Words: Alex Synamatix
Photography: Adam Scotland
As the Nike FlyKnit Collective comes to a close in London, we had a chat with a couple of the top designers from Portland about their involvement in the collective, their personal thoughts on FlyKnit as a whole, their influence at Nike and what influences them in general. First up is Global Apparel Senior Design Director, Jarrett Reynolds.
Having never met any of the in-house Portland Nike team, we weren’t sure what to expect. Like any Nike fans, we held them in almost God like awe in our minds. Mystical design gurus who hide away in a secret camp somewhere in Portland. Obviously, this is not such a realistic perception and within seconds this mystical image was shattered by Jarrett as we quickly realised that he was one of the nicest and most humble people that we’ve had the pleasure of talking to. It’s refreshing to see someone be so humble and almost refuse to stand in the limelight when they hold such an influential role. For someone to brush off their very important involvement (as important as you can get, without us actually stating what it was) in the now infamous Cole Haan Lunar footwear and hand over all credit to the other parties involved is beyond impressive. Modesty gone mad.
We could have chatted to Jarrett all day if we had the time. He’s one of those guys that has something interesting to say about almost everything, mainly due to his perspective on things, the way he envisages things. It’s this ability and unique vision that you will find at the core of any great designer. As we discussed FlyKnit and its inception, Jarrett lit up like a kid in a queue waiting to get their hands on an exclusive pair of sneaks. To see that kind of excitement from someone on the inside was intriguing.
Moving on to his personal achievements within the company, be it the FlyWire jacket from 2009 or the M65 jacket from last season’s NSW range, the modesty was so much that you would be excused for not thinking he had any hand in the design. This modesty leads to an air of mystery surrounding Jarrett and his influence at Nike. You can’t help but start to wonder about all the things that he’s designed that you will have appreciated or even idolised. It is most likely a large part of why he is so successful as a designer as he never appears to focus on what he has done, more on what he could do.
We hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we enjoyed asking the questions. Next week we will be dropping part 2 of this two-part feature, where we speak to Innovation Kitchen Studio Director and inventor of FlyKnit, Ben Schaffer (read it here).
Tell us about your involvement with the Nike FlyKnit Collective in London.
I was really honoured to be asked to come out here to do this. To connect with thirty kids who had to win a competition to be invited to come and participate in this, to me is really amazing. So first off, I’m really excited to hang out with these kids and play football and teach them about design and formfitting. Moreover than that, I’m here to spread the message of FlyKnit, which is pretty cool actually. We had a round table discussion with Paternity, myself, Cassette Playa, Style Bubble, Astrid Anderson and we kind of just walked through what we do, our process and how we think to these kids who are aspiring fashion designers.
How would you describe formfitting? What exactly is it and why is it so important?
Well first off, designing for the body in motion is really difficult. It’s a way different execution than designing a chair or furniture or a lot of other things that are static. At Nike, goal number one is to solve performance issues. We’ll have the same problem that we’ll want to solve; to make athletes perform better, faster, stronger, and one of the ways is through formfitting. But it’s defined differently from footwear to apparel. Just think about how the body moves in a million different ways versus how the foot moves in totally different ways. We’ll take that same issue and solve it in different ways. Fit is something that we’re always looking at in a million different ways, whether it’s through fabrication, construction, method of make, 3D body skins, crazy stuff to solve the problem for fit.
So formfitting is making sure that the fit is optimum to cover the full spectrum of movement?
Yeah, it’s a little bit hard to have the exact same definition for footwear and apparel because formfitting doesn’t necessarily mean tight. Tight is not always good, not always bad, so we like to think of it in apparel as ‘adaptive fit’ – it moves with you. Sometimes if you create apparel or even footwear that’s too tight, it can constrict your movement. So we’re trying to see the body in movement, we study all this stuff and we’re trying to create product that moves with the body rather than inhibits it’s movements. We solve it a lot of different ways.
FlyKnit is something that takes formfitting into account quite considerably isn’t it?
Yes, and that’s why it makes 100% sense, formfitting in the footwear factor that you see in FlyKnit. It’s essentially everything you need and nothing you don’t. I have a pair right now and they’re awesome. These are my summer shoes. They’re so lightweight. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that I could go to work, hang out, go for a run, ride my bike and then go to a club afterwards. I get my shoes very very dirty.
Where you involved in the creation of FlyKnit technology itself?
No, I wish I was. I wish I could take that honour. I work really closely with a lot of the people inside Nike, wether it’s the Innovation Kitchen or Nike Sports Research Lab or Sportswear or the Performance categories, so I saw this coming for a while. I act as a kid that doesn’t work inside Nike and so when I get to see this stuff I’m so excited. I get geeky when I see this kind of stuff. There’s projects that you see inside and you’re like “Wow. I can’t wait for that to come out!” and then maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t really hit, but this was one of those things where it was like “When people see this, they’re just gonna lose it”.
It made me really happy because it was kind of everything that Nike’s good at; innovation, performance and it’s based on culture. The connection between Mark Parker and Hiroshi and Tinker. It was like the perfect storm of all of these awesome elements coming together to make this really coveted shoe, but it’s also super-performance. That’s what Nike’s the best at doing.
So far FlyKnit technology has been limited to footwear in two particular models. Will we be seeing it move to apparel like you infamously did with the FlyWire jacket in 2009?
