Nike’s ingenious new zipper helps people with disabilities

The Flyease system lets wearers peel open sneakers with one hand

The LeBron Soldier 8 variant of the FLyease design. (Nike)

Nike’s latest high-top sneakers look as flashy as any in its line-up, but they’ve got a secret power. The Zoom Soldier 8 Flyease (above) was designed specifically for people with disabilities, and incorporates a wraparound zipper system that lets wearers peel open the shoe with one hand, slipping their foot in with ease. It should make life that little bit easier for people who have physical difficulties, says Nike, including amputees, stroke victims, and Parkinson’s sufferers.

 The technology, named Flyease, was designed by Nike’s Tobie Hatfield, who began developing the latest version of the shoe after receiving a letter from Matthew Walzer, a young man with cerebral palsy. Walzer’s disorder makes his muscles stiff and weak, and as he was about to head off to college, he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to tie his own shoes without help. Walzer wrote to Nike for help.

“Matthew was looking really for a basketball style, he really loved basketball, he loved LeBron James,” says Hatfield in a promotional video about the new technology. “And so I said, ‘I’m going to take this zipper in the back so this can literally just peel open.’ The main thing was about getting him in the shoes, adjusting the shoes, closing the shoes, and then being able to get out of the shoes all by himself.”

The Flyease system being demonstrated on a prototype shoe. (Nike)

Hatfield and other Nike designers worked with Walzer over the course of three years, shipping him prototype shoes and getting feedback over Skype. To create the sneakers, the company’s engineers had to build a new zipper designed to smoothly navigate curves without forcing the wearer to yank on the strap, and added internal cords to the shoe that run from its heel to its top so that the design tightens itself as it’s zipped up.

“It’s still not perfect by any means,” Hatfield told Fast Company. “We know we can continue to make improvements, but we wanted to give access to those who need this sooner than later.


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