take inspiration from earlier sneakers from the ISPA line, the Link series seems to spark conversations of casual comfort along with radical expression.

  • The Link Axis features 100 per cent recycled polyester Flyknit upper engineered to fit precisely on the outsole | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
    The Link Axis features 100 per cent recycled polyester Flyknit upper engineered to fit precisely on the outsole Image: Courtesy of Nike
  • With the need for durability and action, the shoe has a 20 per cent recycled TPU cage | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
    With the need for durability and action, the shoe has a 20 per cent recycled TPU cage Image: Courtesy of Nike

The sub-label from Nike, ISPA, an apt elision of Improvise, Scavenge, Protect and Adapt, viably experiments with the multiple possibilities of how to get the most out of a product’s lifecycle. This long-term brainstorming is reflected in the Link series through the use of waste materials to birth a new product. While ISPA Link uses the traditional cut and sew method, the Link Axis will be engineered to fit the outsole precisely using a 100 per cent recycled polyester Flyknit upper. This TPU tooling is achieved by upcycling scrapped airbag material. In addition to the use of recycled materials, the distinct rugged materiality is further manifested in assembling a glueless shoe, thereby eradicating the environmental implications of the heating and cooling process, apart from the energy costs of shredding sneakers - the conventional method for recycling them.

  • The 2003 Presto Clip was one of Nike’s first attempts in creating interlocking and disassembles shoes | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
    The 2003 Presto Clip was one of Nike’s first attempts in creating interlocking and disassembles shoes Image: Courtesy of Nike
  • The 2005 Zvezdochka by Nike was created in collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson, exploring possibilities of disassembly and interlocking | Nike ISPA Link Series | Nike | STIRworld
    The 2005 Zvezdochka by Nike was created in collaboration with industrial designer Marc Newson, exploring possibilities of disassembly and interlocking Image: Courtesy of Nike

Almost a decade after the debut of 2003 Presto Clip, the first sneaker where Nike embarked on the process of disassembly and interlocking, and the 2005 Zvezdochka, the brand’s unveiling of the Link series in Spring of 2022 seems like a natural next step and a needed innovation. In the process of achieving a zero-carbon, zero-waste future for Nike, the ISPA Link series is a step closer to exploring the potential of this vast industry in collectively mitigating the impact of the climate crisis and global warming. As much as the brand’s circular vision emboldens their design process, the attention to creating a sensory experience with the product that aids user comfort seems to not have been compromised. "Designed in partnership with engineering, digital product creation, and development, these shoes are completely informed by the method of make - it really is a case of form following function,” says Darryl Matthews, VP, Catalyst Footwear Product Design in an official release.

 (Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)

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