The interesting thing is that the FlyKnit technology actually came from apparel. It’s knitting. I’d say any designer who’s good, who’s working really hard, inside of Nike or out, is always looking outside of their comfort zone for new ways to produce what they’re working on. That might be looking outside of the normal footwear manufacturing and somehow they pick apparel manufacturing. The beauty of knit from an apparel point of view is that there’s no human operation so there’s less room for human error and it’s sustainable, so there’s hardly any waste, if any. But they took their footwear knowledge and flipped it on it’s ear and did something that had never really happened in an apparel context, so it was really exciting how they did that. As far as FlyKnit coming into apparel, I’d say that we’re always experimenting.
Is there potential for the process to go full circle back into the apparel range?
We have to be careful. Like I was saying before about defining one problem and solving it the same way for footwear and apparel and equipment. We have to make sure that it’s the right innovation or technology because it could just become stupid. It might not make any sense. So I think what’s more important is to solve for the same issues. So this is about lightweight, mobility, sustainability and formfitting and I’m trying to solve the same things for apparel, but it might come in a different way or a different material.
Are there any specific developments at Nike that you find particularly exciting at the moment?
I’d say a lot of the performance apparel that’s coming from running and coming from the training lines is super exciting. First and foremost it’s performance gear; it fits right, it’s moisture wicking and all of those details are inherent in the product. But there’s kind of this new aesthetic happening and it’s really confident about its performance. It’s not trying to look like something it’s not.
I see this new era of performance apparel design coming from Nike and it’s ripe for getting adopted by somebody in the wrong way. The same way it happened in the 80’s where kids were taking track suits and then wearing them to go breakdance or whatever and I see that on the cusp of what’s happening. The designs have become so confident and real. That’s the kind of stuff that’s exciting to me, over a specific technology or something.
In recent years Nike Sportswear has moved to become it’s own lifestyle range. Was this a conscious effort or just a response to how people were using the clothing?
I think it’s a bit of both. If there wasn’t a demand for it, I don’t think we would have that collection. That being said, there’s something really awesome about designing something wether it’s a chair or shoe or jacket and then once it leaves your hands and it goes out into the world, whatever culture does with it, it happens. It gets adopted by whoever and gets re-appropriated and put into a totally different context and we have no choice, we have no control and I love that. I love that!
When you see something that was not intended for that use but now you’re using it that way, that’s the coolest thing. I think that’s the origins of Nike Sportswear. We made the true, honest performance gear and kids, athletes, whatever, made up their minds that they weren’t just going to wear it on the pitch or they weren’t just gonna wear it on field, they were gonna wear it out when they’re hanging out with their fiends or when they went to a club or when they danced. And then they wore it in the wrong size and did all these things that were never intended and I love that. I love that way of no choice over what happens with it.
What inspirations are fuelling your designs at the moment?
I love being taken out of my element as much as I love living in Portland. I’m actually moving to Tokyo next week. I love being taken out of my element, dropped in a weird city or place and then trying to figure it out. Coming to London and having new eyes for everything, I notice the most mundane things as interesting and if you came to Portland you’d probably do the same thing. So just being taken out of my element is inspiring, but coming to this FlyKnit workshop, honestly, has been super inspiring to me because seeing these kids is a really great reminder as to why I started designing clothes. I can see their passion and their excitement and there’s nothing like that. You forget. You guys have awesome jobs. Sometimes you meet somebody and it kicks it back into your brain like “Wow. I’m really blessed. I’m really lucky. I’m doing what I love”. So hanging out with these kids? Probably the most inspiring thing that’s happened in a really long time.
You used to be one of the biggest collectors of vintage Nike Sportswear product. Is that still the case?
Not really, but there’s a good explanation. I’ve always been a hoarder collector – records, tapes, shoes, clothing, vintage Nike. I just started accumulating so much stuff. I went to work out of the Tokyo design office for three months and I lived out of two suitcases, and when I came back I thought “I have too much stuff. I have too much clutter. I don’t need this stuff anymore”. I donated my entire vintage collection to Nike – the design team. I gave like 300 out of 310 jackets to Good Will and I gave 100 pairs of sneakers to a non-profit charity that gives footwear and apparel to underprivileged native American kids in the South West, and I don’t really miss it. I took photos of it and now that’s enough. I’ll probably start collecting again, but that’s the reason why I don’t have anything anymore.
Did that collection of vintage sportswear ever influence your design?
It has and it constantly does. If you only look forward, I think you miss so much amazing stuff that’s happened in the past. My boss, this guy Devon, is the most humble guy ever and he’d bring out his portfolio and show me some of his old designs from the early 90’s and I’d be like “Oh my god! I have that jacket. That inspired this piece”. There’s so much good stuff that’s happened that it’s hard not to reference it. You have to.
Do you have a favourite piece of design of yours from recent years?
Oh man that’s hard. It’s a really hard one. There’s been a lot of stuff that I’m really proud of, really honoured to get to work on. It’s always changing. If you ask me tomorrow you’d get a totally different answer, but I’d say the M65 from the NSW collection. That was a long time coming and I see a lot of people wearing that jacket. I obviously didn’t design the M65 as it’s been in the military for so long, but I got to play around with all the innovation and stuff inside of Nike and mix it together and now that jacket is pretty common place. There’s a lot of people who wear it and it’s taken on a life of it’s own, so I’m pretty happy that I got to work on that jacket.
We hope you found the interview as enlightening as we did. Special thanks to all those at Nike, Exposure and 1948, but most of all to Jarrett for his time and insight.